What is a Good Life? #20
Learning / Curiosity
Good day to you all,
Thanks again for your interest in this newsletter.
If this is your first time reading this newsletter, please click here for background information on the project and how it is structured (4 separate sections). Through following this weekly newsletter, I hope it gets easier to navigate one of life’s biggest questions.
The key theme this week is Learning / Curiosity. The interviewee speaks about curiosity and awareness, while I reflect on its impact on my mindset and approach to life.
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1. This week’s interview
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Tom*. Tom is a Founder of a corporate training company as well as multiple non-profits. He speaks about the importance of curiosity and awareness.
*Not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
I'm about to turn 38 and it took me until 36 to realise it’s probably two things for me, curiosity and awareness. I realised that the more curious I became, without an end in mind really, with an open-mindedness, the more fulfilling life has become. I mean curiosity from three perspectives: empathic (interest in others), diverse (novel ideas) and epistemic (deep learning).
When I say awareness, I think it's being awake, not sleepwalking through life and it's being present in any moment (which I fail at continuously). Those two things for me are the raw ingredients to potentially having a good life.
How has the significance of awareness evolved for you?
There's been one clear path to that, which was actually suffering. It's in the moments that we suffer, and I certainly did suffer, that you need to learn more and potentially even want to look for answers.
I love reading the Mystics and they’d say that suffering is just part of life, which I guess it is. There's stuff we inevitably go through, such as losing a loved one, and then there’s pretty unnecessary suffering, which I think is worldly created. But whatever the suffering, it certainly can wake you up.
For me, it was trying to work out what on earth I needed to do about this thing I was really, really struggling with, and was overwhelmed with, to the point it was making everything cloudy and almost making me immobile both physically and mentally.
However, I feel nothing but grateful for that experience in the end. You get to realise your life isn't linear and it also led me to learn more about awareness, which in turn has given me a life’s work in order to further develop that. Greater awareness makes life more interesting, not necessarily easy, but certainly more interesting.
At what point did curiosity and learning become a bigger part of life?
I started working for an incredible founder of a company (focused on people development), who always gave me amazing and direct feedback. He told me straight out one day, “you don't read enough.”
Our role at that company was to advise other businesses. He asked me how I could advise other people if I wasn’t well read enough in this area - then he gifted me a couple of books. While I had read some books before, interestingly education hadn't really inspired me to read interesting books, it told me to read textbooks.
At this point I began reading voraciously. But I was also reading quite thoughtfully, not just churning through books for the sake of it. When this difficult time I mentioned earlier occurred, I was already equipped with some things that enabled me to cope better than perhaps I would have done before.
These books taught me to be more vulnerable than I normally would have been (I used to hide everything), enough so that I opened up to someone. That person then gave me this particular book, The Power of Now (by Eckhart Tolle), and that book was the first real conscious opening or understanding I had about presence and awareness.
And on the cycle went, I thought, “wow, that's really interesting, now I want to read more about this.” Which led me to reading the Mystics and they just blew my mind open.
How has curiosity and learning permeated through the rest of your existence?
Firstly, it makes me approach life with much greater open-mindedness, and almost by default of that, greater humility. The more you learn the more you realise what you don't know.
When you become more aware, you also realise just how dogmatic you can be, not necessarily with the intent to hurt anyone, just from ignorance. So, it helps me be more open minded and less sure of anything, which enables me to show up to any given situation, I hope, with the commitment to actually listen and listen well.
When you go through life, not necessarily believing you don't know anything, but that you're never going to know everything and that there's so much more to learn, it just seems to make life far more enjoyable.
“I never let my schooling interfere with my education” – Grant Allen
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Learning / Curiosity were mentioned by approximately 21% of the participants in this project as an important part of a good life.
Learning / Curiosity were most commonly associated with a sense of growth and development, and as an antidote to stagnation and monotony. Participants referenced learning: languages; instruments; about other cultures; about themselves, sports; and various crafts.
Many participants suggested they were a key part of maintaining an open mind, a playfulness, a level of wonder, and humility in their lives.
“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.” - William Arthur Ward
3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
For me, being humbled by life or feeling somewhat lost had a remarkably liberating impact on my willingness to learn new things.
Prior to this I suspect perfectionism created a resistance to and fear of being a beginner, even in playful or creative endeavours. I unknowingly made my world smaller, became more opinionated, and grew more attached to being right.
While new fields of interest, from philosophy to physics, have enriched me with new information and sparked endless questions, the biggest benefit for me of consistently learning has been the impact it’s had on my mindset.
The more frequently I’ve placed myself in the role of a beginner, the more I’ve wanted to explore (both mentally and geographically), the less attached I am to one particular perspective or point of view, and the more willing I am to admit if I’m wrong.
This has had a considerable impact in terms of how I view the world - which now seems full of possibilities to create, as opposed to looming with ways it can go wrong.
“I am still learning” - Michelangelo (at the age of 87)
4. This week’s questions for personal reflection
Each week I pose questions to support your own inquiry into what a good life is for you
What are you most curious about? Have you ever pursued this curiosity more formally?
When was the last time you learned something new? What did you gain from that experience?
That’s all for this week. I’d greatly appreciate you sharing this newsletter with your friends. I’d also really like to receive any feedback with suggestions for what you would like to see from these weekly updates. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.
I’m a coach, based in Berlin (via Dublin, Ireland). I formerly had a 15-year career in Capital Markets, and for better or worse, I’ve convinced myself that I’m going to make a discovery around human thought / behaviour.