Curiosity Killed My Career…and Made My Life

Curiosity killed my career. Several times, in fact. It lured, tantalized, taunted and stalked me all of my life.

It started innocently enough: every child is curious. When you’re seeing everything for the first time, it’s hard not to be deliriously curious. Every flower, cloud, blade of grass, raindrop, crack in the sidewalk. Discovery is a thrill.

We all start out like this, though most of us lose that sense of wonder soon enough. We stop asking “why” and resign ourselves to “that’s the way it is.”

It’s the natural order of life in the industrialized era: as a child discovery is our number one priority. In school, we learn the practical tools of a contributing member of society. We learn to read and write, we learn math and science, social studies and history. Then we go to college. Now that we’re grown up, we decide what we’re going to be and we take on a specialty — a profession. Then we graduate and the next 40 years we spend doing our chosen profession. We seem to need less and less curiosity as we go along.

I was lucky. Curiosity stayed with me and so did that sense of wonder.

In college, I had a hard time selecting a major because everything fascinated me. I settled on journalism, not because I had this vision of becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein but because it allowed me to pursue and learn about anything that caught my attention. And I liked a lot of things: science, philosophy, religion, history, politics, psychology, computers, art, business, agriculture, architecture…the list never ends.

As a professional, however, I discovered curiosity’s dark side. It fed some of my worse traits: boredom and fear. The thrill in the brand new discovery grows dull as you dig deeper. Digging takes a different kind of determination. You have to push through the tedium. You must ignore that nagging feeling that you might be missing something, if you just look to the right or left. It’s such a big commitment.

And that’s why I say curiosity killed my career. In my professional life, as in school, I bounced around — from industry to industry — always looking for something new to capture my interest. I never found that one thing — that industry or profession or specialty, that seized my passion.

I admire specialists. Because the specialist has the discipline to stick with a subject and master it. She builds on what came before and carries her field forward. Frankly, our current age prefers the specialist. It rewards her. She gains the respect of her colleagues, sought out as an expert. She rises to the top of her field.

The generalist, by comparison, rarely receives the accolades. He may learn a lot about many things. He may be able to talk about many subjects, he may grasp the basics and ask good questions, but he remains a bit of an outsider. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” as the old saying goes.

I became just such and outsider. I have no regrets. I embrace my path. In fact, I consider myself lucky. Whether demon or angel, curiosity guided my every step.

Don’t misunderstand. It takes just as much work to study many things to some degree as it does to study one subject to a great degree. A generalist is not lazy — simply chooses a different path of knowledge.

Now I have the advantage of seeing the world from 14,000 feet. From the vantage of the mountain peak I can see the horizon miles away. I see how many things fit together, interact, serve and support each other — or challenge and defeat each other. For the specialist, focus narrows. For me, the world constantly expands.

In a way, I owe my broad understanding to the works of those who specialize. If you think of learning as a rock concert, I’m crowd surfacing on the shoulders of geniuses. For me that’s a thrill.

So what’s my point? I suppose, if you want a successful career, choose a field that inspires you and dive in. Stick with it, even when it seems tedious and difficult. It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill — even longer to master a profession. There’s a lot more to it, of course, but this is the modern road to success.

Be sure you lift your head up once in a while. Look around at the rest of the world. Don’t allow yourself to live exclusively in one silo of information. Be aware of the rest of the world. It might impact — possibly derail — your world view.

Prepare for change. In case you haven’t noticed, the rate of change is increasing exponentially. Even careers come and go in less than a lifetime. Be aware of the trends in and around your profession and be ready to ride the waves of change.

Above all, enjoy the ride. Embrace curiosity for its own sake. Ask questions. Savor the wonder in the things, ideas and people all around you. There’s so much to see and do and discover. Allow yourself be delighted.