Choose to be Curious

RV Curious?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~ Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

Laine Coates is living the dream. She and her husband are quitting their jobs, hitting the road — and choosing to be curious about this great big country of ours. Would you want to spend six months in 37′ with two cats and a spouse?

Listen to Choose to be Curious #37: RV Curious? with Laine Coates

Laine and Mike are taking to the road in hopes of finding the right place to settle down. How do we know what is right for us? What should we be paying attention to? What feels like “home”?  Jenn Seiff had some powerful insights on just that subject in our conversation about curiosity, yoga and body awareness. My favorite? Something she calls 5-5-5. Quick — what are the first five things you see? The first five things you hear? The first five things you can feel?

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 10: Feeling at Home

Thanks to Jenn, I find myself using that 5-5-5 technique all the time.

Bored at the traffic light? Distracted in the market? Relaxing on the dock?  5-5-5.

Dappled sunlight. Painted toe nails. Birds on a wire. Kids at the curb. Dog on a leash. Wind. Laughter. Airplanes. My own breathing. A hiccup. Sun on my face. Wind in my hair. Hands on the wheel. Feet on the floor. Beat of my heart.

It’s grounding. Deeply grounding. It brings me back to the moment, to the essential, to the now. Ever since Jenn shared it, it’s been my favorite way to be quickly, quietly, wonderfully curious.

RBSH - QUICK_ 5-5-5

What would bringing Jenn’s 5-5-5 mindset into the conversation about what we would consider home offer? What are the first five things we would want/hope/fear to see? To hear? To feel? How might attending to these things influence the choices we make about where and how — and with whom — we live?

Stop a moment to consider those questions and you realize how much we take for granted, how much we assume both about our options and how we exercise them.

Are we where we are because it really suits us, or because we’ve just always been there? Are we where we are because it allows our best selves to blossom, or because it’s all we know? Are we where we are because we’ve thought about it, or because we haven’t?

I come back to Mary Oliver — and Socrates. The unexamined life may still be worth living, but the life to which we really pay attention, the life we lead with intention and curiosity, is surely the better life.

So, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

ὁ … ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ

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Choose to be Curious

Building Bridges

“Let’s have a conversation,” said then County Board candidate Vivek Patil. It was more than a campaign slogan. He’s made it a central part of his life and work. Through an effort they’ve called Building Bridges, Vivek and others have set out to listen — really listen — to their neighbors and people outside their “bubbles” in hopes of building a stronger community and Commonwealth.

“Curiosity makes us better people,” says he. “It drives us to learn, to evolve our positions, to understand the world and … really get a sense of empathy for another human’s experience.”

Listen to Choose to be Curious #36: Building Bridges with Vivek Patil.

Vivek isn’t the first person to join me to talk about the essential role of curiosity in empathy and importance of listening to one another. In this week’s “Curiosity to Go” segment, I revisited conversations with Stacy Snyder of Together Virginia PAC and fellow WERA producer Brandon Charles of Breaking Boundaries.

This listening stuff? It’s important.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 9: On Listening Well.

At a time when many of us are struggling to listen to The Other, my conversations with Vivek, Stacy, Brandon and others are like balm on a fevered brow.  They remind me that good folks are having great conversations, that people are making headway despite the heat and rhetoric. That in choosing to be curious in conversation, we open doors and pathways that might otherwise be obstructed by our own assumptions, by our own unwillingness to see a possible path forward.

Does it take the kind of training that Vivek and his compatriots at Building Bridges have imposed on themselves? Does it take a PAC, or a radio program? Perhaps not, but it certainly takes intention.

What I admire about Vivek, Stacy and Brandon is that level of intentionality. The focus is different for each of them — community, politics and disability, respectively — but the strategy is the same: they make a very explicit commitment to seek out others with life experiences different from their own and, in so doing, make an equally explicit statement about their belief in the value and opportunity to be found there. They are willing to go toward the unfamiliar, toward the unknown.

They are willing to admit they have more to learn.

Admitting ignorance is hard. Especially for those of us who like to think of ourselves as smart. We pride ourselves on being current in world affairs, on being well-read, well-educated, well-informed. If we’ve reached a certain level in our careers, we’re also likely to think we’ve earned deference to our expertise. So to admit not knowing is just a tad radical, almost an abdication of our credentials.

I consider myself a recovering know it all.

I consider myself a recovering know it all. Not, I hope, because I’m smug and so much better-read than the next guy, but because I used to be substantially more invested in my own expertise. For many years I held a job that essentially required me to, well,  know it all.  As the institutional memory and governance arbiter of a national organization, I was arguably responsible for having a full command of all the facts, figures, fictions and fables. But dangers lurked in the dark corners of those fortifications, for me and for my colleagues. I was occasionally regarded as omniscient. I was perhaps reluctant to disabuse anyone of that notion, disinclined to admit ignorance.

No one can know all there is to know, and to pretend otherwise is both silly and sad. I consider myself in recovery from that unhappy fate because I’ve worked hard to embrace my own ignorance and to find the strength that comes from so doing. In walking my own talk, I’ve discovered the power that Vivek or Stacy or Brandon could have told me lay waiting, if only I were to listen more.

Choosing to be curious in conversation, then, is committing to attend to another. Good conversation is more than just strings of great questions, although a few well-chosen queries will certainly move a discussion along and open unexpected channels. Real conversations is also about shutting one’s mouth, opening one’s ears and mind and heart, pushing all the assumptions and arguments and urges to reply aside — and just listening.

In her lovely book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett writes: “Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability – a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.” 

How might we summon our own best selves and listen even more generously?



