The Value of a Big Question

I have found my life goes in the direction of my questions. If I’m asking questions that have easy answers, like “What do I want to wear today”, I’ll likely get the answer that has to do with the impressions I’m going to make that day. It’s not a worthless question because it does matter to me how I present myself.

If I ask “Whose day will I make today” I’m moving in the direction of making a difference for the person, starting with a powerful intention.

First the question, then the answer, then the action.

That’s how my life works, and it’s how your life works too.

Just noticing this distinction, and remembering to challenge me to look for the bigger question sends my life onto a more exciting path. It can be buried in minutiae as well. I might ask myself how I want to fill my time on a lazy Sunday. My choices would be between reading or streaming something online. When I ask myself the question, “Do I want to learn something while being lazy” I get a yes or no answer. This line of questioning could be the difference between watching Bluebloods or choosing a documentary which would make me think.

Thinking is possible on a lazy Sunday, and asking the bigger question at least gives me the opportunity to be discerning.

One of the most surprising questions I’ve been asked is “What do you want, and what are you willing to give up to get what you think you want”? One of my coaches asked me this years ago, and it kind of rocked my world. Let’s deconstruct this question. It’s common to be asked what I want. It happens often that I ask myself this. Most often, I know exactly what I want. When the last half of the question “what are you willing to give up to get what you think you want” is added to the equation, I’m stopped cold. Really? Have I to give something up to get it?

Of course, I know what I need to give up and sometimes I’m not willing to sacrifice enough to make what I thought I wanted to happen. It follows that I don’t really want that thing because if I really wanted it, I’d give anything up to get it.

It’s helpful on many fronts. First, the energy it takes to continue believing I want something without getting it is wasted. When I understand I don’t really want it, I can drop it and fill the space with something embodying stronger compelling factors. Space and energy are finite, and anytime I clear an energy sucker, I win.

Also, I’m not aware of a more powerful motivator than clarity. Once I get that, it’s easy to get an action plan and then get my ass moving.

My life moves in the direction of my questions, whenever I’m willing to challenge myself.

As I write this, I’m on day two of a serious funk. I have so many questions, and it feels clarity is on some distant deserted island. On day one, I did what I thought was best in limiting my exposure to others. I canceled what I could of my full schedule, and did nothing as much as possible.

I made dinner for my friend Mary, giving her long hugs, and listened while she shared her feelings about the recent loss of her 37-year-old son to an opioid addiction. Because serving someone else always eases my own pain, and because love helps everyone.

I woke up on day two with the question “What would I love to do”? I wrote a multiple-item list in my journal, which gave me some clarity. Eureka! The shore of the deserted island just got closer.

Life is messy. And hard. I craved curling into the fetal position and getting under the covers, and considered doing it. But I wouldn’t get the chance to be with my friend Mary if I succumbed.

So I asked myself the question “Do I have enough to give to Mary”? And the answer was YES. Who knows the trajectory of that choice? I know that for a few hours, we both got what we wanted, and that is not a nothing.

Grace emerges in the ebb and flow, not just the flow. The waning reveals a different kind of blessing than the waxing.

But whether it’s our time to ferment in the valley of shadows or rise up singing in the sun-splashed meadow, fresh power to transform ourselves is always on the way.

Our suffering won’t last, nor will our triumph.

Without fail, life will deliver the creative energy we need to change into the new thing we must become.
— Rob Brezsny