The power of “I wonder . . .”

I just finished a most interesting book, “Wait, Why” by James E Ryan. The book is a short read on the Five Essential Questions we all ought to be asking everyday.

One particular paragraph got me thinking (I guess I should say it got me curious). Ryan writes:

This leads to the final point about asking “I wonder why” and “I wonder if”. These are questions that are useful to ask not simply about the world around you, but to ask yourself. . . I believe it’s healthy and productive to remain curious about yourself. Why do you have certain habits? Why do you like certain places, foods, events, and people, and what if others you would like just as much, if you gave them a chance? Why do new experiences make you nervous? Why are you quiet in meetings or shy at parties? Why are you easily distracted? Why do you sometimes lose your patience with certain members of your family? And what if you tried to change those things about yourself that you would really like to change? Or, just as importantly, what if you just accepted some of those things as part of who you are?

That’s a great paragraph for me. It asks a lot of questions. But aren’t questions a great way to get answers? We so often say or think “that’s just the way I am”. We can skip past understanding certain characteristics about ourselves, chalking them up to experiences or the way we grew up. After all, we have been successful so far in life, so what we are doing must be working. Okay. But I wonder if I could be different if I was willing to spend some time trying to understand myself. I wonder why I am the way I am. And does “that way I am” always serve me well?

I believe many of us are “in our heads” quite often. But most of that conversation is a monologue. It is our perception spit back at ourselves. It is us telling ourselves who we are, why we do what we do, and how we always should act. It is usually not original thinking. It is like a parrot mimicking the words spoken.

Sometimes we actually do have a dialogue. However, it tends to be with previously-prepared questions and off-the-shelf answers. We have already heard that conversation before. It is almost like a really bad tv interview, where the interviewer lets the interviewee know all the questions beforehand. So the answers come back banal and rote memorized. Who gets much out of those interviews? Who of us really likes to listen to them?

“I believe it is healthy and productive to remain curious about yourself”

When we use the approach suggested in the paragraph at the start, the world opens up to us. Now we are asking ourselves questions we have not asked in a while – or perhaps ever. “I wonder what it would be like to get up every day and look forward to work?”. “I wonder if I could try something different?” “I wonder why I don’t talk to that person about what they do for a living?” “I wonder why I am not getting any job offers?” “I wonder if I tried something different, if I would get a different outcome?”

I get it. You might not like the answer to the questions. You might not even have an answer. Guess what, we don’t always have the answer. That’s what learning is for. Go take a class, read a book, listen to a podcast or go on an informational interview. Sometimes we need others – partner, friend, co-worker, coach, mentor – to help us work through the answer. Even just asking the question and pondering it for a while is personal growth. Taking that first step offers a chance for a new direction.

Isn’t it important to get to know the most vital person in our lives – ourselves – a little better?

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Sometimes to manage expectations, you need to just “do it”

I recently got back from a trip to Zion National Park in Utah. It was a great time with some great views to remember. I challenged myself with some tough, but rewarding hikes. But I was reflecting on two different set of expectations I had. How I anticipated them. How I acted on them. And how they ended up. I believe these expectations are a metaphor for some of our expectations in job and career search.

The first challenge was Angel’s Landing. The Zion web site characterizes it this way: “Long drop-offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights. Last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit.

This little character is the Park Services way of warning you. That is a person falling off the edge of a cliff!

For someone like me, who has a fear of heights, this was a really scary hike. I was very nervous beforehand, wondering if I could complete the hike. In fact, I was prepared to stop before the last half mile, which was the really scary part (I could justify that I already did 2 tough miles). In the last half mile, I needed to be able to climb along a cliff edge, sometimes only six feet wide. Some of the climbing required using a chain lodged in the rock to help you climb up.

Once we got to the last half mile, I decide to go for it. We went early enough in the morning that it was not very crowded, so I could take my time. I have to admit, I spent most of that last part staring at the two feet in front of me as I climbed (inched?) up. I did not want to look up to see the next challenge. I definitely did not want to look left or right to see the drop off from the rocks. Looking back? Forget it!

