I was talking to my uncle today and he was telling me about the horse he bought recently, a "reining" horse—something I had not heard of previously. As is my habit, I Googled reining and learned that it is a competitive sport not too far removed from cutting horses or dressage. He told me he had never heard of reining until he moved to Ohio a few years ago. He said, "I just got curious about it and wanted to learn more, and there’s a lot to learn. But it keeps me young, I guess." Later, I was thinking about that statement and I realized that curiosity seems to be the key difference between those who are youthful in heart and mind and those who are not. This has absolutely nothing to do with age!! I have known teens who were bored, cynical old people in their minds and I have known 90-year-olds who had personalities and sparkle like young children.
Now there is a difference between "nosy" and "curious!" To me, there is usually an element of malice in nosiness. Normally, when I think someone is being nosy (including myself), that person is trying to gain information so they can gossip or at least think malicious thoughts to themselves. Curiosity tends to be oriented toward things other than other folk’s personal business, although it is entirely possible to be simply curious about people’s personal business! It all depends on what motivates the questions and what you plan to do with the information. Another way to say that is curiosity tends to be mind-expanding, while nosy tends to be mind-closing.
Curiosity is what drives people to learn new things, to experiment, to travel to new places, to try new foods, to meet new people and learn about different ways of living, to read books, to seek out new information and to challenge themselves. Leading a curious life often involves some level of discomfort. It’s really not possible to stay in your comfort zone and still expect to satisfy your curiosity. Even if you live a physically comfortable life, you will surely experience some psychic or intellectual discomfort as you seek your answers. Embrace that discomfort, it means you are growing, changing, healing. It is just like lifting weights to build muscles—there will be some soreness if you are doing it right.
Like most parents, there were certain children’s shows my kids watched that I enjoyed as much as they did. "The Magic School Bus," an animated show about a science class, was one of my favorites. The teacher in the show, Miss Frizzle, was the kind of teacher I wish I could be. Her favorite saying was "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy." I adopted that saying for myself and have used it on myself, my children, my students, and in my business. Safety is a good thing when it comes to fastening your seatbelt or not picking up rattlesnakes, but too much mental safety can make you old!
I am a knitter and I take my knitting everywhere I go. So many people say they would like to learn how but they would probably mess it all up and just get frustrated. Well, how do they think I learned? Nearly thirty years ago I made several goofy-looking squares, then I made a wool sweater for a friend. It definitely had the "loving hands at home" look so I doubt he ever wore it in public. But by the time I finished it, I had gotten the hang of knitting and purling. This past week, I finished my first pair of hand knitted socks. I made SO MANY mistakes! Some of them I corrected, some I didn’t, but they are wearable and comfortable and I am so proud of them.
You want to know the secret of eternal youth? It is being curious which leads to lifelong learning. A curious person has something to live for each and every day, a reason to get up out of bed and get on with the day. So go on and take chances, make mistakes, get messy! And stay young at heart!