If you know me well, you know that I love the power that can be found in asking question. Not just any question, but the RIGHT question.
The understanding that the question is more important than the answer was first given to me as a gift from a friend when I turned 25. I was at a place in my life where I was really trying to find the answer to the BIGGEST question in most of our lives: Who am I?
My friend gave me a letter from my now favourite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The letter was from a series of letters that Rilke had written to another poet about 8 years younger than he was (at the time Rainer was around 28 I think). The letter said this:
"You are so young, you have not even begun, and I would like to beg you, dear sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that is unresolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves, like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue. Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given to you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live yourself right into the answer."
This letter changed my life. It changed me because it told me that it was ok to have so many questions. In fact, it was better to have questions than answers. Questions guide us and help move us forward, answers can often freeze us in place.
So today, six years later on my 31st birthday, I wanted to give you a gift that a great friend once gave me.
Here are five questions I've asked myself in the past six years that have truly helped me find my way. I hope they do the same for you.
Live The Questions,
1. Am I happy?
This was probably the most important question I had asked myself (and continue to ask from time to time) as I grew into myself. It forced me to, at the time, admit that I wasn't and that, if I wanted to be happy, things were going to have to change. There were choices I needed to make in order to be happy. We can't change things if we don't know what needs to be changed.
2. What do I need to be happy?
As I came to understand that I wasn't happy. The next step was to think about the things that were important to me. When was I happy? What contributed to that happiness and how can I bring more of it into my life. From time to time, when I am happy, I find myself writing down the things that are influencing my happiness so that I can make sure to bring more of those things in when I'm not.
3. What habits help me and which are hurting me?
They say it takes around 21 days to create a habit - I don't know who "they" are but...I believe them. Every three weeks or so, I try my best to sit down and look at the habits I've created for myself that are helping me - making me a better version of myself, contributing to my success - and the ones that are hurting me - holding me back from being my best or hurting others. As soon as I'm able to recognize which habits are helpful and which are hurtful I then have a choice to make: keep doing the helpful ones and stop doing the hurtful ones or...keep punching myself in face (figuratively).
4. Where does my time go?
The only thing that we all have of equal amounts as human beings is the amount of time we have in a day. I'll wait from you to recover from that mind-blowing realization before I keep going.
As soon I as started to pay more attention to the amount of time I spent doing things that were helping me personally and professionally develop and how much time I spent doing things that were holding me back (like creeping Facebook or spending two hours Googling "why does my cat..." just to see what pops up), I started to use my time more effectively. I still Google though...
5. Who Supports Me?
Taking the time to look around and see who are the people in my life that are truly invested in my well-being was one of the most important things I did for myself. It meant that there were some people I had to let go of (because they didn't support my growth) and there were some people I needed to add to my life (like people who were just as invested in their own growth as I was in mine). I'm a strong believer that we're a product of the people we surround ourselves with...both in our real lives and online.
“Everything can be taken away from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedom -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl
In every challenge there is an opportunity. There is a chance to learn more about yourself and others. There’s a chance to move forward.
It seems as though, at any given time, you or someone you know is dealing with a breakup, a sick relative or friend, a crappy job that we thought we’d love but don’t, or we feel like we’re endlessly searching for that meaning and purpose in our lives that everyone talks about.
As I continue to flow through the choppy waters of being a young adult (and now a father), I’m learning that working through uncertainty really starts with the choices you make each and every day.
It begins by understanding that you have a choice.
It's understanding that you have a choice to look at challenges as opportunities to learn more about yourself and to grow.
It’s not easy though! In fact, sometimes it’s freakin’ near impossible!
It’s difficult to see the good in a bad day sometimes. A disagreement with someone you care about, frustrations about where all of this is heading, insecurity at times about who you are and where you're heading. All of these things can add up and take over -- leaving you overwhelmed and feeling trapped.
So what do you do? How do you keep yourself optimistic when there seems to be so much pessimism around you? How do you get out of the s#!% that Life seems to have been throwing at you for so long that you feel stuck?
My opinion? We do the things that help us feel just a little bit more in control. We talk it out with a trusted friend or family member, we write it out in a blog, a Facebook post, or a journal. We look for ways to connect with others, and we bring back the things in our Life that make us happy.
Look for the small and beautiful moments that show you everything is going to be ok. Look at the things that make you happy or when you were most happy and work hard to bring them back into your life when you need them the most.
Once in a while, you'll have one of those beautiful moments that tells you that everything is going to be ok. But pay attention...those special moments don’t seem to always present themselves as outwardly as the bad ones; I think that’s part of what makes them so meaningful.
It’s those little moments that can fuel you. It’s a small piece of clarity in a sometimes very clouded life.
Having an awareness of this creates choices that we may not have seen beforehand.
We start to understand that we do have a choice, even when it feels like we don’t at the time. We start to see that crappy basement apartment as a lesson we’re learning about patience and working toward something bigger. We look at that breakup as an opportunity to get to know ourselves better rather than losing a part of who we are. We can look at the challenge of bettering yourself and remind ourselves that the goal is bettering ourselves and the challenge is how we get there.
Because what we focus on, grows.
So step back and ask yourself, "where's my focus, right now?" If it's on the big, bad and ugly, try taking some of that focus and shining it on the small, good and beautiful.
Create a habit of asking yourself what you're learning from the hard times. As you do, it will become easier to get through them.
Those challenges turn themselves into opportunities.
Finding the good in the bad days takes a change in our perception. It takes changing our attitudes and looking at those challenges that being whoever you are entails and taking ownership over that. When you start to do that – when you start to own the outcome- things change for you.
Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, writer and lover of all things Zombie-related.