Taking the Next Step: Six Questions that Help

With the kids back in school, summer vacations concluded, and autumn not yet arrived, now is a propitious time to gain some clarity about what next steps you might take towards resolving whatever dilemma or project you’ve been itching to undertake. These issues can range from how to convince and reassure a reluctant, aging parent to move out of their home to figuring out whether to invest serious effort in that project you’ve always wanted to tackle to strategizing ways to rejuvenate a relationship that’s seen better days. Insight, answers, and progress rarely occur when we’re in avoidance mode…

All too often, we wish to move forward in our lives, but aren’t sure how to proceed; we feel there are too many alternatives or none whatsoever. Either way, our ability to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or at an utter loss is understandable. We confuse ourselves with conflicting priorities, pressing responsibilities, and a nagging distrust of trading our imperfect known for a vague but undefined something we think we want. The result for all too many is to remain fixed in place, made jittery at the prospect of enduring the status quo but hesitant to move forward. Nevertheless, a nagging sense of needing to do something buzzes about like an annoying gnat.

Any of this sound familiar?

Whatever your challenge is, the key to the solution is to act from your strengths. This is an adage that serves us well in all situations and at any point in our lives. We may not always “win,” but we’ll perform a heck of a lot better acting out of strength than weakness. Think about that experiment where the guy tells himself his extended arm is really strong before another person tries to push it down versus when he tells himself his arm is weak. Huge, huge difference in results!

So, as you are tooling about town, doing whatever it is that you do, I want you to ask yourself the following questions (writing down your answers makes it that much more effective, I promise):

  1. How can I make a unique difference?
  2. What do I do exceptionally well?
  3. Where/how/when do I shine?
  4. What do I care about?
  5. Where do I see myself one year from now?
  6. What would [somebody you respect and admire] do to achieve this goal?

When you reflect on these questions, don’t limit or edit yourself in terms of your answers. Whatever pops into your head—write it down. Once you have run through all the questions, then go back and examine your answers in light of the problem or challenge you want help wit; it’s highly likely that some new strategies or solutions may pop into your head! When you act from those aspects of yourself in which you already have confidence, the entire project starts to feel more manageable, thus gaining credibility in your mind. This is your chance, so take it! If not now, when?

And, as always, pay attention to your omissions—those things you consistently forget about or fail to do. Such glaring gaps will convey reams of information about what it is you actually don’t want to do (no matter what you say). For instance, for me, I routinely avoid or forget to check a subscription job posting service. Even scanning the position titles depresses me, let alone reading through the job description. No matter what I say about wanting to return to a paid work environment, is it any wonder I haven’t managed to land an office gig? (It makes me groan and shake my head when typing these words. Jesus, I really don’t want that.)

Then, there is a last step to this little exercise I’ve set out: I want you to make a list of the things you have achieved this year. I don’t care what it is. I know you’ve done something you’re proud of (whether you “had” to or not); situations that are not yet fully resolved count, too. For instance, I know that the time and effort I am investing in healing my relationship with my dad is paying off. Nobody but me can see what it is I do, but I know. I also know that managing to post on my blog twice a week is a goal I’m proud of—especially when there’s little proof that anybody who reads it finds it worthwhile. But, the reason I continue to post is because it’s important to me. You’re doing something similarly important. What is it?

Homework assignment: after you write down your answers, let me hear from you about some insight you’ve gained or goal you’ve achieved. After all, school’s back in session, so you may as well get with the program.



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