Do you remember the day you were born? Not the date, but the details of the experience? Me either. But here’s what I know about that day: I arrived curious. We all do. We show up totally confused by the new environment, and we immediately start trying to figure things out.
What happened? How’d I get here? What’s that sound? What’s that feeling? And with each passing hour and each passing day, as our senses come more and more into their own, we go about the lifelong process of learning. With few exceptions, scientists believe all humans are born curious.
Furthermore, we apparently are the only species that vigorously tries to answer the one-word question, “Why?” You know I like that question.
We never lose our curiosity, scientists say, but clearly it diminishes or goes underdeveloped for far too many of us. As we mature, we settle into routines. We grow more efficient and stick to options that we know will work, that don’t take us out of our comfort zones, that don’t involve risks to our ego, and that allow us to move quickly in a world that demands speed.
The unfortunate side effect: it often sucks the life out of our childlike wonder. And the more we settle for a less curious mindset, the less information we have at our disposal for problem-solving, the less creative we are in our solutions, the less we feel inspired, and the more we compromise on our real potential in life.
Thankfully, through successes and failures, I’ve found ways to stoke the fires of my curiosity. That’s because of all the gifts I was given by lifelong learners, like my stepfather Evan Smith, or “Smitty,” perhaps the best was the endless encouragement to never compromise when it came to exploring the learning laboratory of my life.
This gift has taken me to interesting places, taught me useful things, and confirmed the truth in the adage that success is found in the journey, not the destination. That journey ends when we stop learning new things, because learning is like oxygen. It keeps us going, even when it’s uncomfortable or painful, and it strengthens us for the challenges and opportunities that come as we pursue our fight.
But…curiosity can’t happen unless you are open to it.
You have to maintain a fierce independence to break free of peer pressures and herd mentalities so you can explore possibilities when those around you are pulling you toward the status quo. And that takes work—especially when the possibilities don’t make much sense, when all you see is the obvious, or when your vision is clouded by the fog of past experiences.
You have to stay focused on the prize and independent of the noises that aren’t adding value to your fight. Then you can question your assumptions so that curiosity can fill your tank with good information and you can make better decisions about opportunities you otherwise might totally miss.
There are practical benefits to learning that help us excel as we navigate life:
- Learning is transformative. An emphasis on learning turns mistakes and setbacks into opportunities. By learning from our failures and misfortunes, we’re less likely to repeat them and more likely to make better decisions in the future. You might recall that I love Nelson Mandela’s quote: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” Here are three ways to overcome setbacks.
- Learning makes us better risk-takers. Even failure yields something positive if we’re willing to learn from it. If we let ourselves be open to smart risk-taking, we’re more comfortable with falling forward, never quitting, and achieving our goals. Learn more about falling-forward philosophy here.
- Learning is good for your health. There are health benefits to learning, like reduced stress levels and improved memory. While cognitive activity can’t change the biology of, say, Alzheimer’s, learning activities can help delay symptoms and offset cognitive decline. Some studies report even improved longevity: one year of formal education can add more than half a year to a person’s life span.
Give yourself the many gifts of learning: Transform your future, take smarter risks, and boost your health by letting curiosity in. Try to look at your environment with wonder and fresh eyes. Don’t let age play a factor in your willingness to adapt and change. It’s never too late to play the novice and reap the benefits of learning something new.
Live your why,
P.S. In the spirit of treating life as a learning lab, I encourage you to visit the “Learn” tab at my website and listen to my latest podcast appearance with The Trust Doctor, where I talk about a mentorship that changed my life and approach to leadership. Ready for more? Purchase a copy of my new book, Uncompromising, and download the discussion guide with your team.