When asked about his uniqueness, Albert Einstein didn’t blabber about his intelligence, work ethic, happiness, or relationships—he talked about his curiosity. He claimed that his accomplishments had to do with an appreciation of the little mysteries of everyday life that others often take for granted. There was always something he didn’t understand that he relished trying to figure out. His drive to search, ask questions, and explore the vast unknown was as important to him as the drive to find answers. It is an approach to living that is simple to understand and rare in practice.
Even though we may not develop our natural curiosity with Einstein-like devotion, when we act on our curiosity, we feed our brains and are in the greatest position to enrich our lives. Forty-five-year-old championship dog trainer Ben is a case in point.
Ben was a successful trial lawyer. At an early age, he became the judge of an appellate court for military veterans. Listening to the appeals of soldiers who served our country and felt justice failed to serve them, Ben made an impact. However, he experienced a quiet but gnawing lack of connection to what he was doing. The stress and emotional intensity of his work led him to feel less rather than more engaged with his professional life. When I met him, he had been exploring various interests for several years. He took piano lessons and Pilates classes. Then he bought a dog. Little did he know that buying this dog, a Tervuren named Vixen, would be a turning point that would open up new roads for filling his days, adding new layers to his personality.
The breeder helped Ben train Vixen, and his dog became a better companion. During one of these increasingly frequent training sessions, the breeder mentioned that Tervs have a reputation as stellar sheep herders, sharing the name of a farmer who teaches sheep herding. On a whim, Ben called and signed up for weekly lessons. A far cry from the excitement of courtroom testimonies and surprise witnesses, I asked Ben why he like sheep herding so much.
“For one thing, the man who teaches me is wonderful. I’m in awe of his connection to the dogs—he’s the Dog Whisperer. As for me, when I’m training Vixen, my brain is on overdrive, attuned to how my emotions and body communicate certain messages to him. At the same time, I have to be aware of what Vixen’s trying to tell me. And all the while, I have to be aware of what’s going on around us, making adjustments, using my body language in a way that is graceful and unnoticeable as possible to the judges.”
He added, “If you had told me that I was going to fight my way to become a judge only to spend most of my salary on sheep-herding lessons, I would have thought you were nuts! But here I am!”
His work with Vixen is far removed from the strains and challenges in the courtroom. Ben started waking up invigorated, and his new world started to spill over into his “real” job. Other people noticed his new enthusiasm. Whether it’s due to Vixen, his receptiveness to new experiences or some combination, Ben’s life is changing, his personality is evolving and he’s better for it.
All excerpts and quotations are taken directly from Curious? © 2009, by Todd Kashdan, courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.