Who am I?
If you can’t answer this question it’s a good starting place for applying curiosity. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you know what you love and what you hate? Do you know where you draw energy and what enervates you? These are important questions for understanding how God designed you uniquely and what trajectory might be best for you.
Such questions can’t be answered in isolation very easily. We judge ourselves both too harshly and too graciously. We have more blind spots about our own lives than anything else, so we need help. We need help from peers and mentors, so ask them what they see in you. What stands out? What is strong? What is weak? We need help from experts, so take two or three evaluations like Strengths Finder and Myers-Briggs. Take a spiritual gifts test such as the one in Discover Your Spiritual Gifts by C. Peter Wagner. None of these will define you, but they will help you understand you. Each provides a piece of the puzzle as to why you are the way you, where you will thrive, and what you should do next.
While you’re exploring the basics of who you are take inventory of two things, what you enjoy and who you know. Make a list of the things you would do if you had free time, what books you would read, places you’d visit, movies you’d watch, activities you’d participate in, foods you love and foods you’d like to try. Write down the things from your past that leave the fondest memories and that you’d like to do again. Then start writing down friends and family. Write down interesting people you’ve met. Write down people you notice, even if they’re strangers or who have caught your attention through their work.
Each of these is a potential connection point for you and each tells you something about yourself. You enjoy those things for a reason. Those people are in your life or your mind for a reason. As you take these inventories different ones will rise to the top. Take note! They may be your starting place.
Finally consider how you work and learn. Take what you know of yourself and/or what those evaluations revealed and think about how you do your best work. How do you absorb information? How do your process it? Is it through hearing, seeing, reading, or hands-on experience? Do you work best with others or in isolation? Do you enjoy bouncing from thing to thing or honing in on one project or subject and seeing it through?
Some of you will have little difficulty with these questions and tasks. You already know your Myers-Briggs personality type and could describe the perfect work environment. Others will feel like I just assigned a capstone project for graduating from college. It’s all so much. This says something about your respective personalities, and that’s something to note too. I’m not trying to give an assignment but rather to give a list of steps to take to help you understand yourself well enough to know what direct your curiosity should be pointed.
Choose Your Curiosity Wisely
All these questions and inventories aren’t some sort of algorithm. They will not offer some curiosity horoscope telling you what you can expect. They simply help you understand what you’re good at and what you enjoy, and that is enough to shape your sense of curiosity. In fact, by inventorying what you love and who you know you have a treasure trove of material at hand already. You do not need to be an expert in everything, and even if you wanted to be you couldn’t. Nobody can.
I loved the show Justified when it was on. It centers around a brash, gun slinging U.S. Marshall assigned to the state his youth, Kentucky. Along with a number of fantastic characters and plot lines, one of the sneaky antagonists of the story is the locale – specifically the coal mines of eastern Kentucky. They are hideouts for outlaws, stashes for stolen goods, booby traps for unsuspecting suckers, and access points to bank vaults (mild spoiler alert). Throughout the show the mines are spoken of with fear and respect because of the shafts that run hundreds of feet into the ground. They are narrow, just three or four feet wide, and have no visible bottom.
An expert is a lot like that, minus the threat of death and the proximity to outlaws. Expertise is a deep, narrow look into one subject. It drills way down into the depths and mines all it can. It doesn’t diverge from its subject and it rarely intersects with another area of interest or learning. Make no mistake, this is a kind of curiosity because it is constantly asking “what else?” and “what’s next?” And we need experts. We need those who know all that’s humanly possible about different topics.
This kind of curiosity suits some people just fine, but most of us, I think, are not so focused. For most of us we will find our curiosity aroused by the things that cross our paths on a daily basis. We simply need to be attentive, to notice. Noticing is hard work. It means listening well for what is interesting or what strikes a funny note or informs us of something new. It means watching for the beauty, the funny, the odd, the new, the surprising, or the interesting. It means wondering as we watch and listen. Why did that happen? What’s her story? Where did that come from? How did that happen? Noticing is a muscle and the more we do it the stronger it gets. Flex it, notice, and then latch on to whatever grabs your attention and be curious about it.
All of us, expert and noticer alike, must be thinkers. Curiosity has a reputation as a childish trait because we stopped using our minds. We stopped looking at life, the mundane and normal, as something worth our brain waves. We react to it. We absorb it. We walk through it as if it’s not there. But we don’t think about it. That thinking is curiosity. It’s what we looked at last chapter in all those areas of life. Nothing is out of bounds so long as our curiosity honors God and loves others.
For all of us this thinking, this intentional curiosity, is that which connects us to ideas and those ideas to real people. It’s what connects person to person as we ask questions and hear each other’s stories and learn from one another. Curiosity is that which finds God’s truth in all created things and beings and figures out how it fits in life and the greater world. It rejects the premise of “mindless entertainment” and actively rebels against passively walking through life. Whether we are inclined to be the expert or the notice, we take to life actively, full of questions, seeking to find and show truth and beauty.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life, that is due to be released in early 2017.