change + curiosity = reinvention

Posted on May 5, 2009

I am a union brat. Born and raised in Bay City, Michigan, in the then broad shadow of General Motors and a turbulent auto industry. The bankruptcy of GM has given me that feeling of longing to go home to the house where you grew up only to remember on the drive that your parents don’t live there anymore. The weird thing is I knew GM would eventually find itself bankrupt, just like I knew my parents were going to sell my childhood home.

Growing up steeped in GM culture, I was well aware, vicariously through my dad’s reflection on his work experiences, that GM chose not to be a very adaptable corporation. The production model and products were grounded in history and tradition. Innovation was present, but slow and with no vision or curiosity. Why innovate when you are on top, right?

The corporate prowess of GM could have easily been parlayed into leadership in alternative fuel technology and greener vehicles. With sustained curiosity toward the evolution of transportation and environmental trends, GM could have reinvented automobile technology. We all saw the trends. We saw the evolution of fuel and automobile technology toward greener standards. I guarantee GM did as well. They simply chose not to evolve.

That is why I find it ironic that in the face of bankruptcy, of rock bottom, GM’s new public relations campaign is called “re: invention.” I share this with all the compassion for GM of a woman whose very existence as a child was tied to its ups and downs.

Reviewing GM’s optimistic and contemplative campaign, I recognize priorities and messages that should have been rolled out a decade ago at least. Upon reflection of the timing though, I recognize that, as we all have likely experienced, sometimes circumstances have to get really, really bad before we will surrender to the change happening around us or within us. That doesn’t have to be the case.

Change is the one thing we can count on. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “All is flux, nothing stays still.” We experience this watching the spring sprouts blossom into tall, strong stems. We realize one day that our child is too heavy for us to lift and carry. We can reflect upon our earlier life plans as we learn about the plans of the graduates in our midst and hope for them, as we have experienced, that in the difference between the planned and the actual paths lies the magic!

I suggest a constant companion to change: curiosity. We are each amazing and ever evolving. Remaining curious about our world, and ourselves, is paramount. Not only should we be aware of the changing world around us, but also we must constantly look inward with curiosity. Be present while contemplating personal and professional changes and recognize how they have shaped your passions.

Our accumulated life experiences create a unique existence. Each experience, whether personal or professional, has provided insight into what it is that we really want to do. We must maintain curiosity about ourselves to assess the trends. Allowing your life to unfold according to your evolving passion is key to sharing your unique contribution with the world.

A practical and fun way to practice exercising your curiosity is to learn about what makes your family and friends light up. Ask many questions, do lots of listening. After some practice, then it is your turn. You can encourage your loved one to ask questions of you.

Or you can use your list of soul-searching questions as meditations. Make some still and quiet time and space for yourself to reflect on your past, present and future. This isn’t a “make a to-do list” or goal-setting exercise. This is curiosity for curiosity’s sake. No judgment, no planning. Be aware of what lights you up! Here are a few to get you started:

  • What do I love to do?
  • What life experiences have shaped me?
  • What am I excellent at doing?
  • What experiences in my life have compelled me to educate others or act in some way?
  • During what experiences have I completely lost track of time?
  • What have I learned that I don’t enjoy?
  • What makes me smile?

Again, this exercise is not for planning purposes, at least not for now anyway. This exercise (which I encourage you to do regularly by yourself, with your partner and/or with another loved one) is a trend-spotting exercise.

We typically don’t just wake up one day and think: “I am going to quit my job today, uproot the family and buy and bed and breakfast on the coast of Maine. I know that will fulfill me.” Just as GM didn’t open the doors one day and realize they were bankrupt. There were trends! Just as there are evolving trends in your life.

I wholeheartedly believe in the sentiment of reinvention, for GM and for each one of us. Further, there is never a better time to exercise our curiosity than right now to look within. The more curious about and aware we are of our passions, the truer to ourselves our paths can be. Our reinvention should be mindful and constant.