Curated Curiosity Plus Reflection Equals Your Story


I once met with the professional explorer, Mike Horn, on his yacht just before he sailed to Antarctica to spend 5100km on the ice alone and afterwards he had successfully completed the first unsupported solo attempt crossing the longest route in 56 days and 22 hours.

We were on the stern side of the yacht facing the bow and there were children playing on the yacht because Mike had a family gathering later and the children had also been invited. The sun was dancing on the surface of the ocean and enjoying the rhythm of the waves I felt a feeling of discovery.

Whilst talking I noticed that one of the children started climbing the mast of the yacht and I could see that Mike had also noticed this but did not pay more than the necessary attention to it. It was a boy and when he slipped on the ladder of the mast he quickly managed to get his footing again but I had already moved towards him to help and just then Mike gently nudged me back to where we were standing.

This was when I realised why we should all have mentors, and more importantly, become apprentices.

I’ll explain- I have strong relational archetypes and strengths and with empathy, connectedness and relator as some of the main drivers, I quickly realised that I have a responsibility to keep myself in check by practicing the opposite, which is self-care.

There is an upside to these strengths because it supports me as an Integral Coach that facilitates self- and career exploration with a process-driven curiosity at the centre of this approach. An Integral approach brings about change that endures over time, beyond the lifetime of a coaching contract.

Let’s talk about what the Norwegians call the doorstep mile. The first step of a long journey and often the hardest one to make, like choosing a (new) career.

I see hundreds of high school learners, university students, entrepreneurs and working individuals every year. I don’t ask them what they want to do when they grow up, but rather what they want to do next as they continue growing up. Some would ask me about a gap-year and I tell them that I don’t use the term ‘gap-year’, because I much rather prefer to call a year filled with new insights about yourself an ‘experience year’ or even a ‘curated curiosity year’. Why would we intentionally think about a year in our lives as a ‘gap’?

Let’s reframe this: Curated curiosity plus reflection equals a story.

Back to the Norwegians. When facing the first step to decide on a career, or to try a new career, we often get stuck on finding the right answer as soon as possible to give an answer as soon as possible. And you know what, these days it’s easy to get an answer, for almost anything, and in record time.

There are a couple of ways to solve problems. Tame problems are problems that you can solve, and they stay solved. Engineers build roads through mountains and call it a mountain pass, so that you don’t have to drive 5 hours around the mountain to get to where you want to be.

In business we optimise our way forward. With research we analyse our way forward. In a sense these are tame problems, but choosing a career is a wicked problem, where we have to build our way forward, step by step.

It is much more complex and does not stay solved.

If we think about how the industrial revolutions have developed, one way to think about it was that the first was about water and steam, the second about electricity, the third about the microprocessor, and we’ll all agree that the fourth is about artificial intelligence, big data and the internet of things. Now, if we think about the fifth industrial revolution, in a time where we often feel defined by tech and data, it is perhaps becoming clear that we don’t know that much about what it means to be human? We can, however, take what we have learnt from the fourth industrial revolution and let that give rise to a new and fresh appreciation of humanity.

Back on Pangaea, Mike’s yacht, he asked if I wanted to see the yacht and he showed me around and explained how everything works and when we got to the storage room he showed me the sled that he will have to haul across the snow and ice for three months and invited me to lift it up and feel the weight. I asked him how he trained for this expedition and I knew that he has an exceptional physical and mental strength and he answered:

“Well, because it has never been done, and because of the unknown territory, the first couple of weeks are the training, and that is why preparation is so important.”

We often think that finding a career or something we are passionate about is a sudden and all-at-once discovery. Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit says;

‘passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and a lifetime of deepening.’

This is also know as Wayfinding.

Dave Evans, a friend of mine from Stanford University, teaches a class called ‘Designing Your Life’ with his friend Bill Burnett which was dubbed as Stanford’s ‘most popular class’ by Fast Company. I hosted Dave at Stellenbosch University earlier this year and together with some of the vice-rectors we discussed how the human-centred design thinking approach to self- and career exploration can help us with this wicked problem in Stellenbosch.

"Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. For this, you need a compass and a direction.

Not a map- a direction."

Think about this for a second. Wayfinding is not navigation. With navigation you have a map. Wayfinding invites you to become self-sustainable and ready for the unknown because you have done the preparation to orientate yourself, and to start where you are.

We looked to the moon and had no idea how to get there, but we had a direction.

We remember the explorers who stated that there are no use for rudders when ships stay docked. Antoine de Saint-Exupery reminds us that; ‘if you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’

Still, even finding a direction could be a very hard and daunting thing to do, so how do we look for clues and where do we begin? How do we discern between our passions, talents, personality, skills and interests?

Let me share another secret from Angela’s book on Grit where se mentioned that; ‘interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and ineffective. Paradoxically, the initial discovery of an interest often goes unnoticed by the discoverer.’

In other words, when you start to get interested in something, you may not even realise that’s what’s happening.

The great thing about noticing the outside world is that we can actually gather data on this, which in turn invites reflection. This is where somatics comes in.

What is somatics? Well, simply put, it is how we use our body and senses to tell us more about what we notice about the outside world, to help us work through somatic data and define who we are.

Fortunately, because this is such an untapped way of knowing, it is really easy to start. First we have to acknowledge that we mostly use cognitive knowing when we make decisions. This is in the form of clear, organised, structured informational kind of knowing.

However, when you tap into a intuitive, emotional and somatic type of knowing, you might surprise yourself. It is my firm believe that our bodies reacts to potential before we can cognitively make sense of it.

Let me give you an example: I am sitting in a coffee shop and I am by myself. Suddenly I find myself turning my head in the direction of someone who said something about a Land Cruiser and the Okavango Delta. Then a couple of weeks later I walk down the street and see a Land Cruiser parked next to the road- my walking pace slowed and I actually stopped next to the car and smiled, not knowing why exactly.

I had a somatic (body) reaction.

This is how your body wants to tell you something about who you are. This is how you gather data. This is also how you notice reoccurring themes. The coffee shop ‘words-that-will-make-your-head-turn’ example is one of the first things I ask people as we wayfind their way towards their vocation.

This is what human-centred design looks like.

It is essential that we have physical experiences to support the process of not knowing and prototyping our way forward. When the Singularity University listed curiosity as one of the most important skills to have for the fourth industrial revolution, I could not agree more.

Inspired by Mike, and playing my part to encourage environmental, social and corporate governance, I have also facilitated expeditions to various remarkable people and extraordinary places in Africa with young explorers for the last fifteen years, teaching them how to be curious, and how to notice, as well as expanding their capacity towards empathy for other cultures and learning new ways in which different people think and act. This year we visited a National Geographic Explorer in the heart of the Caprivi, Namibia. Her work demonstrated the interdisciplinary way of working towards solving environmental challenges; like sociology (engaging with local farmers in a context sensitive way), anthropology, technology (the use of collars to track lions via satellite), machine learning (processing 500 000 photos taken in the park for research in two weeks’ time, a task that took months to do) and last but not least, ecology and sustainability.

After a recent conversation with the rector of Stellenbosch University, Wim De Villiers, I realised the significance of these expeditions because it plays into exactly what the university’s new school for data science and computational thinking suggests: ‘Facilitating non-conventional, trans-faculty approaches to teaching and research in data science and computational thinking in an interdisciplinary way.’

Again making the significance of data, human-centered.

When you build your way forward and curate your curiosity by using your senses as telltales, you begin to realise that it is in the process of discovery that the beauty lies.

There is a romance that lies in the unknown that has the capacity to teach you that you are actually able to live more than one life, and that you don’t have to give only one answer when asked: ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ or ‘what do you want to study after school?’

I can tell you that I have many words that I have noticed again and again in a coffee shop and after many years I now know that they have always somehow been apart of me, inviting me to a future that wants to emerge, and that I should never stop listening for them.

Go find yourself a coffee shop, get curious and try it out. Listen for the words that make your head turn in that direction. Look for the things that slows you down and talk to people.