Skepticism versus Curiosity

I am innately curious.

I want to learn everything about everything. My favorite animal is the cuttlefish, I adore learning about the chemistry of cooking food (ever heard of the Maillard reaction?), and I'm absurdly fascinated by the connections between music, math and physics. I could talk to people for hours about these and many other topics, the more obscure the better.

My spouse is innately skeptical.

She is doubtful of my wacky ideas, unconvinced that anything will ever work out as planned. She often asks questions like, "what if that strategy goes wrong" or "what happens if your idea doesn't work?" It's not as if she's the opposite of curious, she's just too focused on getting stuff done to spend time wondering how a wet finger along the rim of a wine glass can make such a cool sound. She drives me a little nuts.

However, I've gradually started to appreciate how these conflicting characteristics are both critical to accomplishing great things. The key is knowing yourself well enough to be comfortable in your role, especially in the workplace.

If an inquisitive, optimistic person like me begins a complex project, I often underestimate the time and resources it will take. I usually don't factor in possible delays or potential missteps, and I tend to set unrealistic expectations for how much can be accomplished. By the time the project is midway through, I can become demoralized and lose momentum because it's behind schedule or hasn't shown results as quickly as I had hoped.

That's why the skeptic is such an integral part of any complex planning process. The skeptic ensures that the timeline accommodates unexpected delays, obstacles, and problems. Midway through, it's often the skeptical person who keeps pushing forward, sticking to the plan even if early success isn't forthcoming.

Of course, there is a bit of the innately curious AND the skeptical in all of us.

We may draw on one of these qualities more in some situations, while other circumstances bring out the other. When I work one-on-one with coaching clients, I sometimes hear them fall into the trap of wishing everyone were more like THEM, due to frustration that they are not understood or appreciated. This lack of appreciation is found throughout the workplace, and sometimes leads people to make significant career decisions like leaving a job.

It's important to know your strengths, but equally important to recognize the strengths of others you work with.

As passionately as you believe in your way of doing things--whether that means considering all possibilities in your contingency planning--or whether that's focusing on the possibilities of exploration--remember that different traits can play a critical role in project success!

My spouse and I have gradually learned that we make a good team, and we lean on each other's strengths to shore up our own weak areas. Respect and admire the traits that others have which aren't your strengths, and learn to make career choices that leverage your most prominent attributes! You'll find more satisfaction in your career as well as increased recognition and respect from your peers.

If you could benefit from a career coach to help you target the right opportunity, drop me a note. You are invited to sign up for my weekly "Career Authentically" newsletter as well.

And now, the amazing talents of the cuttlefish courtesy of one of my favorite programs, Science Friday. (Just in case you were CURIOUS!)