Feed Your Curiosity’s Appetite

girl dressed as witch wearing braids sitting on a tree that appears braided
Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

What is the point? Asks my ego.

Yeah, but what are you going to use it for? Asks the culture.

Isn’t learning that now a waste of time? Ask many a well-meaning observer of my life.

As a culture, we have so lost our desire, and perhaps our ability, to learn something for the sake of learning. We have tied our learning to hopeful, and often monetary, outcomes. Our heart’s desires and longings have become subservient to our ego’s accomplishments and achievements. We don’t even know anymore how to justify learning something just for the sake of learning it. We often can’t summon the will, or find the incentive, to indulge the appetites of a curious mind.

If we learn something, we think we must become experts in it: if we start running, we set a goal to run a marathon; if we get a certification, we feel we have to become providers of that service. Application of a skillset has become more important than acquiring a skillset. We’ve lost our connection to curiosity for its own sake. The appetite of our curiosity is only satisfied if we are promised something in return.

I watched this play out recently after my daughter received a new certification. She can now get a job based on this certification if she desires. Or, she can enjoy keeping this information for herself. Right now, she’s too busy with other things to take on a job in this area. So, she’s going to tuck it aside, even as a voice inside her chants: “You earned this knowledge; you should be using it.”

I trust that the knowledge she gained will come to play in other ways in her life—maybe not now, or even five years from now, but someday. And if it doesn’t — well, so what? It’s not like there are only so many slots in our mind to store information (though it sometimes feels this way!)

Learner is one of my top 5 strengths on the CliftonFinders test (what used to be called StrengthsFinders), along with Input, which to me is merely a variation on the Learner theme.

We need new mantras and voices in our heads, ones that tell us that it’s not just okay, but it’s natural human behavior to learn new things. We’re meant to keep growing, and a commitment to learning something new is how we do it.

To date, I have so many random certifications, if they connect and make a puzzle, it’s an odd-shaped puzzle indeed. At the moment, I’m not using any of them explicitly.

Still—everything I’ve learned has helped shape the person I am today. I don’t even know how or why or when it happened, but I am wiser for having learning it all. I’m more well-rounded. I’ve tried things I wouldn’t have normally tried if I was committed to a linear path. For example, I understand the sensitivity of my body and mind in a way I couldn’t if I didn’t study the subtle differences between essential oils, or if I didn’t feel for myself the shift of energy during energetic bodywork training.

After I quit teaching yoga, I initially wondered if I’d “wasted” all those years of training. But then, I had the opportunity to be with my mother after her back surgery. I helped her place her legs in a position that removed all the pressure and pain from her low back, something the nurses didn’t even know how to do. How is something like this not just as valuable an offering of my talents as guiding a class of healthy backs through a vinyasa sequence?

We need new mantras and voices in our heads, ones that tell us that it’s not just okay, but it’s natural human behavior to learn new things. We’re meant to keep growing, and a commitment to learning something new is how we do it.

Here are a few tips on how to recommit to learning for the sake of learning:

Maintain a beginner’s mind

One thing I learned in yoga, especially as a teacher, is that the more “advanced” we get, the less flexible we become. Here’s what I mean by this: as our breadth and depth of understanding of a topic increases, there is less openness to considering alternative suggestions or approaches. Suddenly now, we are the “expert.” We have “our way” and “our tradition.” We’ve decided that this is the right way, and the right tradition. We grow rigid in our minds. Our beliefs become static. As a consequence, our contributions to the world grow stale.

Unlike how our minds were when we first started—wide open and hungry—we are no longer interested in entertaining other approaches because it threatens our existing beliefs. This is true about any topic; we slowly trade away some of the space and receptivity we had in the beginning to claim the status of “someone who knows.”

Here’s a great example:

I was listening to Jon Stewart converse with Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, on Stewart’s new podcast, “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” In discussing national issues stemming from the economic marketplace, they were clearly on Dimon’s turf, which Dimon made clear several times by dismissing Jon’s suggestions and diagnoses as simplistic. Dimon gave at least this listener the feeling that he’s intolerant of views from anyone outside his circle of expertise. He probably is.

Deep in the interview, perhaps sensing the condescension and arrogance (my opinion), Stewart asks Dimon if it is at all possible that listening to someone who brings an outside perspective might be beneficial, as opposed to merely a nuisance. It is clear to me that Dimon has become siloed in his own knowledge, unable to accept the possibility that a beginner could add value to his knowledge base to the point that he snubs even the most well-meaning and fully-thought-out arguments.

The key to growth as a human being, not merely within a bubble, is to maintain a beginner’s mind, even as your expertise deepens. Always and every day, approach your life with the intention to grow and learn something new. Stay receptive to the possibility that there’s more than one correct answer; more than one perspective or possibility. The mindset that comes naturally to a true beginner, a more seasoned scholar needs to practice. If you can’t remember what it’s like to be a beginner, become one in a new area. Try golf, or bowling, or karate. Pick up a book on a topic you’ve always been curious about but haven’t had the time to explore. Let yourself remember that natural curiosity and open landscape of a beginner, and then bring that same mindset with you into the areas you already know well.

