It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. —James Thurber
Questions have been at the heart of the most life altering moments for me. Questions that stop you in your tracks and shift the way we see the world. These questions that dared me and scared me.
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live differently?
What is your calling?
What would you say or do, if you knew you were dying? Why wait until then?
How much is enough?
What if you removed all of the expectations of others, who would you be?
Questions that assaulted my complacency and sleep walking. They punched me in the face and I punched back. I now dance with these question today. I don't dismiss them as irrelevant intrusions or unwelcome visitors on my well planned life. They humble me, keep me grounded, and guide me into the unknown.
Life is about asking better questions. And given the time and the context, we need to question everything. No assumption when fully examined holds up. The status quo is unacceptable.
But that means we have to stop the carousel of our "busy" lives to wonder about where we are going? To reflect on whether our actions are aligned with our ambitions. To evaluate the joy we have in our lives. Are we deferring joy?!!!!!!
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver
Each moment you think you figured everything out or what your future holds contains the seeds of your undoing.
Questions take you on a journey. And like so many things the journey is the best part.
I have the great privilege of helping different people wrestle with their personal and professional goals. I set a figurative and literal discussion table with some questions that provoke self expression. I am merely attempting to advance conversations. First, an internal thinking conversation within the individuals I address. And then an external conversation between others. Expressing oneself out loud in front of others provides comfort, commiseration, connections and even community. "I am not alone." "I need help to figure this out." "There are ways to get unstuck." etc. During the last few months I have led groups of undergrads, homeless adults, executives, community leaders, and recently released felons. The human needs override the unique circumstances and experiences they bring to the table. Differences matter, but at the core we struggle with the same things. With the same questions.
What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question. - Jonas Salk
Through hundreds of sessions I have stirred up groups with these questions:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What do I want?
Where am I going?
What difference will I make?
Of course some hesitate to tell the truth and others gush forth. Again the tension between what we say and what we mean emerges into the harsh light of scrutiny. I do not allow clarifications. Mean what you say and say what you mean! Because we all say things and talk without thinking. We are pretty inarticulate as a species when it comes to who we are and what we want.
Some sample questions that emerged from these conversations:
How many friends would you have if they spoke to you the way you speak to yourself?
If you are the average of the 5 people you hang out with, how are you doing?
If you compared your allocation of time and your priorities, how would it look?
When is the right time to change my life/career?
When do you give up on your dream?
Hard, if not impossible, to answer these questions by oneself. Isolation is the biggest challenge. A horrible recipe of wavering self confidence, relative success (others are better off or being behind expectations), perception of inadequate competence, obligation of previous choices (family, debt, etc) and the absence of time to consider the future.
Some people get caught up in versions of the happiness question. "What will make me happier?"
Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University, reported a few years ago on studies that concluded that people who think being happy is important are more likely to become depressed: “Organizing your life around trying to become happier, making happiness the primary objective of life, gets in the way of actually becoming happy.”
Happiness is a brief state of being, so questions about happiness are only briefly relevant.
Yeah, just asking questions changes our behavior. Again authentic curiosity drives us to connections with sources and people that enlarge our pov and our lives. But then we have to act on the answers we encounter.
That's why I updated the Download SWiVEL doc 2018 with 16 questions for 2018. To help people confront these issues. To write down their responses to help them move forward.
These questions are used in palliative care for older patients and were featured in the wonderful book by Atul Guwande, Being Mortal.
1. What is your understanding of your current health or condition?
2. If your current condition worsens, what are your goals?
3. What are your fears?
4. Are there any tradeoffs you are willing to make or not?
5. What would a good day be like?
We just don't understand what we don't ask. We operate on the fumes of assumptions, habits honed out of weakness and biased ideas that reinforce our status quo. We need to stop the car in a new community of questions and ask for directions. We need to get uncomfortable, break habits, confront assumptions, and listen to new sources. To open up new thoughts and destinations. Where are you going in 2018?
Renew your curiosity and let it propel you forward.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Rainier Maria Rilke
So don't dismiss the large and perplexing questions you cannot answer, allow yourself to grow into the answers. Learn to dance with the questions, they will teach you new steps.
Here's to great questions, a better journey and the courage to ask for help.
Thanks for reading. John
PS: Please share the question that keeps you honest about your journey. The question that stops and make you think about where you are going. I will send you my latest publication: Life Interrupted and Inspired by Words.