Tracker, the book by Tom Brown, Jr., I quoted from yesterday, is more or less entirely about curiosity and, in addition, illustrates beautifully throughout an idea I mentioned earlier about the connection between curiosity and excellence.
Something else he writes about that interests me is testing limits. Brown and his friend Rick, whose grandfather was the Apache tracker who taught them, considered learning their true limits a part of their education and went about it with great curiosity. They tested how long they could go without food, water, sleep and how little they could get away with wearing even in really cold weather. They also tested their capacity to withstand and deal with fear. This helped them feel at home in harsh environments and gave them confidence that they could deal with almost anything that came along.
One reason I’m taking four months off at the moment is that over the last ten years I so repeatedly tested my professional limits—both in terms of ability and in terms of how much work I could do—that I felt I couldn’t go on without a break and some time to think. Instead of making me stronger and more confident—as it did Tom Brown and his friend Rick—testing my limits simply wore me out.
What is the difference? You may think I’m stretching a point, but I think part of it was curiosity. They wanted to learn how far they could go and went into each situation with awareness and great interest (and probably more testosterone than I ;-)). I accepted projects and then saw them through no matter what. I rarely took a step back to think about what I was doing and felt I couldn’t afford the failure that inevitably goes along with truly reaching your limits.
In a little over three weeks I’ll be back at work with two pretty big projects in December. Will I be able to see my re-entry into work and those projects as a chance to test my abilities and limits without getting just worn out? Only time will tell …