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March 18, 2015

For a Fresh Start, Try Curiosity

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For Richard, life as director of the most important department in his global organization was an endless series of goals to meet, bureaucratic battles to win, and requests to fulfill. He was good at it, and was a major reason his organization was seen as a leader in its field. But the years were taking their toll, and when we first started working together Richard said he was tired, felt stale and wasn’t sure he was having the impact that he wanted. Richard was looking for a fresh start.It was clear Richard had a lot of stories about the way life was at his organization, and the way he had to be in order to be successful there. Almost all of those stories were a variation on the Karpman drama triangle — either Richard or one of his colleagues was the villain and everyone else ran around playing victim or trying to save the day as the hero.

A lot of our early time together was spent dissecting the details of who did what to whom, how the latest initiative from the CEO was placing impossible strains on the organization, or how Richard was going to get out of there. Then one day everything changed. Richard had been reading through the 15 commitments for the umpteenth time (under my regular prodding) and suddenly something clicked. “I’ve started seeing things from a different perspective and it’s really interesting,” Richard announced one day, looking and sounding more energetic than he had in weeks. “What if these people and their requests are not meant to get me, but are inspired by good motives?

What if it’s all meant for the best?” Richard had suddenly become curious. He had discovered the power of Commitment Number 2: I commit to growing in self-awareness. I commit to regarding every interaction as an opportunity to learn. I commit to curiosity as a path to rapid learning. Before his “ah-ha” moment, Richard was attached to being right, and attached to being the victim of the CEO, the victim of his needy staff, even the victim of time as he looked at all the work he had to accomplish each day.

He was living the below-the-line version of this commitment:I commit to being right and to seeing this situation as something that is happening to me. I commit to being defensive especially when I am certain that I am RIGHT.Once he moved from being right to being curious, Richard not only found more solutions to the issues that vexed him, he also felt more energized and less hopeless about his situation. And the really interesting thing was that nothing else around him changed — it was all in how he looked at it: was he looking for evidence to support his story of being the over-worked linchpin, or would he entertain some alternative theories?

Once he let go of being right, Richard didn’t spend so much time and energy on defending his position or believing that he was the victim of an erratic CEO or an over-packed schedule. Instead, Richard started thinking about ways to make his views known to the CEO; he learned new techniques for scheduling his work; he found ways to add more rest and renewal into his day.

Moving into curiosity opened Richard’s eyes to all the different choices he has in every minute. And while he still does many of the same things he did before, Richard does them because he chooses to, not because he feels he has no alternative. And sometimes, he dreams up a new way to respond to something, proving that curiosity actually does fuel creativity, aliveness and a renewed engagement with work. Looking at his job through the lens of curiosity gave Richard a way to create the fresh start he was searching for.

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