5 Things I’ve learnt about being friends with Curiosity and Passion

Robert Lee
Jan 7, 2017 · 8 min read
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Passion and Curiosity

It’s somewhat easy to confuse the siblings Curiosity and Passion.

They share the same genetics, but also have subtle distinctions. These nuances come to life just by thinking or uttering their names. What is surprising is how the use of either Curiosity or Passion in a certain context can be liberating or constraining.

Here are five musings I’ve discovered about these two beings over the years.

1. Passion burns like fire

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Let’s start by describing Passion. Red haired, fiery and intense— as a muse it very often invokes language shaped in the element of fire.

“There’s a flame that burns inside me …” / “It’s my spark …” / “This is what ignites my soul.”

These are phrases that people say about their craft when they are deeply enthused and enraptured by passion.

Passion is popular. Passion attracts compulsion, extroversion and devotion. It gets a lot of press coverage, and is part of the vocabulary we channel when we find ourselves in conversations about uncertain futures, career pivots and new challenges that shake our professional and personal lives.

Passion burns. Passion also requires healthy amounts of oxygen to survive. Whilst I’m not disputing the intensely magical effect Passion has on a person’s soul, it is wise to remember just how demanding it can be.

2. Curiosity moves like water

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So what of Passion’s older sibling, Curiosity?

Curiosity is quieter by nature. Some might even call it introverted. Curiosity moves in ways that could be described as gentle, contemplative, unusual and even pensive. As an elemental metaphor, Curiosity acts like water. It is shapeless, but it interacts with you in different ways.

Sometimes you’re watching it flow past in a river. On other occasions it’s falling onto you like rain. Sometimes you’re swimming in it, above and below the surface. You even drink curiosity to stay hydrated and balanced.

Arguably Curiosity is less purposeful than Passion.

It doesn’t demand you do anything with it, other than respect the moment where you see the beginning of threads starting to appear. Curiosity invites you to to cast attention and notice something that you hadn’t before. If you decide to follow the thread, you may be taken on a journey into territories previously unexplored.

It’s understandably easy to miss the highlights Curiosity leaves on objects and ideas. Curiosity starts off observational, and sometimes it will give you over to Passion’s more intense hands. Sometimes curiosity won’t do this. And that’s perfectly okay too.

3. Passion, Curiosity and Advice

The ideas presented here are heavily inspired by a luminous interview that author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love, Big Magic)had with Kirsta Tippett on the wonderful podcast, On Being.

When I heard it, it made me question and re-frame many assumptions and beliefs we have about career, callings and our the texture of our lives.

How many times have you had a conversation with a colleague or friend about an uncertain future only to have the question, “What is your passion?” surface.

But what we seldom hear ourselves or others say in these conversations is, “What are you curious about?”

I believe the differences in these two questions are surprisingly profound.

It seems more likely that you’ll try and answer the passion question in a singular way, because the word signals a much heavier commitment.

Answering the question about curiosity tends to suggest multiple answers. Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“Oh, I love curiosity our friend. I mean, I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. And so when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there’s a great deal of pressure around that. And I think if you don’t happen to have a passion that’s very clear, or if you have lost your passion, or if you’re in a change of life where your passions are shifting or you’re not certain, and somebody says, “Well, it’s easy to solve your life, just follow your passion.” [laughs] I do think that they have harmed you because it just makes people feel more excluded, and more exiled, and sometimes like a failure.”

What I like about Elizabeth’s quote is that for those who are unsure about their passion curiosity provides possibility in a very patient way.

4. Clues from curiosity can move you closer to your passion

Maybe you’re asking, “How does one be more curious?” I can only offer advice that I’ve followed myself, so here is mine.

Practice viewing the world with less judgment. One aspect is suspending the questions that make you assess whether things are good, bad, right or wrong. And a helpful way to start off on a different train of thought are musings that begin with:

“I wonder why … / I wonder how …”

Quite often, a curious mind and the right questions can uncover insights to intention and process that can re-frame the way you see the world.

Allow yourself the luxury to ponder and to follow breadcrumbs. Be a traveler in your mind.

linger over something for five seconds longer than you ‘have’ to. You might be surprised at what you can find.

Unfettered curiosity can certainly rob us of the focus needed to be creators, makers and to care about the pursuits that we invest our energy into. Time-box your exploration if you’re fearful that it will distract you from the important things you want to achieve.

Try and appreciate that conscious, mindful curiosity enhances our ability to see patterns and new forms of inspiration, even when we have found our passion.

5. The Parents of Curiosity and Passion

Do you know who the parents of Curiosity and Passion are? One is grounded on earth, and the other is ethereal in the atmosphere. Their names are Fulfillment and Destiny.

Destiny spends a lot of time in the sky where stars and clouds roam. Its carved out a territory for us to look upward, imagine our future and make plans towards our dreams.

Fulfillment digs its roots into the ground. As we stand on its soil, it asks us if we are happy and enriched; if we’re feeling meaning and experiencing our roots take plant, expand and grow.

Their children, Curiosity and Passion, are great companions on your own journey as you shift altitudes and navigate your life’s terrain.

We romanticize Passion because we value devotion and longevity, and we also covet it because it’s so much easier to come across as a happy human being if we are commercializing what we love to do for money. And this is a wonderful state to strive for. Passion makes for a wonderful

However, it’s nice to acknowledge curiosity more often, as in many cases is it leads people to finding their passion. Even if it curiosity doesn’t result in becoming this, it results in you being more interested, which quite simply makes you a more interesting person.

And that’s quite a fulfilling thing to know.

MS. GILBERT: Curiosity is an impulse that just taps you on the shoulder very lightly and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little closer at something that has intrigued you. And it may not set your head on fire. It may not change your life. It may not change the world. It may not even line up with previous things that you’ve done or been interested in. It may seem very random and make no sense. And I think the reason people end up not following their curiosity is because they’re waiting for a bigger sign. And your curiosities sometimes are so mild and so strange. [laughs] And so — almost nothing, right? It’s a little trail of breadcrumbs that you can overlook if you’re looking up at the mountaintop waiting for Moses to come down and give you a sign from God.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Right. As you said, it gives you — curiosity gives you clues. [laughs]

MS. GILBERT: It’s clues and…

MS. TIPPETT: Doesn’t necessarily give you a destination at all, right?

MS. GILBERT: [laughs] It doesn’t. And here’s the thing. Sometimes following your curiosity will lead you to your passion. Sometimes it won’t, and then guess what? That’s still totally fine. You’ve lived a life following your curiosity. You’ve created a life that is a very interesting thing, different from anybody else’s. And your life itself then becomes the work of art, not so much contingent upon what you produced, but about a certain spirit of being that I think is a lot more interesting and also a lot more sustainable.

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I hope Curiosity lets its ripples, tides and currents take you to interesting places on its rivers, streams and oceans. I hope it gives your life new colour where you didn’t see it before.

I hope Passion lights your internal bonfire and makes your days luminous and warm. I hope it gives you the heat to chase your ambition and even be profitable.

May you be blessed to make good friends with both of them in your life.

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