Bold Questions

Wednesday , 26, November 2014 Leave a comment

This idea of asking what I called a “bold question” started at work a week ago when I engaged the university president in a conversation about the potential for organizational change that would directly affect me and my team.  It turned out to perhaps not be as bold as I first thought, as he welcomed my input and gave me what I thought was a very fair, open, and meaningful response without batting an eye.

Later that afternoon the concept came up again in what I feel was a much deeper question posed (in general, not to me directly) by one of my dear friends and colleagues.  After some frustration earlier in the day, she stated, to no one in particular, “I have a bold question.  Think about the last 10 students you met with.  If you can’t talk about at least one that you had a great interaction with, one that you really helped, one that you truly enjoyed working with and spending time with, ask yourself, are you in the right line of work?”

I asked the question back to her, knowing full well that she would be able to tell me about MORE than one student in the last ten that she felt that way about (she shared a particularly meaningful interaction).  I paused to wonder if everyone on my team could do the same, and, if not, if framing such a question in that way would help anyone rethink either their choice of position OR the way they approach their work.

Naturally, I asked myself the same–I don’t see students as often as advisors, so the question to myself was broader.  In the previous days, how many interactions had I had, or how many projects or situations had I been involved in, that truly fed my soul?

I was happy to find that there had been several I could recall.  Even on the hardest of days, I could think of a student I had helped, a process to which I’d been able to contribute and from which I’d learned a ton, situations where my combination of humor and insight had helped find solution, etc.

I think it’s a powerful way to frame mindfulness around job satisfaction–beyond fulfilling job duties, are you truly finding satisfaction in your work?  Or is every encounter a “meh” on the satisfaction scale?

I’ve been meaning to write about this for several days, but apparently the universe was conspiring to have me hold off for a reason.  Tonight, I had a long, unplanned conversation with Clint’s uncle about career success and satisfaction, the challenges of being a manager, and finding the right fit for both skill and personality.  I love and respect Jim in unmeasurable ways, and I take seriously any chance I have to soak up his wisdom.

The piece standing out most to me tonight (aside from examining the focus of the work I’ve been doing and the shifts I could make to be a more successful, effective manager), is what he refers to as “freeing up your future.”  We talked about this in the context of firing people–that it’s not just about cutting loose deadweight from an organization, but it’s also about setting free someone who is clearly unhappy and/or destined for a career of struggle.  Their going through a difficult life experience like that might just lead to their finding a better job fit and a brighter, happy career future.

He wisely suggested that we have to do the same for ourselves.  That when we find ourselves in positions that don’t fit us–either the job isn’t fulfilling or we find we’re simply not cut out for the work–it’s our duty to ourselves to free up our OWN future.  That the best move isn’t always security (i.e. sticking around because “at least it’s a paycheck and I can keep paying my mortgage”).  That the best move is to be honest with ourselves about what we truly want and where we can truly do our best work, and, upon having an honest answer to that question, being courageous enough to take the often big and scary step to move in that direction.

I think most of us shy away from the bold questions because we fear that the answers will be uncomfortable and clearly suggest we take a step into the unknown.  It’s powerful to consider that the temporary discomfort brings with it the very real possibility of an extended future of greater happiness and success.

What bold questions are YOU avoiding?  I’ll keep you updated as I move toward being more mindful of my own questions and the answers they promise to provide if I’m open to hearing them.

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