Bring the Question
It’s summer of 2018.
I’m in the middle of a divorce, bopping from housesit to housesit, dazzled by the wide open field of possibility that is my life.
A Scary Thought begins to condense out of the mists of my self-awareness.
Slowly, dimly at first.
But after a few weeks, in a coaching session, I allow myself to look at this Thought, to see it, to know it: I don’t want to keep doing my job.
This is concerning, because I LOVE my job.
Our small team is coherent, dedicated, high-performing.
My work is meaningful, exciting, and cool.
I hold an essential role that I’m very good at, and that it would be hard to find someone else to do.
But my heart’s not in it anymore.
Something else is calling me.
I don’t even know what.
Within a couple weeks of allowing myself to know The Thought, I find my way to the next step.
I Bring the Question.
Bringing the Question is not something that always comes naturally to me.
I’m not sure how I managed to pull it off that summer, because even now, 5 years later, I still catch myself falling into the more familiar alternative of Answer Blasting when I need to renegotiate a situation.
But I did somehow, and now I get to be proud of how I handled this.
Here’s how it went.]
I ask my boss Meghan — whom I also consider a friend — for a meeting.
I try to avoid crying before I even speak.
“This is hard,” I say.
“I’m not sure what we do about it or how we handle it.
“But I keep having the thought that I don’t want to do this job anymore.
“It feels like something else, something mysterious, is calling me.
“I know this entire business depends on what I’m creating here every month.
“I don’t want to abandon you all.
“I care deeply about the success of the work we’re doing.
“What do you think we should do?”
Notice, dear reader, how radically different this is than “handing in my notice.”
That would be an Answer Blast.
That’s the abrupt, self-protective, not-very-relational experience we create when we make a decision to renegotiate something in a relationship without bringing the decision into the relationship.
In my experience, it usually goes something like this:
- We experience something we don’t like, or notice we want something to change, or perhaps become aware of a desire.
- By ourselves, we come up with a plan to get our needs met.
- Then we inform those it might impact.
This often won’t feel good to receive.
The issue comes at the receiver as a done deal.
They don’t get to have any input on the solution.
When I can manage it, I MUCH prefer the option of Bringing the Question.
In this way, we place the issue into the space between us, then look at it together to find a way forward.
The solution could end up being exactly the same as what I would have found solo.
But the process is different.
Bringing the Question affirms our collaboration and connection.
It lets us be a team.
Some more examples:
- A project is taking longer than I anticipated. Instead of telling my client I need to move our delivery meeting (Answer Blast), I ask them how they’d like to handle this reality together.
- I’d like to take a trip but it means I’ll miss a friend’s event I committed to help with. Instead of canceling (Answer Blast), I call my friend and share the dilemma. She gives me her blessing to go, while getting to express her disappointment. I help her brainstorm another way to get the support she needs.
- I’m sick of always watching TV when I visit L. Instead of telling him I don’t want to anymore (Answer Blast), I reveal that I don’t like what’s happening and ask to wonder together how it might shift.
It’s vulnerable to Bring the Question.
It requires me to trust that the other person will value my interests, even as they get to weigh in with theirs.
I have to allow them to be a collaborator.
And I have to trust I’ll keep standing for my OWN interests, even if they’re different or new or edgy for me.
But in my humble opinion: If I really value the health of the relationship, bringing the question is the superior way to go.
Back to 2018…
Meghan tells me she needs to think about it.
She admits she feels terror when she imagines me leaving.
She’s sad, confused, overwhelmed.
We agree to talk again in a few days.
In our next conversation, she’s the one crying first.
“I want you to go as soon as we get through our current project,” she tells me.
It’s sooner than I could have imagined.
“We’ll hire someone to replace you.
“We’ll figure it out.
“We’ll be fine.
“Follow your heart.
You have my blessing.”
We’re both sobbing now.
Within 2 months, I’m off on the biggest adventure of my life (a story for another time).
To this day, that response of Meghan’s remains one of the poignant moments I’ve experienced.
It felt like an incredible, surprising gift of love for her to support me so fully, despite her fear.
And it only happened this way because I Brought the Question.
So, dear reader… what question can you bring this week?
PS – There’s still time to answer last week’s mini survey if you haven’t yet!
I’m thinking of creating a new free resource for business owners and solopreneurs.
Which would be most useful to you?
- ✅ “Create a Magnetic LinkedIn Profile” Checklist
- 🤝 “Collect Effective Customer Testimonials” Toolkit
- 😻 Both please! I’d totally use them.
- ❌ Neither seems that interesting or relevant to me
This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.