Breakthrough questions

Btw, finally saw Slumdog Millionaire–Wow. Loved it. While it's a ride off into the Indian sunset type flick, it is very entertaining. 


When you are lost in the forest stand still! 

Challenging and interesting times should trigger questions. My current daily encounters with people and groups increasingly starts with questions. "What do I do to prepare for the worst? How should my org re-focus on new realities? How long should I/we wait to make a change? "What are the opportunities that emerge from this crisis?" 

Self reflection is a process for all times. Thinking about where we are and where we are going need not be a response driven to the environment. But human nature generates a swift, strong and automatic reflex to fear and to danger. Regardless of the circumstances, asking questions or better said, questioning the path we are on, is a necessity. Btw, if everything is perfect for you–stop reading this! 🙂

Remember when we were kids, or if you are around kids, the questions children ask? Silly questions and profound questions. How high is up? My favorite example came from my 10 year old Little Brother (when I was in the Big Brothers program), "Does God exist if everyone in the world stops believing in him?" Impossible questions that come from sheer curiosity. Kids, unlike us, do not employ all of the filters of socialization and self consciousness. So their questions are very real. They think about things and then want to understand them. They aspire to be astronauts and presidents, NBA stars, and celebrities–as they should. They do not see limits, boundaries, or certainly obstacles. The beauty of this innocence is the infinite imagination of what is possible. Regrettably, over the the years, we lose this ability. It is the steady and imperceptible erosion of this innocence, emboldened by norms, conformity, cynicism and doubt. Archaeological layers of moments, memories, and experiences thicken our personal lenses and cloud our ability to see ourselves and our possibilities clearly. Others around us warn us not to leave our little myopic world. Consequently, our adulthood realism and practicality form questions that limit our possibilities.

First let's examine a few examples of these questions that you must AVOID:

  1. Don't I need to wait for the right time?  
  2. Should I discover my passion(s) before I make any moves? 
  3. What will my parents and friends think?  
  4. How can I be certain that I am doing the right thing? 
  5. Will a change hurt my resume and my career? 
  6. Shouldn't I just do my job and not make any waves?  
  7. Isn't another academic degree required? 
  8. Doesn't make sense for me to wait until I feel better about myself? 
  9. Don't I need a financial reserve to pursue my dreams?   
  10. If I am patient and attentive, won't my destiny reveal itself? 

How about this one, "How long should I procrastinate my dreams?" Of course these questions have some merit, but as a group they are excuses not to pursue something better. Po Bronson in his book What Should I Do With My Life? found that people who found success ignored these types of questions. These queries present obstacles and do not assist us to address the real questions. 

Let's return to doubt and cynicism. They can be powerful allies in your quest to ask yourself and those around you thought provoking questions. Questions that truly seek real and fresh answers. Think like a child. I did not say be childish! Think about the unfiltered big questions inside of you, that are bigger than you. 

Here are 3 questions that have helped me and the people in my network:

  1. How do I love what I am doing to do what I love?
  2. What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  
  3. I have always wished I could………., but…………………? 

How do I love what I am doing to do what I love? How do I take full responsibility for where I am and make the most of it? If you are satisfied with your current role but want more, then how can your current employer help advance your goals? Optimize your current experience with your next step in mind. Even if you have decided to make a change, it is very hard to make a transition without some planning. Somehow you got yourself into this place and time. Many people and things can be blamed, but at the end of the day, you have to extricate yourself on your terms. In my recent encounters with people, this question gets skipped. Just talked to an old friend I had lost touch with. She was just laid off, but she has 60 days transition with a remote possibility there would be an opening at that time. She could quit. However, she needs the time to look for a new job. We also talked about her need for a great reference from the current employer. She decided to give the next 60 days her all and go out on a good note. She had been angry and depressed. Now she saw there was going to be a new chapter and she embraced it. As the old adage goes, when you got lemons, make lemonade! 

What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  This is the ultimate question. What will give your life "the most meaning"? This question requires thought and contemplation. It has to include an inventory of the issues and causes you care about. The hidden talents you have wanted to develop. Some people misinterpret this question. They think there is just a single answer, a single profession, a single career track. You are complex and have multiple interests and ideas. You may have a constellation of passions and goals. Can you find a job that aligns with your goals, become a volunteer with a charity that gives you meaning, and start taking piano lessons? Yes, yes, yes! Building a total portfolio of interests and goals may be much easier than finding a career that satisfies all of them. 

I have always wished I could………., but……………….? This is Barbara Sher's wish/obstacle phrase from here work on Wishcraft . The beauty of this question is it isolates the reason that you have not pursued something. The premise is that people are drawn to other people's wishes more than their wants. It is a very powerful way to network for connections. This phrase will trigger other people's desire to assist you when you articulate what you want in the form of a wish. But this question releases its power when you ask others about their wishes. Try it. Ask people you care about what they are wishing for? Ask kids you know. Just tell them not to answer with any material objects. They will reveal many things you did not know. I tried this on my Mom a couple of years ago. My mother Tomi is an accomplished artist and has traveled the world. Surprisingly, she told me she wanted to see Santa Fe New Mexico. She described Santa Fe's importance to the art world and went on and on about things she wanted to see there. I told her I never knew about this wish. I immediately contacted my brother and sisters and we put together a small fund to send my Mom there with one of my sisters. Every year we struggle to get Mom a Christmas or birthday gift, but this is something she wished for! I put my network to work and got her a VIP tour of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and to meet other Santa Fe artists. 

Here's a photo of my Mom and sister in Santa Fe. Santa Fe

We have to open up our minds to questions that cause us to think beyond our growing adult cynicism. Questions that help us reflect on what we want for ourselves and for those around us. Questions that force us to stop running around and stand still in the forest, to enjoy the greatness of the trees, and then explore the paths out of the forest. 

Thanks for reading.  John

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2 thoughts on “Breakthrough questions”

  1. I recently read What Should I Do With My Life, and I think I told everyone I came in contact with about how interesting it was. It really makes you take a look at what you want and why you let things get in the way. And it also makes you feel better that so many different people feel the way you do.

  2. Thanks for good read and motivational kick in the rump!!
    The only question is which question should I conquer next?
    Keep up the writing John love it, my pen is looking funny at me….?
    Mahalo Mike

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