Couldn’t find a more fitting picture than a Curiosity Rover’s selfie.

How I flipped my life 180º in 1 year

2015 was hands down a discovery year for me, I’ve probably learned about new things this year more than I did in the past 10 years. All thanks to a single, yet powerful ingredient : Curiosity.

Every creature comes to this world with a spark of curiosity — and I’ll explain why it’s a Spark in a second — Since childhood, you wrecked your toys just to have a look at their innards. You you knew destroying your toy will render it useless, as you learned from the tens of toys you destroyed before, but you still did it, and in your subconscious mind, it’s not that you couldn’t wait until you play with it, it’s you couldn’t wait until you break it and you see what is inside.

The reason why I see curiosity as a spark, is the idea that it’s the start of a discovery, it’s a very short moment, yet, an exhausting burst of ideas and speculations that lead to an action from your part. You wander around in a city you’ve never been to, and you instantly get flooded by those questions as to how it was founded, what are their landmarks and who built them; these questions lead to an action from your part to end this exhaustion and satisfy this curiosity, you go look for information about that city, and voilà ! You have learned something new !

Curiosity is a spark, the start of a discovery, it’s a very short moment, yet, an exhausting burst of ideas and speculations that lead to an action from your part.

However, curiosity isn’t spontaneous, it needs a catalyst, and in this case, it’s a previous action. You probably wouldn’t have learned new things about that city if you didn’t pack your bags and visited it in the first place. And this puts us in a perfect circle, you perform an action that leads to a spark of curiosity, that in turn leads to another action … et cetera. You have to fuel curiosity with action.

I am a Graphic Designer, I dropped out of the university to do this job and nothing else, which means I didn’t enroll in a design school, and I had no formal education in design. But how did I manage to build a career out of basically .. nothing, no prerequisites or anything ? You guessed it : Curiosity.

I used to spend hours a day staring in awe at Deviantart.com, thinking these people are wizards, how did they do that ? How can someone possibly turn an empty white canvas into a beautiful artwork ? Then one day I downloaded the portable version of Photoshop and dived headfirst into it. And here I am now, 7 years later, still learning and still staring in awe at other artists’ work, and with that same spark of curiosity that started it all, I downloaded Cinema 4D and taught myself 3D illustration.

One thing leads to another, and if you break that chain, everything will stop and your life will become cold and dull. That state is called Routine, it’s Curiosity’s nemesis.

I learned this the hard way. 2014 was the worst year I’ve ever been through. I had a depression that basically kept me at home sometimes for a month at a time, unable to socialize or do my job properly, which quickly spiraled down into a routine. And just like action is the fuel of curiosity, inaction is the fuel of routine. Every day is the same, and at the end of it while in bed staring at the empty ceiling, empty just like your days, you realize you haven’t learned anything new that day, you sink deeper into the mattress, and the next day, repeat.

You might be wondering now, how could I escape that routine from last year. Action. One day, I stared out the window and realized I was aging, and fast. You might be thinking I am still 24 (at the time) how am I calling this “aging” ? Well, I believe the moment you hit 21 years old, your 30s start creeping in fast. And it’s important because the older you get, the faster years go by, it’s not relativity, it’s a reality. So, the next thing I did, I wore my hiking shoes, and went climbing a mountain, and in the middle of it, I realized Yeah I am really aging ! I felt I needed to do something about it, this is definitely not a 24 years old body, it’s a 50 years old body.

I started hitting the gym, cycling and running. Fast forward a few months later, I went from not being able to run 500m without panting like a dog, to running 10km straight, and backpacking 150km in 5 days. Exercise really helped me break that vicious circle of routine, and enter a fruitful circle of curiosity and action

And apart from my physical well being, I learned lots of other things, here are a few of them:

  • Why is my hometown called Fez — It’s because the founder Idriss I used a pickaxe (F’ass in arabic) to trace the borders of the city. (source)
  • Black Holes are not holes — When I watched Interstellar, I was surprised by how they portrayed Gargantua as a sphere, so I dug deeper into it, and came across this explanation by Kip Thorn.
  • How Fusion Reactors work — When I heard about Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) aka “The Stellarator”, which is a fusion reactor that took 19 years to build and has been turned on for the first time a couple weeks ago, I looked up how these reactors work, and how different they are from traditional nuclear reactors. (source)
  • Bullet ant sting induces the worst pain your brain can barely handle. — (source)
  • Orca aka Killer Whales are definitely the apex predator of the ocean, not the Great White shark — A documentary by National Geographic shows how Orcas hunt sharks and how cleverly they do it by flipping the shark upside down to induce a tonic immobility state. (source)

There are a lot of things to say about self-improvement, but I feel this essay is so long already, so I will wrap it up by insisting on the fact that you absolutely can’t “wish” for 2016 to be better, wishes are for fairy tales, you have to admit and accept the idea that in whichever state you are now, it can be even better with curiosity, look at things around you and learn about them, you never know where you’ll end up, but it’s definitely better than where you are now.

Have a curious new year.

– Yours truly, Chakib.