A powerful question

I know from life coaching just how powerful questions can be. The right question from a coach is often key to a client discovering their own answer to a situation by creating the space for the client to see the situation from a different angle in some way. When I went through my coaching training, we studied the art of powerful questions and practiced them on each other in coaching practicums. The idea of how important questions can be is not new news to me.

And yet, someone asked me a question last week—simply out of curiosity, without any aims at changing my life in any way—and I’ve been floored by the fact that I cannot get this question and the implications of my answer out of my mind.

It was actually a rather innocent question. A newer friend had happened upon my LinkedIn profile while trying to find an email address to contact me about a change in plans. In so doing, he noticed that I had achieved doctoral candidacy in a graduate program many years ago but had chosen to leave the program with only a Master’s Degree. Since he has his PhD and is now a professor, this intrigued him. He simply asked me whether I missed the intellectual stimulation of not having continued in the program.

No one has ever asked me that before. People have asked me whether I regretted leaving the program. People have asked me whether I miss that field (now that I no longer work in that field at all). But no one has ever asked me whether I missed the intellectual stimulation of it.

I didn’t have to ponder over my answer. Yes, I do miss it. I miss it very much, in fact. But I’ve never even stopped to acknowledge that to myself.

In the days since then, I keep finding myself returning to that question. I keep noticing the way this unspoken desire for intellectual stimulation has shaped my choices in reading, in career choices, in friendships, and in activities I engage in. In particular, I have noticed how many ways I have tried to fill this need without approaching it directly.

For instance, I am constantly pursuing additional training in the form of degrees, certifications, and qualifications because the training itself does often provide the intellectual stimulation I am looking for, but I’m realizing that there are many cheaper ways to get that same level of intellectual stimulation without having engage in all of the busy work that these programs required. In essence, I confused my goal of intellectual stimulation with a goal of earning another piece of paper saying I had completed some training program.

If I move my focus from earning credentials back to intellectual activity, I realize how many ways I can achieve that in cheaper, more flexible ways. My reading choices will be more focused on things that stretch my mind. I can make participation in book discussion groups (like the one I attended tonight) a higher priority. I can engage my intellectually minded friends in more intentional conversations around their areas of interest. I can take (or audit) classes here or there that interest me.

In short, the very recognition that I thrive on intellectual stimulation on topics that interest me is necessary before I can creatively problem solve ways to add more of that to my life. And all it took was one curious question from someone who recognized the importance of the intellectual life to nudge me in the right direction.

What curious questions have you been asked that changed your life?

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

4 thoughts on “A powerful question

  1. Wow – NEAT discussion…

    I’m thinkng of a very generic quesion, but when the “what do you think?” question has been placed to me followed by somehing like “why do you say that?” That pairing – whatever it’s referred to – has given me space to ramble and reflect as I might not have otherwise…often unto more insight about what’s stirring in me. Open-ended / divergent questions can be glorious gifts!

    • I love the pairing of those two questions! You’ve asked me those (or similar ones) a number of times in conversations that have really helped me dig deep to learn more about what I really think. I appreciate that about you!

  2. Similar to Callie Smith, the best question I have ever been asked was by my friend Chloe many, many years ago. She simply said: “What, exactly, do you mean by that?”

    I don’t remember what statement I had made to provoke the question, but I have repeated “Chloe’s Question” almost on a daily basis ever since—to myself and to others.

    That question (albeit, most likely influenced by the Socratic method) has completely changed my life. And I will be forever grateful to my good friend.

    Thanks for the post, Ems xoxo

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