Cultivating Wonder

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One of my teachers recently told me I had an incredible gift for wonder. I was a bit taken aback by her statement. I have always seen this as a weak area for me. I have spent so much of my life focused on doing and only recently begun to embrace being more fully. This integration of doing and being is what I call teliodosis.

This teacher is more than a little bit mystical, and it has occurred to me that she may be speaking about my capacity for wonder. I can relate to this. We all possess an incredible capacity for wonder, but few do much to tap into that innate ability.

Today, we will explore some ways to cultivate wonder and, in doing so, enrich our lives.

Be Curious

One of the simplest ways to shift your perspective and create more opportunities for wonder is to be deeply curious about everything you do.

When I reflect on my past life of doing, I can see how my purposeful, goal-driven mindset tamped down curiosity. Curiosity is inefficient. Curiosity takes time we don’t think we have. Curiosity dramatically increases the likelihood that our well-thought-out position will prove incorrect.

Coaching gives me a distinct advantage in this regard. I was taught early on that a coach should show up with no attachments to the coachee’s decisions. We bring our curiosity, create a safe space for discussion, ask powerful questions, and enable the coachee to unlock the brilliance already inside them. Hundreds of coaching hours have helped me embrace curiosity, not just in coaching but in all my interactions.

Consider this scenario. You are faced with a difficult situation and need to discuss it with your boss to identify the best course of action.

When you are in a doing mindset, you will do your homework. You have undoubtedly been taught to never bring a problem to your boss without an accompanying recommended solution. So, you diligently prepare your recommendation. You may be very attached to your recommendation. You enter your conversation looking to make your boss’s life easy by taking them through the situation, sharing your brilliant solution, and getting in and out in fifteen minutes.

In this situation, when your boss engages in discussion and starts to ask questions, you may be defensive. You aren’t listening to your boss; you are thinking about what you will say next to convince them your solution is best. The ensuing conversation is stressful and potentially very unsatisfying.

Instead, consider what happens if you bring a being mindset and embrace curiosity. You may go through much of the same preparation, but the key difference is you are not attached to your recommendation. When you engage with your boss, you tell yourself, “I have no idea how this conversation will play out. I am curious to see where it leads.”

When you bring curiosity, the stressful conversation transforms into a lively, engaging conversation. Curiosity lets you listen intently to your boss, understand their perspective, and co-create a solution. When the solution you agree upon is something different than you had imagined, you celebrate the result of your curiosity rather than bemoan having been unable to persuade your boss that you were right.

Leave Space for Wonder

When we are in a space of doing, we are focused and purposeful. This is a highly efficient space, and it can bring success professionally and personally. Leader Josh was well known for his reliability and his gift for execution. I was (and still am) proud of those gifts.

If you are like me, you can become so good at the execution that you overfill your days with tasks. You feel great about everything you’ve achieved, but something is missing. The wonder that arises when you create a space for being.

We can create space in small ways by finding activities that support wonder and shifting our focus to accommodate them. A few examples for me include:

  • Running without headphones. When I open my ears, I also open my eyes and heart and see and experience everything differently.
  • Learning. When I yearn to learn something, I find a way to scratch the itch. I recently subscribed to The Great Courses through Wondrium so I could get access to their lectures on quantum mechanics.
  • Whenever I feel too much in the space of doing, I close my eyes and breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes.

I also had a more deliberate strategy last year. I’ve written about my love of quarterly goals and OKRs, which focus my time and energy on a few critical things at a time. In Q2 2023, I set one fewer objective for the quarter, consciously leaving space in my quarter for more wonder. Here’s how I wrote the OKR:

Wonder OKR – “This space intentionally left blank”

Whenever I had a noteworthy experience of wonder, I shared it with my personal board of directors. There was no measurement or tracking beyond that. I think I am overdue for another quarterly wonder OKR.

Find a Partner in Wonder

In my time at Ellucian, I worked closely with Brian Knotts. Brian has an insatiable curiosity, which sometimes drove me crazy back then. I’d be focused on getting things done as efficiently as possible, and Brian would pester me with excellent questions that produced a richer, more robust outcome but frustrated my desire to get things done quickly.

As I’ve grown better at integrating doing and being, I’ve grown to love and embrace Brian’s curiosity. He is my Partner in Wonder. We have a mutual curiosity in several areas that fuels conversations that last for hours.

There is never as much time as I’d like to engage with Brian. Our latest experiment is to create a collaborative space in Notion to share our thoughts asynchronously. We’ve agreed to call the space Wonderland.

The Gifts of Wonder

As I write this article, I’m beginning to understand why my teacher said what she said. I think I have a much greater capacity for wonder than I’m tapping into today, but her mere suggestion has sparked a delightful wave of wonder.

I often have friends and colleagues remark about how happy I am. I know a big part of this stems from finding a profession that aligns with my purpose and doesn’t feel like work. But I’m also recognizing that a key ingredient in my recipe for happiness is approaching things with a disposition of wonder. When you approach things with wonder rather than expecting what will happen, you are far less likely to be disappointed with the outcome and more open to surprises and unexpected joy.

Putting It Into Practice

Here are some simple strategies to cultivate wonder.

  • Be deeply curious. Approach every conversation with an open mind, unattached to the outcome.
  • Create space for wonder. Do this in small ways, like running without headphones, and in big ways by choosing to do less.
  • Find a Partner in Wonder who inspires your curiosity and can share in the richness of experience.

I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

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