“What’s my purpose in life?” “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
I used to think these were THE big questions. The ones to be pursuing about career and work.
Knowing my life purpose or even what I want to do 10 years from now can help set a compass for direction. If I am lucky enough to have found this kind of certainty (which most of us don’t, or we lose connection with it at points in our lives), it does not have the immediate impact of the questions that have influenced my career and life the most.
The questions that have stopped me in the moment, required me to challenge an assumption, or opened up my thinking have been the biggest and the most powerful. These aren’t questions that have a yes/no answer. These are succinct questions that come from true curiosity. They are open-ended and thought-provoking, with no right or wrong answer. Here are some life-changing questions I have been asked and I continue to ask myself as my career unfolds :
- Is that really true?
- What’s the kindest thing you could do for yourself right now?
- Would you miss it if you gave it up?
- What would it take for you to commit?
- If you stopped trying to change the situation, what would happen?
These questions help me connect to my inner self and make purposeful decisions about the quality of my life. I don’t have to know what my life purpose is, or what I might want to do 10 years from now. I can engage with inquiry that is purposeful right now.
My answers to these questions have changed the course of my career, and my answers to them have changed as well. During a time I was unemployed, there was a particular firm I was interested in working for. Despite much searching, I couldn’t find a LinkedIn contact to pursue a connection there. Disappointed, I shared with a colleague that since personal connections were the best form of introduction, I didn’t have a next step to take. Her response – “Is that really true?” That question created a pause for me to truly think about the situation – absolutely not true! With her encouragement, I made a cold call to the organization the next morning and found out they were interviewing for the first time in 7 years, for positions that were not advertised. A month later I had a position with them. If I had waited, I would have missed out!
The question reappeared for me in a conversation with my business coach when I was starting my practice eight years ago. Overwhelmed with the world of marketing, I bemoaned that all successful business owners had Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and blogs and that I need to start all of them at once in order to be successful myself. Stuck by this daunting task, I was resisting all social media and not making any progress in marketing as a whole. His question to me – “Is that really true?” Again, absolutely not true! I could not do any of them if I didn’t want to. I decided it was OK for me to start slowly, and use a format that felt most natural to me. I enjoyed writing in a longer format than 140 characters, so I started a blog first. This released me from being stuck and brought a wave of relief and new energy. From gaining courage to pursue new opportunities, to letting go of what was holding me back, this one big question has been an anchor for me to return to. It has called me on my judgments and allowed space for being kind to myself. It has been a good friend on the journey (as have those who have asked it)!
So how do you create a powerful question for yourself? In The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation, and Action authors Brown, Isaacs and Vogt share these qualities for powerful questions that you can use as a guide. You know you have a big question if it:
- generates curiosity
- stimulates reflection
- is thought provoking
- surfaces underlying assumptions
- invites creativity and new possibilities
- generates energy and forward moment
- stays with you
- touches a deep meaning
- evokes more questions
In crafting your questions, reflect back on your life and work – what questions have opened up new possibilities for you, helped you move forward when feeling stuck? If it is easier to start from examples of powerful questions, check out this list of sample inquiries. If you need more support, you could enlist a trusted friend or colleague, or a career coach or counselor.
In the words of Carl Sagan, “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” I invite you to engage with the questions of your life often – there you will find the meaning and purpose you seek.