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Curiosity Killed the Critic.


I found myself caught in an emotional revolving door the other day; spinning and spinning at the behest of my inordinately truculent inner critic. I had finally finished a piece of artwork, and it had not worked within the design or dimension for that which I had originally been commissioned. That has so rarely happened, that I let it throw me.

I let myself feel disappointment, frustration, and after going around and around for a while, eventually even doubt regarding my ability to finish this project on time and up to a sufficient standard. My heart rate rose while my spirits sank. I felt as if I had misused hours of precious time.

Just then, I heard a crash in the kitchen. A calamity of pots, pans and silverware falling to the floor. The noise alone propelled me out of my chair, out of my funk, and into the kitchen. My dear friend—and houseguest for the week—had ever so slightly knocked our drying-rack balancing-act into a parade of uncoordinated clowns pounding away on their untuned drum kits. It went on for so long before we could catch everything, that we both simply—and futilely—dissolved into laughter. I stayed to help until every kitchen utensil, every accoutrement was picked up, wiped off and put back in its proper place. It wasn’t until I had served my friend the drink she had originally been trying to fix, and had returned to my office before I had realized how much better I felt. How much farther from my own sinkhole I was, how much more emotionally effervescent I had become.

A later conversation with a dear friend brought forth a similar epiphanic moment. She told me of her beautiful teenage daughter’s angst, the gravity with which her daughter had been navigating her school, her friends, boys, and life at that age. She shared with me her daughter’s frustration over an inability to articulate what she was feeling or how to make it better, and the similar self-centered centrifugal force in which she (and I) had both been spinning. Her mom had suggested that she offer to help someone in school the next day—a teacher, a fellow student, one of her friends. Sure enough, after school the next day her daughter’s angst had slowed its centrifuge, and had returned to orbit around her hobbies, her passions, what lit her up. After asking about her day, her daughter confessed that she had, indeed, taken her mom’s advice and helped a new girl in school open a stubborn locker, and find her classes.

That simple act of service—nay, humanness—emotionally redirected her daughter’s angst to a simple and brilliant feeling of usefulness, of purpose. Both of our experiences had turned our rapidly rotating sense of self-doubt and disconnectedness into strong, palpable connective tissue between us and those to whom we had reached out and offered a hand. Connection. It is the gravitational force that pulls us all together.

On the way home from meeting my sweet friend, I thought of the last time I was on stage. I had felt that familiar surge of adrenaline as I came through the curtain, and made an immediate and deliberate decision to channel that surge into a rabid curiosity for my scene partner—for what he was feeling, emoting, gesticulating. An insatiable curiosity for the environment we had set up on stage, for the feelings each prop conjured. Getting curious took me instantly out of my head, and—like helping someone else—took me into an unfettered, productive space; turning the nervous ego-centric centripetal force into an unbreakable thread between my co-star and I, which we then used to weave the formidable fabric of our scene. Once again, as simple as it sounds, sometimes we just need to be emotionally re-directed. Curiosity. It is the tie that binds our beautiful souls.

Sometimes when we find ourselves circling the drain of self-doubt, disappointment, disconnectedness, we need to be reminded that we are not alone. We are not rogue planets lost in the blackhole of space. We are part of a beautiful galaxy of civilization, a solar system of souls sharing a greater purpose, a support system of humanity. We need to be reminded of our common ground, our basic brilliance, our innate value and usefulness. The superpowers that we all possess. The quickest way to do that? Get curious. Offer help. Make a simple effort to engage in someone else for a moment…it will allow your emotional ecosystem to get back into balance, knock you back into comfortable, even orbit, so that you can revolve around a bright, beaming sun, and not a desolate black holed pit of despair.

Oh…and that art project that I had thought was surely wasted…? I finally found a good home for it…right above these words.