A few years ago, I had the chance to sit down with an intrepid leader who was the president of a massive publishing house and the founder of an international advocacy powerhouse. At some point, in awe of his life’s experiences and successes, I asked him: “What have you learned about yourself as a leader after all these years?”

He told me about what he called the “curves of life.” How, as a leader, you’ll encounter long stretches of roads that are rarely straight and that in order to forge ahead as a leader and in life, you cannot afford to be complacent and switch off. Straight roads are, after all, often the most treacherous ones because drivers tend to go into autodrive. They get too comfortable.

But life isn’t about getting comfortable! It’s about keeping focus and attention so that you can be present for the bends, corners, and curves. So that you can change course, if needed. So that you can be challenged and push yourself to thrive. So that you can  embrace the lowest lows to reach the highest highs.

That’s the “curves of life,” and here’s how he broke it down for me:

The learning curve

In order to grow, we must learn. Learning shapes who we are, what we become, the choices we make, the people we inspire.

Fundamental to leading is learning about yourself and your core values, who you are, and what you stand for. Once you know these traits about yourself, then you can decide with whom and where you’re going to spend your time and energy. Choosing what to do with each minute of your day is part of the curvature of life and striking the right balance can be fundamental to both success and happiness.

Learning can come from both positive and negative experiences.  Said best by The Universe, “When there is ease and simplicity in your life it is because you earlier learned a lot. When there is resistance and obstacles in your life, it’s because there is even more to learn.” No matter what you are facing, there is a learning opportunity and in order to find these opportunities, you have to be an explorer, and to feed the curiosity from within to accentuate the curve of learning in your life. Without that curiosity, it can be easy for leaders who have reached the highest heights to stop asking questions. To stop learning.

In the era of the 100-year life, we will see many people happily working well into their 70s and 80s. and instead of retiring, we’ll see more people rewiring. A rewired life does not have to start later in life.  You can start now by challenging your own assumptions, testing out a role you thought you “could never do,” taking a class at a local university, mentoring a young person and so much more. Take a step back and explore where you can pivot directions and design new development pathways.

The earning curve

What I gathered from my conversation with this particular leader is that there is always something to gain and something to sacrifice in the earning curve. As long as you know what you’re doing it all for – and the answer to that question can change throughout one’s life – and it satisfies your life needs at the time, that is enough.

For instance, there are some periods in your life – your youth, for example – where your earning curve is all about survival. It’s about making enough money to pay your bills and to make ends meet. Then you may find a role where you make a lot more money, but you don’t really love what you do. Then you may find something where you’re really happy with what you’re doing, but you’re not making enough so you have to work three other gigs just to make ends meet. At that point, you might realize you’re working too much to be able to enjoy life. You’re no longer having fun.

You may also find a period in your life when your earning is at a high and you are doing what you love each day which allows you to choose who you work with, take a day at the spa, give back to causes you believe in, and the freedom to take an adventure on a whim.

That’s the earning curve. If you are aware of where you are in life, and what you’re gaining and giving up in the work that you do, as long as it aligns with your life at the moment, then you’ll reap big rewards for it.

The yearning curve

Yearning can come in many forms – a yearning for different people or relationships in your life, a yearning for a new environment, a yearning for intellectual stimulation, a

yearning for quiet times by the sea, a yearning for a new job, and so much more.   Yearning may be the feeling in your gut or the voice in your head that is quietly hinting that a shift is needed.

And yet sometimes we resist this yearning, because finding the balance of the yearning and learning curve is no easy feat. Do you make that leap and go for what you yearn to learn something new, or do you stick it out in a role in which you’re not as happy because your earning curve is taking over in this particular point in your life?

Answering these questions requires a lot of introspection and self-awareness. It requires asking a lot of questions and learning about yourself. Sometimes, there’s a case for diving into something headfirst, while other times, it’s important for you to know when to let go. Your yearning – and oftentimes, your ability to control it – can have a huge impact on your life and the lives of others.

The happiness curve

Even among the happiest people, happiness is not a constant. It is not realistic. What is important is to be aware of your needs, and to understand that you need to serve yourself before serving others. Again, this requires a path of discovering yourself, over and over again.

In my conversation with this leader many years ago, he told me that over his many decades of leading and learning about himself, at some point, he began to turn away from himself so that he could focus on others. That’s when he began to learn about the real impact he could have on the people he was leading. At this point in his life, his earning curve was at a high, and his happiness was found less in learning about himself, and more in learning about others. He used the power of stories, asked great questions, and believed there was more within each person he led.

Through learning about yourself, you’ll also learn that serving others will bring a kind of happiness and fulfillment you’ve been searching for all along.

In short, nothing is constant in life apart from the inevitable curves we experience. We will have both wins and losses, and we will undergo constant challenges to build our lives differently. But the reality is, life doesn’t happen in straight lines. The roads ahead will require continuous growth and improvement. There will be journeys of head-down introspection, and there will be periods of renewed motivation, vigor, and enthusiasm – all necessary to help you be courageous enough to take the unconventional paths. On those curvy, narrow, winding roads ahead, what strategies do you have in place to help you pivot, pull others along, and cross boundaries to attain the kind of happiness and leadership potential you never dreamt possible?