Choose to be Curious

Curiosity & the Entrepreneurial Spirit


How will CEOs best respond to turbulent times? Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc., said “I would place my bet on curiosity.”

Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and President of Phone2Action, a digital advocacy and communications platform, joined to me to explore the role of curiosity in innovation, technology and advocacy. She’s got insights on women, being an immigrant, having an entrepreneurial spirit, taking risks and the power in leaps of faith.

No wonder Washingtonian magazine dubbed her a Tech Titan!

Listen to Choose to be Curious #31: Curiosity & the Entrepreneurial Spirit – with Ximena Hartsock.

Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

Curiosity Across Political Distance

I’ve been trying to channel Walt Whitman’s wisdom, “Be curious, not judgmental,” but I confess I’m not always successful.

And, drawing on an old aphorism I used in my previous career — that if one person is asking, five more are wondering, I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with someone who is genuinely trying to be curious across current political divides, both ideological and geographic. photo - Snyder Studio Shot

Enter Stacy Snyder, Arlington potter and founder of Together Virginia, a PAC devoted to  fostering conversations between Virginians with a particular focus on rural voters. Their goal is to encourage trust and understanding.

Which seemed like a grand place to start a conversation about curiosity and listening well…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #29: Curiosity Across Political Distance. 

Curiosity Journal, Life Lessons, Making a List, UnComfort Zone

Curiosity & the Fluid Career

surf2Yes, that’s me. On a surf board. In Hawaii. Admittedly, ten years ago. I thought it was a good image for a conversation about fluid careers and catching the curiosity wave…

I was delighted to be invited back by Dana Theus and Mary Brodie at InPower Women for another conversation about curiosity – this time in the context of the fluid career. When they invited me on the show, I think they expected to explore my own fluid career – which is a fine tale, but I offered something both personal and more universal. Let’s talk, I suggested, about “choosing to be curious about futures one might not yet have contemplated, about being intentionally open to the unknown, asking more questions about what emerges, and doing some rapid prototyping to see what might work, using that information to build and (re)shape that emerging future.” 

I hope you’ll listen to the whole show (30 minutes), but here’s some of what we covered and what has worked for me:

Following threads and finding fellow travelers. One of the biggest and happiest surprises for me has been the discovery of rich new networks and communities of people to whom I’ve become attached as I’ve chosen to be curious and entered into many entirely new realms of activity and interests.

0.8 Prototyping. Borrowing from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, I’ve learned to try new concepts out before they are fully cooked (even before they are at “1.0” stages of readiness [hence: “0.8”]), and letting things fail, be messy, listening to and learning from others — and then trying again, with all those lessons in mind.

My simple rules: Drawing on the work of Donald Sull & Kathleen Eisenhardt, I like to think about the simple, most foundational guidelines that govern how/what I do:

  1. Choose to be curious.
  2. Change my point of view to see something new.
  3. Ask myself “how might I….?”
  4. Go toward the fear. (Fear, broadly defined, as the things to which I feel resistant)
  5. Iterate, reflect, repeat.

Curiosity Walks: I made this thing up, the “curiosity walk” — a mix of mindfulness and scavenger hunt. It’s a way to be more intentional and attentive going about a place, whether as a tourist or in our workplace. What can I see or learn by being just a little more curious about wherever I am? What’s actually going on? How do I feel about it – specificallyHow might it be different?

Aldous Huxley: Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you. — This reminds me to stay fully present with whatever is going on. What I choose to do with what happens will shape the lessons I learn, the patterns I discern, the habits I form, the possibilities I believe open before me.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Isn’t there something that interests you, even just a little?  A reminder that we needn’t be “passionate” about everything we pursue and that, sometimes, the best discoveries come from following a loose thread that interests us just a little, just enough that we choose to be curious…and see where it takes us.

Listen to InPower Women Coffee Break: Curiosity and the Fluid Career

Choose to be Curious, Curiosity Journal

Curiosity to Go, a debut

Going into Year two of this Choose to be Curious adventure, I’ve been wondering where the stretches will come — which way I’ll decide to push myself and the show — and where those efforts will take me.

Opportunity knocked.

The morning show hosts at WERA asked me to put together “shorts” for their use during the drive-time program. Ever the station enthusiasts, they see it as an opportunity to highlight programming, but they concede they actually like Choose to be Curious, love that it’s gotten them thinking, and they’d like to share that with their audience. Who am I to stand in their way?

So this is my first effort with previews and highlights, all in under five minutes. Turns out this format is an entirely different beast. Listening to it on the air, I heard all the room for improvement, had second thoughts about construction, saw where else I might have gone with it. And there’s the beauty: it’s another chance to learn, to stretch, to test.

I think what I like best about this format is the chance to link very different shows in new ways. In an interview for InPower Women’s “Coffee Break” series earlier this week (more on that later), I shared my “reiterate, reflect, repeat” mantra. These “Curiosity to Go” segments are just that – an opportunity for reiteration and reflection, coming to me from entirely unforeseen source.

Just me, listening to the universe again…

Listen to “Curiosity to Go – Ep. 1 – 2017.05.17”


Choose to be Curious

Curiosity and Writing Fiction

One of the many things I love about doing the radio show Choose to be Curious is the many and remarkable new people it brings into my life. But sometimes I return to familiar folks, and this was one of those special occasions. Such a pleasure to explore curiosity and the art of fiction with author and college friend, Laura McBride.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #28: Curiosity and Writing Fiction – with Laura McBride.

Laura’s new novel ‘Round Midnight, “equal parts intricate and graceful,” was released May 2. More on Laura and her work here.