That’s me in the picture. Does my body language say “confidence”?

I made it. The view was amazing. But the satisfaction of overcoming a fear was even more special. Of course, we still had to go back down the way we came. In my mind, I anticipated this being harder (more anticipation!). The descent would be more crowded, so I would have to negotiate around people. There was no avoiding looking down, that was the direction we were headed!

Reality was the climb down was way easier than expected. I had the confidence that I had tracked up the mountain against all odds. I had that accomplishment in my back pocket.

Which gets me to lesson #1. Ever felt like what I just described on a work or personal task? “Whoa, I don’t know if I can do this”. “Tell me again why I would want to do this to myself”? “I don’t think I should apply for that job, I just won’t get it”. I am sure we all have. Taking the first step is the key. Once you get going, you have a little momentum. You might still embarrass yourself. If anyone looked closely at me, they would have seen my terror. To be honest, in that climb who is paying any attention to me? If they are on this climb, they are either as scared as me or they are enjoying the view along the way. That’s what happens to most of the things we do. We imagine others’ reactions, when they in fact are so wrapped in themselves we are invisible to them.

The second hike was The Narrows. I was REALLY looking forward to this hike. It is one of the most unique hikes I know of. You hike, in the water, against the current of a river through a very narrow canyon. There are some times where the water is above your knees. By the way, the water is 52 degrees. As one person characterized the hike, “it is like walking on slippery bowling balls”. The river has deposited tons of rocks, most of which have algae growing on them, making them slippery. Okay, so maybe that does not sound “exciting” to you. But it was to me.

On this hike, I needed to manage expectations in a different way. I was so excited, to do this hike, how could it meet my expectations? Was I already too anticipatory to truly enjoy it?

So that is lesson #2. When you are excited for something, anticipating a great event, live the moment. Remember why you are there. Take in each sight, sound, feeling as it is happening. Don’t jump forward to what “might be”. It is said that sometimes the anticipation is greater than the event. You don’t need to curb your enthusiasm. But don’t be so wrapped up in trying to anticipate “what’s next” that you missed “what is happening”!

I think that happens to job seekers. We get so wrapped up in preparing for the interview for “the best job”. We get excited when we perceive the interview is going well. We think about the next question, our next response, our next great story. And perhaps we miss an opportunity to really clarify a point. Or we miss the fact that the interviewer was being nice, but did not fully appreciate our story. By letting our excitement for the larger event (the interview) overtake our awareness of the moment (the interviewer’s reaction) we miss an opportunity.

You could probably come up with your own examples of highly-anticipated situations that did or did not meet expectations. Were you present in the moment? Did you simply “do it”?

 

Try

We all face burdens. Sometimes the barriers in our way seem so high, so large that they cannot be surmounted. So we don’t try. But just when you think you don’t want to face the barriers, an unecpected event challenges your conventional thinking.

I don’t watch much television. But this past week, I watched and was moved by a wonderful singer on America’s Got Talent named Mandy Harvey. Her story provides the inspiration for all of us. At age 18, Mandy was struck with an illness and was rendered totally deaf. After a period of mourning, she has picked herself up and is a singer. More than a singer, she also plays an instrument and writes her own melody and words. And remember, she is DEAF!

The title of the song she sang on the show was “Try”. You can listen here (it’s only a 2-minute long song)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKSWXzAnVe0&feature=youtu.be

The lyrics resonate:

“I don’t feel the way I used to
The sky is grey much more than it is blue
But I know one day I’ll get through
And I’ll take my place again

If I would try

So I will Try

There is no one for me to blame
cause I know the only thing in my way
Is Me

I don’t live the way I want to
That whole picture never came into view
But I’m tired of getting used to
The Day
So I will try

If I would Try”

“I know the only thing in my way is me“. Can it be said any better? We all underestimate our ability, our power, our capability to overcome. If we can only recognize that we are in our own way. It may take someone else to help us realize that, but there is real power in knowing we are the barrier. Because “me” can be changed and overcome.

