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Mangos, Merit Badges, and Magic: Open Your Mindset and Spark Curiosity

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder

Our curiosity is like our arteries because it can harden with age. Similarly, we can—and should--take steps to exercise our curiosity.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

The benefits of exercising our curiosity outweigh the risks. Without curiosity, we can easily find ourselves in a box as we age. For example, culture shares mostly negative pictures and stories of aging that many embrace. I can remember cringing and worrying about what other people would say as I made major changes to my life that others might not understand. At the same time, my inner critic tended to echo these sentiments. How often have you thought – or worried that someone else was thinking – these types of negations: “You’re too old for that!”, “What do you think you’re doing?” or “I don’t have the time/talent/money to pursue that.”

So how can you get out of that curiosity-stifling box? How can you move forward to follow your inquisitiveness and spark? How can you embrace your multipotentialite tendencies in midlife and beyond? I offer you three resources created by women that can help you re-engage and reframe your curiosity.

An Adult Version of Girl Scouts

Several years ago, I had a conversation with my friend Kara, whose only child was then in high school. She knew that the well-known routine of day-to-day motherhood would be ending soon and was already starting to ponder the next chapter of her life. To that end, she found a book that provides a useful template for growth and exploration.

The book, “You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls” by Lauren Cutuzzi Grandcolas, was originally published in 2005. Lauren’s history offers a great example of exploring curiosity. She was born in Indiana, grew up in Houston, and graduated from the University of Texas. While many would have focused only on their career (in Lauren’s case, a marketing and advertising executive role in San Francisco), she was passionate about her far-flung interests, including jogging, hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, rollerblading, gardening, cooking, wine, skydiving and serving as a certified medical technician.

Not surprisingly, Lauren was a Girl Scout in her younger days. This can-do attitude carried into adulthood and she enjoyed encouraging her friends and family members to explore new things. In fact, Lauren was so passionate about the need for people to follow their curiosity that she decided to write You Can Do It!

Sadly, Lauren was aboard United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. The book was not finished when Lauren died, but her family decided to complete and publish it in her honor. Her family has since formed the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation in her memory. The foundation funds projects and activities that benefit women's and children’s health, education, and welfare.

I can tell by reading the book that I really would have liked Lauren. The book offers 50 challenges that include family rituals, home maintenance, skydiving, travel, activism, and art appreciation. Lauren put together a great guide that piques the reader’s interest and offers at least one expert mentor, steps to take, and a wealth of resources for each challenge that she addresses. When a reader completes a challenge, the book has a “badge” sticker that can be displayed anywhere, much like Girl Scouts earn badges. How cool is that?

Creative Freedom

Photo by Desirae Hayes-Vitor on Unsplash
Photo by Desirae Hayes-Vitor on Unsplash

Less prescriptive, and more playful, “Inspiration Sandwich: Stories to Inspire Our Creative Freedom” by SARK encourages readers to sink into the sensual and soulful parts of life in order to build a new world. The book offers 46 freeform chapters with affirmations, stories, freeform art, and wisdom.

For those of you who don’t know this author, SARK is the penname and acronym for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, an author, artist, speaker, and teacher. She was born in 1954 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and wrote her first book at the age of 10. She’s penned 17 bestselling books and been featured on PBS and NPR, as well as print and social media.

When I recently paged through Inspiration Sandwich, I came across a chapter entitled, “Make Friends with Freedom and Uncertainty.” In this section, SARK shares the story of Robert, whose life can be condensed into several boxes. He spends most of his time traveling across the world, creating photographs, films, and writings. “He is constantly recreating his life, and I get nourishment from watching,” she noted, adding that she too has learned how to live on the edge, especially when staring into the void of a brand-new creative project or endeavor.

But amid those types of encouragement, SARK invites readers to see the world in a different way. That includes taking naps, creating a blanket fort, experiencing moonbaths, offering surprise invitations, and learning to “live juicy.” Basically, she encourages us to get out of our daily ruts in joyful ways—and by doing so, we can find new and more invigorating ways to create life.

A Life of Magic

My last offering invokes the power of curiosity in the book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame. Gilbert offers her insights on inspiration, gems of wisdom, and examples of how to live a creative life, all collected in short essays.

The book delves into six areas—Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity—that ultimately invite us to delve more deeply into creativity and in a meaningful life. “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them,” Gilbert writes. “The hunt to uncover those jewels—that creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often-surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.”

She describes how inspiration comes and goes, as well as how to follow your curiosity to hone your creativity. She also advises everyone to learn how to lean into a trust throughout the creative process, even though at times this can feel uncomfortable.

And going back to those critics, Gilbert offers this important advice: “Let other people pigeonhole you however they need to. And pigeonhole you they shall, because that’s what people like to do…. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work.”

A Trio of Inspiration

I think these three books deserve a place together in inspiring women to move forward in midlife and beyond. Maybe we should take time to “drink sunsets” (as SARK recommends) while starting a rock band (one of Lauren’s encouragements). Or we can draft a business plan so we can be our own boss (courtesy of Lauren) while also eating mangoes naked (as per SARK’s encouragement). And we can all follow Liz Gilbert’s encouragement in relation to being curious about your creative capacity, “The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

That brings me to a question – what self-imposed box are you in? And how can you begin to find your way out of it? Tell us below.

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Brenda Riojas
Brenda Riojas

Fantastic!!! I love the idea of earning merit badges for trying different challenges. Kudos for your trio of inspiration.


Thank you for this creativity kick-in-the-pants!

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