On a recent drive to the grocery store with my 13-year-old son, I was on the receiving end of a barrage of questions. “How does an electric car work? Why did we move to Utah? What do you and mom talk about on date nights? Do you think the Sixers are better than the Warriors? When do you think I’ll be ready to drive your car?” If you are a parent, I think we’ve all been there. I did my best to answer his questions, until my patience ran out. We’ve all been there too.
On another drive home from a trip to Zion National Park, my wife and I were talking about the Epic of Gilgamesh. (I don’t know how we got on that topic. It was a long drive.) My son, to our amazement, proceeded to give us a well-told 5-minute summary of the story of Gilgamesh. More and more, our kids are demonstrating to us how much they’ve learned and the depth of what they know. Kids learn at an alarmingly fast rate, we should pause to observe and appreciate that marvelous process in life.
Now, fast forward a few years…
A well-trodden adage is that people don’t tend to change much after 25. There is some partial truth to this both anecdotally and some supporting physiological evidence around neurological maturation of sorts. What causes people to ‘plateau’? Good question. I don’t have a definitive answer. However, having worked with many 20-something students, what I do observe is that they don’t ask as many questions as my 13-year-old-son.
I wonder: what if they did?
There’s a quote attributed the Eric Schmidt of Google: We run this company on questions, not answers. A brilliant and elegant philosophy. Asking questions allows us to be receptive to new ways of seeing and being. What if…we run this life on questions, not answers?
What if after an unpleasant exchange with a work colleague where he shot down all of your ideas in front of your team and boss, you paused. You don’t go to your “answers” which say, that guy is close-minded and is threatened by my ideas. Instead, you go to your “questions” which ask, what is this situation teaching me? How might I improve my pitch next time to be more effective? Answers can keep you where you are. Questions can point the way towards learning and growth.
If you had $100 million in the bank, what would you do with your life?
Recently, I listened to a podcast where a person posed the question above to himself. Once you have $100 million, you don’t need to earn money to buy food. You can buy some yachts and mansions, but then what? What would you do? The power of this question is that it puts you in a completely different space. It’s not a stretch to say that, if you are prepared to engage with it, a well-posed question can transform your life.
In my work in higher education, I’ve been running courses and seminars on leadership where the core question is: Who do I intend to be? This is not an easy question to take on. It requires other questions such as: What is most important to me? How will I define success? Last year, I wrote a book (Solving for “Why”) as a resource for those who want to guide their lives through questions. It contains 12 key questions that you should be asking yourself.
Recently, I also had a chance to reflect and develop a list of 100 questions that you can ask yourself. Maybe you won’t ask yourself all 100 questions, but a few from the list will trigger thought, I promise.
Going back to the question: Can people change after 25? Based on what I’ve seen through my work with myself and others is, yes. However, that change is directly related to the degree that a person is willing to continue to ask questions of oneself.
How can you run your life on questions instead of answers?