I laughed when my high school German teacher, Susan Hall (who was, without a doubt, my all-time favorite teacher), said one day, "There is an old German proverb, '
Wir zu früh alt, zu spät klug erhalten!
'" Translated, it means,
"We get too soon old and too late smart." How true.
As I age gracefully, like fermented applejack, "It's Not the Answers I Seek Anymore, It's the Questions!" When I was in my twenties, I sought answers. Now I am more interested in the right questions. Most people I meet ask what I call "N.S.W." questions: news, sports, and weather. If you eavesdrop on other people's conversations, and focus on the questions asked, you'll find as I did that 80 percent of them are N.S.W.'s. Urgh!
In 1990, I met with Lou Tice in his luxurious offices in downtown Seattle. I had attended one of his seminars, "Action for Excellence," as a teenager. It had been a life-changing, two-day seminar presented by Bob Moawad, his top presenter at the time. Now in my thirties, I had recently gone through one again with same effect. It was life changing. He smiled, offered me something to drink, and asked me two questions right off the bat:
- How is your Spiritual Life?
- Do you have Balance in Your Life?
I was blown away by his frankness. Like a good Dutch uncle, he cut through the formalities and acceptable social graces to ask me the hard questions. I never forgot that. He was an excellent coach and teacher.
Socrates opined, "The unexamined life is not worth living." The best-known aphorism from the Oracle of Delphi is "Know thyself." Because I do both coaching and consulting, and of course as a parent of adult children, I am most interested in authentic, life-changing questions, the hard questions most people never ask. It seems they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or seem nosey. I don't care what you think of me and, hey, if you approach me, I figure you are serious about changing, growing, and becoming. Otherwise, you would have talked to your favorite Aunt Martha. She always makes great cookies and only asks N.S.W. questions.
So here is my short list of "Hard Questions." They will make you think. They will put a rock in your shoe. It's what Dutch uncles do. When these questions are asked and combined with Active Listening, Compassion, and Confidentiality, the result is an environment of ultimate trust and honest dialogue. More often than not, solutions to life's sticky challenges emerge. "Sounding Board for Executives" is my primary position and end game. Many of the men and women who approach me are "C-level" business people: CEOs and CFOs, and others are presidents, vice presidents, and directors. They appreciate getting down to business quickly.
- What is your #1 Objective this coming year?
- What will mean to YOU to achieve it?
- What will it mean to the ORGANIZATION?
- How will we know when you achieve it?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What or whom are you most proud of?
- What is the best and highest use of your time?
- What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
- What do you have the courage to imagine about your life or business?
- What are you afraid of?
- What or whom do you resent?
- What are you angry about?
- How is that working for you?
- How do you know it's bad?
- What is great about it?
- What's next?
- What are you hopeful about?
- How often do you laugh?
- What are some of your GOOD Habits?
- What are some of your BAD Habits?
- How will doing that make you feel?
- What have you got to lose by trying it?
- Why not try something else?
- Do you have balance in your life?
- How is your spiritual life?
- What options do you have?
- What are you saving yourself for?
- Whom do you truly love? For whom would you take a bullet?
- If that appeared on the front page of tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, would that be okay?
The clock is ticking. In the early 1970s, Jim Morrison was quoted in the
: "No one here gets out alive." Man is the only creature that can ponder its own mortality. Mark Twain said it best, "Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to." When questions like these are answered, honestly, on paper in the silence of your lonely room or to another person in the strictest of confidence, they have incredible power. They have the power to change you, power to awaken you, power to empower you, and power to redeem you.
The next time someone cuts in line, says something hurtful, or offends you in some way, add a thirty-first question: "How important is it really?" I have that on the dashboard of my truck. It helps.
I don't want to get too soon old and too late smart. Danke sehr!