Curiosity and Courage

One of the main joys in life’s journey is the incredible people we meet along the way.  If we are lucky enough to call some of those people friends, then we are truly blessed.  I had coffee with my dear friend, Emily Bassett, this week.  I met her during a deployment on the USS Abraham Lincoln during the Iraqi Freedom campaign in 2002-2003.  She is a Surface Warfare Officer (Nuclear) but her official title is Commander Emily Bassett, Commanding Officer of LCS Crew 214, Pre-Commissioning Unit MANCHESTER (LCS 14).  Yes, she is currently the Commanding Officer of a United States Navy warship that will be commissioned in 2018 and she has been an inspiration to me since the day I met her.

During our conversation, we got around to the topic of women, success, and what that means.  There was one thought she articulated, that I think may be one of the most instrumental keys to becoming the woman you are fully capable of becoming.  She said the essential qualities one needs to succeed are, “Curiosity and Courage.”

One only has to take a quick look at her background to see the vast array of educational opportunities and challenging placements she has succeeded in to see an example of what she is talking about.  She has been educated in everything from a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Civilizations, to U.S. Navy Nuclear Power, a Master’s in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University and a Master’s in Hispanic Studies, taught in Spanish, from the University of Cadiz, Spain.  I can tell you, as a friend, this is only one reason she is capable of endlessly fascinating conversation.

Her Naval career includes a long list of increasingly challenging assignments that prepared her for her current role as an afloat Commanding Officer, the most challenging and rewarding position one can serve in as a Naval Officer.

I tell you about her background only to illustrate an example of curiosity and courage.  At one point, she was a young girl, a young lady living in Seattle, and she made a decision to apply for a Navy ROTC scholarship through Boston University.  It’s been years since I talked to her about that time in her life, I am sure it was exciting to be accepted, but it still took courage to actually go to Boston and figure out how to navigate college life and her NROTC duties successfully.  There are many steps along the way where she had to be strong and brave and continue to go forward toward discomfort or downright overwhelming mental challenges.  Yet, she persevered.  This is exactly how progress towards any goal happens, you figure out how to get there, then take the steps one by one, in the right direction, which takes courage when you are stretching outside your comfort zone.

Curiosity is equally important in this conversation.  The definition of curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something.

According to a study by Todd Kashdan of George Mason University, curious people report finding a greater sense of meaning in life, which is a better predictor of sustainable, lasting happiness.  “There’s this paradoxical route to well-being,” Kashdan says. “Maybe the real way to make yourself happy is by doing something that challenges you, makes you stretch.” Self-reported curiosity, he adds, tends to build over time, which suggests that the knowledge and experience curious people gain give them satisfaction, motivating them to learn even more. (Psychology Today, 2006)

In my discussion with Emily, she believes (and so do I), because of what she has learned so far, she will be able to learn anything she desires.  No matter where her next curiosity leads her, she knows she will educate herself and will continue to grow in knowledge.

If you are reading this today and you do not think you have a strong curious trait, you can cultivate your curiosity.  If you consider that curiosity and courage balance each other, you will see that you can come more courageous by being curious and you can become more curious by being courageous.  If you have a strong desire to learn something new, often times you can use that excitement and desire to help you overcome your fear of doing something you have never done before.  Likewise, sometimes, becoming more curious, more inquisitive, requires you to be bold, to be daring, and to ask questions you would not normally ask, to try something you would not normally attempt.  Make a point to wonder more, ask people about themselves, read a book about that topic that you have been thinking about.

Emily is a great example of how curiosity and courage can take you to places you have not even imagined yet.  Look around you and find someone who has already reached your goal, what steps did they take along their journey?  Focus on the examples of where they were curious and courageous.  Share examples of when you have been curious and courageous and how it paid off in the end.  I’d love to hear about your current challenges, what scares you and how you are working through it.  These journeys are not easy, but the feeling of a major accomplishment is something that will stick with you forever.