Learning is exercise (and letting go) for the mind

It is natural to have a set of core beliefs or values that guides us through our lives. But often, beliefs that once kept us safe or helped us establish ourselves in the world eventually become, at a minimum, stale and unnecessary, and at a maximum, harmful and divisive.

Learning is a process of letting go, just as much as it is a process of gaining new information. If we learn new things and don’t investigate and clean out the old, then they become like the turtles Dr. Suess’s Yertle the Turtle—perilously stacked on one another. Eventually, the whole tower needs to collapse so that we can start again. Old ideas and motifs need to be dislodged so that new ones—healthier ones, hopefully—can take their place.

Learning is exercise for the mind. Choose to learn and ask questions every day, not merely to gain information, but because of the exercise it provides. Thinking about something in a new way, with a different twist, or from a new angle, shakes loose the conventions and habits from the nooks and crannies of our minds. And keep in mind—a new perspective on old knowledge is just as valuable as learning something brand new.

Walk (willingly) into the crucible of transformation

Learning something new might not always be immediately applicable to our lives. But, there’s always magic happening behind the scenes. New information added into our minds is like yeast added to water: it gives rise to change and transformation.

The person who emerges from a crucible is never the same person who entered.

I’ve written before about my studies of alchemy—the science of transformation—over COVID quarantine. I had no idea, then, what I might gain from these months of research and practice. It did not appear at all applicable to my life or my work. I did it anyway. I enjoyed the process immensely, and threw myself into it with the same passion I would anything that brings in money.

Now, over a year later, I can see that these studies did change me, are changing me still. Now, I understand the power of change. I know what happens inside the fire of transformation. I value the applied heat and the friction that one must endure during a transformative time of life. I’ve lost my fear of facing the dragon, which we all must do in certain times of our lives.

Notice and respect life cycles

Sometimes, we hold on to doing something because we “spent all that time and money” on it. We don’t give ourselves permission to move or change because we can’t justify it from a left-brained, linear perspective.

Everything in life exists in a cycle of birth-life-death.

This includes our jobs. It includes our identities. And it includes our creations.

When I walked away from teaching yoga after 10+ years in that world, I initially felt guilty. Until I realized that if I stayed, I would eventually become robotic and uninspiring as a teacher. I was already feeling my heart and soul moving into another space—which, though I didn’t know it at the time, turned out to be the space I’m in now as a writer. Had I forced myself to stay because of money/time/obligation—I would’ve grown bitter.

Instead, I left as I felt the end of the cycle draw near. When I could feel the light in me dimming, I trusted these feelings and moved on in a way that felt whole, honest, and respectful to both myself and others.

Watch knowledge braid

Very little knowledge stands alone. It braids with other knowledge to create a unique and personal approach to the world—one that only we have.

We never know how we might use our knowledge in the future. Consider everything—even the things that seem like failure or loss—as part of a learning experience that could send us in an exciting new direction.

Case in point: When I finished writing my first book, I so badly wanted to find an agent and get published traditionally. But, after about six months, I realized that the chances were slim, particularly considering the genre I was in. I decided to self-publish, but not as a sloppy-second choice. I wholeheartedly dedicated myself to learning everything I could about the process of self-publishing. I signed up for courses, found mentors, and asked lots of questions. Eventually, I did self-publish my book.

Just last week, I got a new job as a ghostwriter and article writer. One of the reasons I got the job, she told me, was that she appreciated my experience and knowledge of self-publishing.

I don’t know how I’ll be using it quite yet, but I can see now that not getting published traditionally sent me down the path I am embarking on now. Had I despaired not getting an agent, or given up entirely, or even just threw my book up on Amazon (which is not the same thing as mindfully self-publishing), I would’ve wasted an opportunity to learn the skills that might very well be called on once again.


In a culture driven by pay-for-play and tit-for-tat, I want to be the quiet voice that reminds us that some things are worth doing for their own sake. I want to be the voice that reminds us to commit ourselves to learning, to staying curious and open, and to trusting that all knowledge feeds us in some way that may or may not be visible to the outside world (or even to ourselves, sometimes!)

Don’t stress about dusty certifications in the drawers. Don’t wallow if you’re not putting to use your college degree right now. Trust that these things have, even if not in a direct way, molded you into who you are today.

Find your way back to your natural curiosity. Then, let it lead you. Let it sniff out what will best feed its appetite. Let old beliefs loosen and release. Let yourself step into the fire of transformation that learning always brings about. And then watch as someday, it all braids into something you never could’ve imagined.

These are the voices and mantras that I subscribe to now, that fuel my life and my movements in the world rather than the ones of my ego and of society:

Trust in the universe, my inner self tells me.

Follow your curiosity, gut, and intuition, says my soul.

It will all make sense at some point in time, says my heart.

I feel first; I think later. I don’t care what my judgy left brain thinks of this. My body, heart, and soul move, and my body and actions follow behind. They have to—it’s as if my foot has already stepped onto an escalator: I’m committed to going up, so the rest of me better follow behind.

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