Have you ever had that moment where you realize something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? How about that time you realized you didn’t know the answer to a question? Have you ever been in that situation before?
A few things have changed my life as much as asking myself the right questions. Especially when I felt in a career rut, overwhelmed with too many choices or simply lacked motivation. Taking time to think with guidance from the right questions was transformative for me.
We then come across a question or answer that challenges everything we thought we knew about ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. These moments of clarity are usually the most valuable and life-changing experiences we have.
So here the 5 questions that most transformed my professional and personal life. Use them whenever you need some guidance or search inspiration to grow to the next level..
What if I did the opposite of what everyone else does?
In 2013 I was leaving strategy consulting and trying to get a job in HR. The problem? Although I sent out many applications, all of them were rejected.
When I asked a recruiter for advice she said “Because you lack HR experience it will be tough so maximize your chances by sending your CV to as much companies as possible” and, “you will need to start at the bottom level then work yourself up."
Unfortunately, this did not help - I still received rejection after rejection and my confidence plummeted. Why? Because everyone else with few years of HR experience followed the same advice too-and if you do what everyone else does you get what everyone gets: average.
So I did the opposite of what everyone else does and applied for senior positions that were hard to fill. I didn't immediately get a job but suddenly, invitations to interviews started pouring in!
When you're lost, sometimes the best way to find your way is to go in a different direction for a little while.
Maybe start with something that you don't care as much about. You will be amazed at how quickly things may move from being in a rut to having momentum.
What is the one question I pretend not to already know the answer to?
Don't underestimate this question. It will shake things up if you really try to answer it, especially in your personal life - which I had to experience myself first hand.
A few years ago, I was in a long-distance relationship that was slowly dying; but after being together for 11 years, I did not want to ask the question
"Is this really how my love life should be?" and "am I maybe better off being single?".
I already knew the answer I did not want to hear: Yes.
What would I need to do if I want to make 10 times more?
In 2019, I helped a consulting firm create a new growth strategy. Their main business was facilitating workshops for managers who were limited to around 500 participants per year because in-person workshopping are time intensive.
So after we brainstormed ideas on how to get more sales from 500 to 600 participants, I asked them what it would take to have 10 times the participants, lets say 10,000. First they thought I was crazy and needed more convincing to dream. But then after some resistance, we realized that “copyable” online workshops is the best option! Now they have around 6 thousand people join their workshop program every year.
For years, Silicon Valley start-ups have used this type of question to tackle big problems. Sometimes called 10x or Moonshot thinking, the question forces you to think outside of the box. Often we try incremental steps and fail to notice much more effective ways in which we can achieve our goal.
The purpose of the question is not to think that you probably will achieve your 10x goal, it's to use this as a tool to find radically new solutions.
It can also increase your motivation because you'll realize just how much closer the big goals are than you thought.
What if there was an "AND" instead of an "EITHER, OR"?
We often think in contrasts, black and white. This is good; this is bad. This I can do; this I cannot. If I like this, then I must hate that.
But life rarely is as cut - there are many different colors between black and white.
In 2015 I was stuck with the decision of leaving my job as HR Vice President to finish my Doctorate or stay and it felt like deciding between being bored but with a very well-paid job in Switzerland or doing something I liked but being poor and studying abroad--it seemed like an either/or scenario!
One sunny Spring Day I was walking with a ice coffee in my hand through the hipster area of Madrid and while watching the happy chatter of Spanish I suddenly had an insight.
Maybe, just maybe, I could do my studies and make money. Maybe I could have exciting work in corporate while enjoying my student life?
Just seeing this possibility gave me motivation to kickstart thinking about how to put it into practice! And eventually creating a 6-figure freelance business next to studying full time.
Use this question to train your "paradox mindset", which research has shown is very useful in dealing with change and being more creative. Use it whenever you have a tough decision or hear words like "must", "should" or "only". Instead, try asking yourself if there is a solution with the words: while, and also, can both.
What is the easiest thing to do?
Particularly as professionals, we like to solve problems. Sometimes problem-solving becomes the goal itself and we create new problems by overcomplicating things. We then get spread too thin across a number of projects, tasks and prioritized plans that don’t benefit us at all.
So next time when you try to procrastinate, find a perfect solution or create an elaborate plan, ask yourself this: what is the easiest thing I can do?
Instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet carefully listing all potential jobs and then trying for hours on your cover letter so that it hides one missing skill - maybe the easiest way is to just call up a recruiter and ask if they will take someone with your skill set.
Taking time to think with guidance from the right questions is transformative for professional and personal life. The more often you ask yourself the questions, the easier it will be to find your answer.
The answer may take some thought, be uncomfortable or even frightening.
But something magical will happen when instead of asking someone else for an answers, you stop and realize that you already know the answers to your life's questions.
In fact taking time to think is gaining time into living.
DR. Nancy Kline‧ Author of several best-selling books including Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind
As you start to search for your path and uncover the answers to your questions, don’t forget to share your discoveries with me. Just comment below.