The Quality of Your Questions Determines the Quality of Your Life

March 12, 2016

 

Twenty years ago, someone I hardly knew asked me a question. It changed the course of my life and eventually, my career. Her question is still working its magic.

 

It was a hot summer day, when my colleague and I literally crossed paths at an outdoor festival. We were both on the interpreting crew and were each hurrying in opposite directions to our next assignments. As we neared each other she smiled and casually asked, "How ya doin'?" Without even stopping, I spoke the nagging worry that I had been chewing on for the last 24 hours: "I'm interpreting on the big stage tonight and I'm so scared!" She slowed down a bit and called back over her shoulder to me, "Yeah, I get it," she said. Then she added, "I wonder . . . how would it feel to feel good about our work?" The question landed with me with a strange sense of calm. How would it feel to feel good about my work? I knew how it would feel to have self-doubt and fear. This question was new. We kept walking our separate directions. I've been chewing on that question for decades now.

 

I love interpreting. I have enjoyed a meaning-filled, interesting and successful career. Even so, I have spent precious hours in this amazing field concerned, worried, scared, and embarrassed. Even ashamed. Dare I say it? Guilty. Yech! And, yet, I remind you, I love my work.

 

Somehow, when my colleague casually tossed me that question, something shifted. It wasn't a permanent shift, and yet every time I asked myself, How would it feel to feel good about my work? I felt a slight difference. I felt a little lighter, more curious, and less attached to being scared. I still do.

 

What I have come to learn is that the quality of the questions we ask ourselves determines the quality of our lives. Why am I so screwed up? Why can't I get over it? What's wrong with me? What will they think of me? These questions take us down familiar paths to familiar destinations. These paths are well-trodden, easy to navigate, even comfortable in their discomfort, and they are right there. Easy to find. The more we walk them, the easier they are to choose.

 

New questions. New results. Asking ourselves better questions will take us to completely different places. Now, when I ask myself, or my clients, "What do you love about your work?" "What's important?" "What are you curious about?" What outcome do you want?' I get different results—more importantly, so do my clients. We aren't sweeping the hard stuff under the rug. Heavens, no! But, beyond being a useful metaphor, these 'pathways' literally burrow new neural-pathways in our brains—opening and reinforcing possibilities that were previously less than obvious. We need to use our brain's ability to learn and re-wire itself wisely and with intention. Neuroplasticity is hard at work right now in your brain. Your brain will affirm what you tell it. Think about it. Your brain will send you confirmation of the messages you give it via the feelings and sensations you experience as a result. 

 

Neuroscientific landscapes. The view from new pathways is amazing. It was challenging for me at first, as the new pathways dug through and around the old. And, it has been totally worth it. There is an expansive panoramic view from here. When I'm 'walking' these new pathways, I feel alive and whole - eager to explore. The old paths are still there, and I rarely choose them. Lately, some of them are becoming grown over and I don't even see them as options any more.

 

I now work less as an interpreter, and more as a coach for interpreters. I'm a coach, but really I feel like a travel agent, or better, a safari guide. This kind of personal work is best approached as an adventure. I get to help people who are tired of walking their well-traveled paths, create and navigate new more fulfilling trails through their work and their lives. Things are possible that we never imagined. From personal experience, spirited educational pursuits and almost of a decade of professional coaching practice, I am solid and grounded in my belief that we can feel better. When we feel better, we are able to attend to what's in front of us. Whether it is work, relationships, making consequential choices or any aspect of our lives. There are exhilerating and interesting roads to take that lead to amazing destinations.

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