Sometimes the burdens are heavy (“the sky is grey more than it is blue”). I am not downplaying all that we have going on in our lives. But progress only asks for that three letter word, “try”. In Mandy’s case, her career was suddenly, unexpectedly crushed. Her desire to sing seemed to end. How do you come back from being rendered deaf, when your whole life has been dedicated to singing? That is a pretty huge barrier.

Perhaps you are out of job and growing more disenchanted with the job search. Maybe you are in a job you hate, but the “whole picture won’t come into view”. You, or someone you know, might be frozen by anxiety, self doubt or fear. Sometimes finances can be a very large barrier to progress, hold you in place, or cause you to make rash decisions. But Mandy’s example, and her lyrics, point to another way.

So I will Try

I like the way she transitions from “if” (“if I would try”) to “I will” (“so I will try”). That is the first step. The acknowledgement that “if” I would try, perhaps something will come of it. I would think in her case, there were few clear paths, or trails that someone else blazed that she could follow. Her path could not have been clear. Isn’t that what many of us face?

I hope your challenges are not as big as Mandy’s (I don’t believe mine are). Like Mandy, find the courage to move forward – even if the next step after the first one is not apparent. Dare to challenge the perceptions of what is possible or not. Be willing to go in front of others (in her case, thousands of people) and TRY.

 

Walking the Talk?

Sometimes it helps to look at others and then look at ourselves. Is someone else living up to their word? Are they “walking the talk?” Do their actions support what they say or write? When the answer to those questions is not a firm “yes”, we get a couple choices. We can complain about “them”. We can try to change “them”. Or, we can look inside ourselves for a similar example. How about learning from “them” and improving ourselves?

I have a small example of not walking the talk from two businesses. A health insurance company (UHC) and a hospital (PHP)  are having a “disagreement”. To keep it simple, the two companies cannot agree how to pay UHC for services at PHP locations. This has disrupted thousands of people’s health care. As full disclosure, this does NOT affect me at all.

I recognize that businesses sometimes cannot agree. But in this case, both of these organizations know that people choose their health care in the winter of the year before (in this case 2016) for coverage all year the next year (2017 in this case). So to have a “disagreement” in the middle of a year, knowing that your customers are locked into a year long “contract” that it very disruptive to change, seems to not be fair.

So I looked at each companies’ words. Are they living up to them?

Here is what UHC says on their web site: “What unites us is our mission to help people live healthier lives and make the health system work better for everyone.

We are working to create a system that is connected, aligned and more affordable for all involved. One that delivers high quality care, responsive to the needs of each person and the communities in which they live. We are also partnering with care providers, collaborating in new ways to improve patient care.”

Here is PHP’s Mission: “People will choose Premier Health over any health system in southwest Ohio. We will earn their choice, and grow our market leadership, by anticipating their needs and exceeding their expectations

Their Values include: “Act with INTEGRITY to do the right thing in all aspects of our responsibilities. And,
Serve with COMPASSION that embraces each individual’s concerns and hopes.”

I’ll be honest, I don’t think either company is living up to their words. “Make the health system work better for everyone”? “Do the right thing in all aspects of our responsibilities?”

I am not going to pound on either of these organizations. That is not the point, they are just the example. But do their actions – a dispute that means people cannot get the health care they wish at the prices they contracted at the locations they wish – match their words? I think not.

Here are the interesting questions for you. Does your organization truly live its words? How externally focused is your organization, honestly? Does your organization really walk the talk? How about yourself? Do you really follow through on what you say? Is your public persona backed by your private persona?

It is really easy to justify a position that might be interpreted by some as contradicting your values or principles. In fact, both UHC and PHP are doing that in this case.  But is the justification simply an excuse? Are you willing to do some real soul searching to truly understand if you are living your values, mission and vision?