“I want to live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” – Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
I remember reading this quote several years ago and thinking that I might reconsider my self-imposed ban on tattoos.
This quote felt then and still feels now like the truthiest truth I ever read. You know how you occasionally read or hear something that feels like a punch in the gut? In a good way? Or is that just me who would consider a punch in the gut a good thing :-)?
If someone asked me in that moment what I wanted more than anything else in the world, I would have told them this quote encompassed my deepest longing: to live a life driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.
I just searched my Amazon account to see when this quote first became part of my world view and discovered this was included in the reading I did leading up to my first Being Brave retreat in October 2015. Coincidentally, I also discovered I purchased 6 additional copies of Big Magic over the years since then…clearly, a favorite gift 🙂
I’ve written about curiosity and this quote before. Clearly, curiosity > fear has been transformative for me: a personal mission statement, a mantra, a signpost, a path through the wilderness. A purpose and a passion all wrapped up into one perfect package. In my mind’s eye, the word curiosity vibrates with meaning and color; the word CURIOUS lit up in a vibrant, extravagantly bold font while everything else is Times New Roman 12 in black and white.
One reason I want more curiosity in my life is curiosity gives me permission to let go of needing to be right, certain or sure, a process which I find increasingly exhausting the older I get. In the face of uncertainty, curiosity values mystery, whimsy and discovery more than easy answers and quick fixes. Curiosity invites me to see each new day and each new person as a gift to explore. Curiosity allows no room for cynicism because cynicism has everything figured out already, a viewpoint curiosity finds limiting and lazy. Part of my coaching work involves being curious about energy shifts in my clients- where do they come alive, where do they seem diminished or deflated? Just writing about curiosity I’m noticing that my heart is beating faster, I’m sitting up straighter, and I feel a deepening understanding of the answer to the question “what makes me come alive?”
If I had to pick one way embracing curiosity has impacted my life the most in the years since I made this quote a mantra, it would be in the area of my relationships. Relationship with self, with others and with God. Here are some of the ways curiosity > fear in our relationships:
Relationship with self
Curiosity is the best way to do battle with the voice of the Inner Critic. If you hang around here regularly, you know how strongly I feel about turning down the volume on the voice of the Inner Critic in our lives and turning up the volume on the voice of God and our better, stronger, wiser, braver self. The Inner Critic capitalizes on fear, believing we are stuck forever in old patterns that no longer serve us. When we believe we are stuck, unable to change, we disconnect from our inherent ability to be creative problem solvers in our own life. We forget to be curious.
Let me give you an example. One of the habits for which I used to beat myself up regularly is procrastination. When I notice that I am procrastinating, here are the two ways I can choose to respond.
Fear says “You suck. You ALWAYS procrastinate. You will never change. You talk a big game, but you don’t follow through. You will never ever reach your goals or fulfill your dreams. You are a fraud. (Insert your own version of self-flagellation and reproach here.)”
Fear keeps us stuck.
Curiosity says “Hmmm, what’s going on here? I’m noticing you are procrastinating, but I know this project/ task is important to you. What value will you honor if you get to work on it right now? What fear do you need to calm in order to reconnect with your passion or commitment around this item on your to do list? What is getting in the way? Who do you want to be in this moment? What is making this hard? You have done hard things in the past, so what do you know about doing hard things that can energize you here? (Insert your own curious questions here.)”
Curiosity moves us forward.
Bonus content: If you also struggle with procrastination, here is an EXCELLENT article about the root causes of procrastination recently published in the NY Times. Extremely helpful!
Relationships with other people
We are more courageous in community. We build connection and community by being genuinely curious about the people around us. As I learn to be more gently loving and curious with myself, I discover I am more willing to relax and enjoy the endlessly delightful supply of humans in the world around me. When I stop worrying about whether people approve of me, I can focus on learning more about them.
We recently moved to a new community and I am trying to meet people and make new friends. At almost 55, saying “Hi, would you like to be my friend?” feels every bit as awkward as it did when I was repeatedly the new kid in school growing up. Choosing curiosity over fear is my secret weapon when I meet new people.
Fear says “You need to be the most entertaining person in the room so they will like you. Unless everyone likes you, you will be friendless and lonely the rest of your life. In order to insure that you will be liked, you need to be smart, beautiful, funny, and you must say ALL THE WORDS! Do not ever allow a moment of silence.”
AND then Fear says “OH MY GOSH! You are talking too much! Geez already with ALL THE WORDS! Quit drawing attention to yourself! You are so obnoxious and you have once again scared all the introverts in the room. Clearly, they all hate you, so you will be friendless and lonely the rest of your life.”
(NOTE: For those of you who are more introverted, your version of this role play probably includes withdrawing, going silent, or hiding in the corner. The resulting self talk still likely ends with the “friendless and lonely the rest of your life” assumption.)
Curiosity says “I have nothing to prove, so I can relax. I am a beloved child of God and so is the person in front of me. This person has a beautiful story to tell and I have so much to learn from them. My values are to make the people around me feel heard and seen, so being present, asking good questions, and listening well is the way to connect. Connection is at the heart of who I am, so being curious is important for me to connect. “
Fear blocks connection. Curiosity builds connection.
And yes, when I am around new people, I silently repeat to myself over and over, “Be curious.” Try it!
Relationship with God
Strangely enough, this one is easiest for me and probably the foundation on which the other two are built. I could go off on a long, boring rant about the ways in which fear is ruining the church that I love, how a religion based on fear is NOT what Jesus had in mind, and how the combination of arrogance and fear-mongering religion will likely be the downfall of our country, but I’m not sure that would be helpful for any of us in the context of our current conversation. You are welcome.
Simply put, for me, curiosity has allowed me to relax and trust that I don’t have to have all the answers because Someone else does.
Fear says I need to be certain about everything I know and believe, or something bad will happen.
Curiosity says I can trust God to know. My job is to follow God one day at a time and listen for direction.
Fear says God won’t love me unless I believe all the right things.
Curiosity says God loves me and walks with me through the questions, doubts, growth, learning and changing my mind.
Fear says There is only one path and I better make sure I’m on the right one.
Curiosity says There is room for mystery and wonder.
As I often tell my daughters, the older I get, the less I know for sure. But what I do know, I know more deeply. Here is what I know for sure:
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Love God. Love People. Period. When I get this one right, I’ll get curious about what’s next. Until then, I’ll let God worry about the details.
Curiosity > Fear. In our relationship with self, others and God. Let me know the ways in which you are inviting more curiosity into your life!
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