As Stackery’s Ecosystems Director, a huge part of my work revolves around meeting new people and developing relationships with them for the good of our company. I love this work not only because I’m passionate about people and serverless, but also because it keeps my curiosity muscle strong. To be good at my job, I need to do right by my personal connection to curiosity and learning— but sometimes I get off-track.
Did you know that the average person spends just 20% of their day engaged in meaningful activities that make them feel fulfilled and joyful? The rest of our day is spent sleeping, working, doing chores and mindless decompression activities like watching TV. If you’re not mindful, you could even lose some of that precious 20% by letting unfulfilling activities consume more of your day. For example, we spend much more time working than reading to our children. We spend more time doing mindless activities than we do learning, or growing. For those who are juggling higher education and a full-time job, have more than one employer, or are the caretaker of a sick family member this time for self-motivated learning becomes even rarer and more precious.
Like many, I recently found myself in this very situation. Even as a person who constantly seeks self-improvement, I was beginning to fall into old habits, spending too much time on things that didn’t bring me joy. I could feel resentment flooding back into my life and my shield against life’s stressors was thinning. I wasn’t being true to myself and was no longer focused on personal growth. I knew something needed to change but was struggling to identify what that was.
I reached out to Andrew Clay Shafer (someone I consider a mentor) and asked what talk he was most proud of. He immediately mentioned his keynote at O’Reily’s Velocity NYC 2013 called There is No Talent Shortage. It’s largely about company culture but many aspects can apply to your personal life as well. It touches on the practices of purpose-driven organizations and was just what I needed to hear. My biggest takeaway was the importance of finding a way to be better each day and, crucially, that talent attracts talent.
As Andrew says, "success isn’t about finding the right people, it’s about being the right people." What can you do, each day, that will lead to new skills, new understanding or other forms of personal growth? How much of your day will you spend on things that truly bring you joy or fulfillment? Continued learning and growth are competitive advantages in the world and you need to seize them.
To change yourself, you have to first figure out what moves your soul. We tend to focus on things we think make us happy, without stepping back and figuring out what happiness really means to us. This can be really difficult when we’re balancing children, our work commute, putting food on the table, and nurturing others. But it’s extremely important in the long run not to beat yourself up about personal growth, that kind of judgment is the last thing you need on top of everything else! If you are curious about a subject or area of your life to improve upon, that’s enough of a seed to start.
If you are filled with earnest questions, you’ll listen more and show genuine interest in others.
This research in personal growth and finding my authentic self led to a life-altering article by Todd Kashdan called, The Power of Curiosity. I want to share a little bit of what I learned from this article and how you can apply it to your own life:
Curiosity creates openness to unfamiliar experiences which can lead to discovery and joy. Perhaps more approachable is the fact that a curious mind can be nurtured and developed. Like any skill, the more you use it, the better you become at it. Soon enough, that skill becomes part of who you are.
Studies by Gallup show that employee engagement comes mostly from relationships and connecting with a higher purpose. People are born wanting to think, learn, and grow but oftentimes responsibilities get in the way. Listen to urges to explore: as our curiosity deepens, more opportunities emerge.
Curiosity also helps us meet new people and develop interpersonal relationships. If you are filled with earnest questions, you’ll listen more and show genuine interest in others. The best part is that the people you meet have a basic level of wanting to be heard. When they sense an authentic level of caring, they will respond by opening up and sharing even more. This leads to tighter bonds and lasting relationships in work and at home.
You can invite curiosity into your life by practicing, nurturing, and cultivating it. The first step is building knowledge; seek to learn one new thing each day and that knowledge will feed on itself. Essentially, the more you learn, the more you will want to know.
Curiosity can also enter your life when you become more playful and learn to thrive on uncertainty. Think about how boring life would be if we already knew exactly what was going to happen. What if you knew the results of every football game before you watched it? Would you even watch it? What if you knew for certain what grade you would get on a final exam? Would you need to study? The uncertainty is actually what drives us most of the time, even if we are not aware of it.
However, living a curious life is not always easy or free of risk. Those of us that have a predictable and guaranteed amount of free time (where they are adequately rested, hydrated, and energized) are probably in the minority and the rest should be patient with themselves. Just start by doing your best to locate sources of freedom in between responsibilities: call into a motivating webinar on your commute home to decompress, subscribe to a new, interesting podcast and listen to it while you clean the house. Even just taking a short walk to clear your head and map out creative time down the line can help. Anything to satiate your interest and invest in yourself. This is what I did when I sought out Andrew’s advice and the aforementioned article and both were huge stress-relievers when I needed them most.
Human beings have been makers and community members since the beginning of time. I think we often lose track of this in the throes of modern life, which leads us to a cog-in-the-machine mentality. This is one of the fantastic things about working at Stackery, I’m surrounded by a team that not only works together on tough problems every day but is actually building a solution to help other engineers do the same! It’s very inspiring.
Take small risks, try new things, try looking at an old “truth” with fresh eyes, and see where that takes you. I am happy to be doing that at Stackery and look forward to every adventure along the way.