The Most Powerful Question
Four years ago, I had a life-changing experience. It literally changed the course of my life. Since then, so many conversations, interactions and experiences have been fueled by what took place that day. I doubt the person involved in what happened even knows how deeply it impacted me. More on that in a minute.
Growing up in the suburbs of Houston, TX brought me a mixture of emotions. I loved Texas. Twenty years in a place teaches a person a lot. Texas taught me the value of community. I grew up in Pecan Grove, a new neighborhood that was built on prison farm ground and sandwiched between Sugarland and Richmond. Thick pecan groves, rich farming soil, friendly people and newly paved highways made for pretty good living. And the BBQ...do not get me started. I am forever spoiled. Pecan Grove grew rapidly, with homes built on every block seemingly every month. I made a ton of friends in that neighborhood, back when finding a friend meant getting on a bike or skateboard and riding to their house, hoping they would be home. Texas also taught me the value of excellence. Everything may be 'bigger' in Texas, but I think that is just perception. Where I grew up, if you wanted to do something, you better do it well. If you didn't, people called you out. I learned that on the playing fields or courts, especially. And I learned generosity in Texas. Being generous with my time, my talents and my treasures. I never had a lot of treasures, but I knew I could give away my time and talents generously. It's where I learned the value of a great conversation, good listening skills and that everyone has something beautiful to give away.
Fast forward to four years ago. After giving seven years of my literal blood, sweat and tears to a start-up company here in Colorado, a company I deeply care about to this day, I had grown angry. I was angry that I was not getting what I thought I deserved, angry that I was now under-utilized and angry that I was stuck. Stuck in a role that likely would die a slow death do to a pending merger and stuck in a level of responsibility that no longer was challenging me. A trusted HR peer from our director group sat down in my office one day and could sense I needed to vent. And vent, I did. And then it happened.
"What do you want?" she inquired. "What do you mean, what do I want?" I responded. "What do you want..." she repeated, this time with some pause "...for yourself"?
The tears started flowing, and not because I wanted them to flow. I could not help it. I just sat there crying, realizing exactly what I wanted. And what I wanted scared the crap out of me. Patiently waiting, she said no words. And like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, I clearly stated I wanted out. Out of the role, out of the company. I minced no words. Her reaction was not what I expected. She smiled and said "You look like you just had years of stress come off you. Your entire body language just shifted in that moment and now you look peaceful." And she was right. I felt the anger leaving my body, and clarity returning to my mind. And I felt happy.
Back to Texas. I grew up never having the courage to say what I wanted. Whether it was my dad smacking me into submission after misbehaving, a teacher chastising me for being funny or a coach breaking me down on the football field, I learned to shut-up and stuff it. What I wanted did not matter, or at least I thought. I figured I just needed to be loyal and earn my spot. While Texas taught me to love community, excellence and generosity, it also taught me (unhealthy) loyalty. So, I carried what I learned into my professional career. When I tried to break free from it, I was quickly hurt. So, more stuffing. Stuffing ideas and emotions as good as anyone. And for two decades, it mostly worked. I gained opportunities to climb the ladder. Problem was the ladder was leaning against the wrong building.
Watching people come alive and identify what they want is a beautiful thing.
A month after that conversation about what I wanted and breaking free from a job holding me back, I was standing on a campground in Como, CO being asked the same question. This time for different reasons. And that would prove to change my life, as well. But that is another story for another time. Since this event, I have had countless meetings where it has become apparent that one of the most valuable things I can contribute is this very powerful question. And, what I have learned is that many people are not being given the opportunity to answer it in a safe place. I am on a mission to create a safe place where people can answer questions like this in a safe way, and it is life-giving for me as much as anyone hearing it for the first time. Watching people come alive and identify what they want is a beautiful thing. It's human.
What do you want for yourself? What are you doing to go get it?