On the day that my daughter left for college, she tucked a card in my dresser drawer that said, “Thanks for being such a great mother, a great friend, a great teacher and student.”

I’d like to think that the most important thing I taught Jennie was to keep being a student. And she has.

Just before New Year’s Day a few year back, she called to tell me about a trip she’d made to the bookstore where she’d found several treasures. “My project this year is to learn lots of new things,” she announced.

One of her purchases had been a desk calendar of scientific questions since she felt her knowledge was lacking in that area. As she constantly reminds me, doing things that appear out of character can be a powerful catalyst for learning.

Her bookstore visit opened the way for a discussion of our individual visions for the new year. After discussing a few specific goals, I said, “And my theme for the year is Stretch. To make sure that I don’t forget that’s what my life is about right now, I’ve taken up daily yoga practice as a literal reminder.”

“That’s a good one,” she agreed.

Since we’re coming to the end of the year, Jennie and I have been talking about the things we plan to explore when 2012 rolls around. She’s planning to revisit things she’s loved in the past.

I’m still narrowing down my theme for the year, but know it will be one that feeds my curiosity.

“Seems to me if I were the Maker of the Universe,” mused advertising whiz Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, “the people who would vex me the most would be the ones who went unseeing and unwanting through this fascinating world.”

They’re the ones who vex me most, too. On the other hand, the ones who inspire me most are those who keep stretching themselves day in and day out.

Ask such a person, “What’s new?” and they always have a fascinating answer.

Staying curious is not only something that’s available to anyone, it doesn’t cost a dime. Where it leads, depends on how willing we are to give up limited thinking and follow the callings that are unique to each of us.

In the coming new year, discover the truth of Gregg Levoy’s tantalizing promise: “When people begin to follow their calls, they way opens up, even after they’ve kept the gods drumming their fingers for decades, pacing around the front hall while they take forever in the boudoir getting ready.

“Opportunities wash up on shore; people take an interest; out of the corner of your eye, you spy synchronicities; the right book or the right person crosses your path. Sometimes even money follows. Perhaps it’s nothing more mysterious than the universe supporting growth and life loving itself.”

Nice vision, isn’t it?

If we allow ourselves to become complacent—or, even worse, cynical—we destroy any possibility of having such a rich and adventurous life. We block our stretch.

So pick a theme. Plan some fascinating projects. Listen and follow your calls. Use it or lose it.

If you don’t there’s much to be lost. “A life devoted to trifles,” warned Hannah More, “not only takes away the inclination, but the capacity, for higher pursuits.”