“Always be mindful to ask the right questions, because the answers will shape your life.”
-Mark Swain, from Thoughts on Life and Living
Many years ago, my wife and I were picking tomatoes in our garden in late August. Sensing that I was in deep thought, my wife asked me what I was thinking about. I sarcastically responded by saying, “Oh, little things like how we’re going to pay our house payment next month—or even pay for food.” To explain my flippant answer, some background is needed…
A few months prior to this conversation, my wife and I had engaged in another, important, conversation. We had recently added a second daughter to our family. As a result, my wife had asked me what I thought about the possibility of her quitting her full-time job to stay home with our growing family. Since I had been with a startup business for about a year, and things seemed to be doing well on that front, I agreed that it would be great for our children to have their mother around during their formative years. So my wife resigned from her job and started being a full-time mom. I continued to put my energy behind the business I worked for.
“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
-John Lennon, from the song, Beautiful Boy
About a week before the discussion in our tomato garden, the owner of the company I worked for decided to close down his business. I was devastated. “What am I going to do now?” I thought. So, not to excuse my sarcastic reply to my wife while we were picking tomatoes, but you can, perhaps, understand my worrisome state of mind…
Being the wise soul she is, my wife responded to my sarcasm with a question—a very powerful question—a question that changed my life! She turned to me and asked, “What do you WANT to do now with your life?” Wow, I thought. In all my thinking around our current situation, I hadn’t even considered asking myself what I “wanted” to do. My internal questions had been about what I “needed” to do, or what I “had” to do.
My wife’s simple question allowed me to imagineer (thank you Disney) my future in a very different way! With renewed focus and energy, I turned to my wife and said, “I’ve never enjoyed anything as much as I have enjoyed my work over the past year (facilitating professional development workshops).” Before I could continue, my wife looked me in the face and calmly said, “Then that’s what we will do.”
I can never relive this special experience without tears welling up in my eyes. Because my wife believed in me and my ability to teach—my dream—we started our own professional development training business right then and there! To put this decision in the proper perspective, we started our new business with less money in the bank than needed to make our next house payment! But, here we are, over 20 years later, still living our dream—all because my wife knew how to ask the “Right Question” at the right time.
Ever since that life-changing experience, I have been awed by the power of questions. In fact, in my workshop, It’s All About Communicating—Mastering Life’s Most Important Skill, I have an extensive module on how to formulate and ask the right questions, at the right time, during conversations.
To this day, whenever a person engages me as a Career Coach, I always start our first session with the question, “What do you WANT to do now with your life?” I have been fascinated over the years to see the quizzical looks I get in response to that question—looks similar, I’m sure, to the one my wife saw on my face on that long-ago day.
The lesson here is clear. If you want to see your life and your future in a different light, have the courage to ask yourself different questions—the “Right Questions.”