I often struggle to know whether to say “yes” or “no” to a new experience. Even armed with details and expectations, I never truly know whether something will turn into an opportunity or an obligation.
In addition, I value clarity and purpose. When expectations are vague, I hesitate.
And yet, sometimes ignoring the small voice in the back of my head that says “no” leads to valuable and meaningful connections. Sometimes my curiosity wins and I’m learning to pay attention.
Recently, a client invited me to participate in a new venture. The only certainties: it would take a considerable amount of time and I would work with a new group of people. Together we would build a set of community values used to make decisions, of some consequence, for or on behalf of others.
Everything about the invitation screamed: Don’t do this! I didn’t know exactly what my role would be. I certainly didn’t know what the final outcome would be or where the experience would lead. I didn’t confidently know how much participation would be required and whether I had the skills the group needed.
Still, I was intrigued. Something about the invitation piqued my curiosity, and it was a reminder that sometimes I need to say nay to the silent, but often deadly, self-naysayer, and say “yes” to the unknown. Because sometimes the unknown turns into an opportunity.
What makes following curiosity worthwhile, meaningful, or purposeful?
From my experience, a successful journey along curiosity’s path starts when an opportunity, even vaguely defined, aligns with my values – integrity, inclusion, connection, learning, beauty. Once that is confirmed, I determine the opportunity’s cost and conclude with feeling.
Here’s what that looks like:
I ask myself whether the proposed experience aligns with my values. Can I practice integrity – can I do what I say I’ll do? Is it inclusive – will more people have a say? Does it build relationships or connection with others? Can I learn something? Can I glean a new way to work with people or build a skill that may help me in other areas?
Then I consider the cost of my curiosity. How much will it cost me in dollars and cents? How much time and energy – mental, emotional, ability? I also evaluate how much it may cost my values. I may choose to scrimp on beauty if it means there is a greater return in continuing learning; I may back out should the experience prove to place a higher value on money over people.
My comfort is a cost worth considering, too. When learning expands my comfort zone – while that cost may be high – the promise of self-expansion often wins out.
Lastly, I evaluate how it feels to say “yes.” Not surprisingly, this requires the least scientific evaluation of all: mostly I follow my gut. I wish at the end of the day that following one’s curiosity merely required the right answers to a prescribed list of questions or a high score on a complicated matrix.
Yet, maybe that’s why curiosity works. You feel your way through values and costs. You ask questions and consider “what if” and “maybe.”
While it’s not always comfortable to step out into the unknown, my gut says simply follow your curiosity. You may be surprised by where it takes you.
Your partners in leadership.