Category Archives: Children

The ONE Question to Ask Yourself

compass on mapOne of the greatest blog posts I’ve seen comes from Rajesh Setty’s Life Beyond Code. If you haven’t seen his “Quoughts” series (Quought = Question that provokes thought), you must check it out. Rajesh asked several influential thinkers, “What is the ONE important question a person should ask himself or herself in 2007?”

The questions he received are big doozies – the kind that unhinge us from our comfort zones and help us see our lives through a new lens. Here are a few samples:

“How can I be the person that I hope my children become?” (Harry Beckwith)

“What do I have to do to earn and deserve the key relationships that are going to get me where I want to go?” (David Meister)

“How can I help others attain a level of success greater than my own?” (Mike Sansone)

“What is the question whose answer would set me free?” (Peter Block)

“What do I care about enough to defend in conversation with people I respect?” (John Battelle)

“What would I do differently in 2007 if I had no fear?” (Steve Pavlina)

And here are a few quoughts I’d have shared with Rajesh if he’d asked me:

“When am I in the zone, and how will I double the time I spend in the zone in 2007?

“On January 1, 2008, what habit or routine will I wish I had established in 2007?”

“What project can I start working on now that could, conceivably, lead to my next career?” (A good question to ask even if you love your current career.)

It’s not, “What do people think of you?”

I want to share with you the most powerful idea about human relationships that I’ve ever heard. It’s in the form of a question, and it’s from an essay by Harvard Business School professor, Thomas J. DeLong, in Remember Who You Are (2004). Here it is: “How do people experience themselves when they are with you?”

Imagine if, in our daily interactions with others, we succeeded in giving people a better experience of thegrandfather swinging grandsonmselves than at any other time during the day. 

This seems like an outrageously ambitious goal to set. But in practice, it doesn’t take much to achieve. Be excited to see other people. Look them in the eye. Smile with your whole body. Call them by name, and ask how they’re doing. When people ask how you’re doing, tell them, “Excellent!” Take an interest in others’ lives. Listen to their stories, and laugh. Keep conversation focused on them, not on you. By God, tell them how great they are!

How does your spouse or significant other experience him/herself when you walk through that door after a tiring day at work? Loved and appreciated? Or deflated? How does your child experience him/herself when he/she is with you? Are you more interested in watching the TV news than you are in hearing about his day at school?

Starting now, start to notice the “invisible” people in your daily life (such as administrative assistants, maintenance staff, fast-food order takers, security workers, and customer service phone reps) and deactivate their invisibility by asking a question, complimenting their work, saying a heartfelt thank you. Rid yourself of your hierarchical lenses and see others as equal to you – because they are! There’s something magical about giving someone a high-five and uttering their name with gusto as you walk by them in the hall. Try it!

DeLong prods, “What transpires inside people when you are talking to them? What are they thinking and feeling? In what way, however small, has their perception of themselves changed as a result of having the interaction?”

When we slow down and even go out of our way to make others feel unique, interesting, talented, or important, we are truly “making their day.” For that shining moment, their experience of themselves is ideal. (And, ironically, our experience of ourselves is idealized, too.)

Heart surgery’s lessons about the power of others’ attitudes

As described in my previous post, in 2001, at the age of 33, with one small child and another on the way, I was diagnosed with a heart aneurysm. And it had already burst. Slowly dying, I was scheduled for immediate heart surgery. In the previous post, I listed the main lessons about dying and living that this experience taught me. But there were other lessons – about the influence on me of other people’s attitudes during my time of greatest vulnerability.

1. There is incredible power in the support of friends, family, and acquaintances during a personal health crisis. Their cards, emails, calls, and visits – before and after surgery – are a secret weapon against the pernicious health threat. People I hardly knew wrote that they were praying for me. I was surprised at how much strength this gave me.

2. The professionalism and self-confidence exhibited by surgeons and doctors prior to surgery bring constant waves of calmness and humility that swell your soul with gratitude and awe. You realize that they are artists – craftsmen – whose hands and judgment are instruments of God. You have no choice but to surrender your life and your future to these strangers in white coats. And the act of doing so is humbling beyond belief, yet also freeing.

3. Likewise, nurses play unbelievably critical roles in recovery care. They are the angels who bring the necessary pain medicine at 2 in the morning, with a sympathetic and loving smile. Their incessant energy, enthusiasm, hopefulness, and optimism gets injected directly into your blood every time they walk into the room. When you are down, they are your heroes. The value to the world of a great nurse cannot be underestimated.

Clearly, my heart was fixed through the technical expertise of well-trained surgeons. Their mechanical actions – sawing open my chest, sewing up the tear, then putting my chest back together again – saved my life. But I believe that my physical and mental condition before, during, and after the surgery gave me the best chance for a successful outcome, and I know that it was the positive attitudes of the people I communicated with that week that put me in an optimal state.

Lessons from heart surgery on living and dying

storm approaching beachIn 2001, at the age of 33, with one young son and another on the way, I went to the doctor for a check-up and was diagnosed with a heart aneurysm. And it had already burst. Feeling perfectly fine but in fact slowly dying, I was scheduled for immediate heart surgery. I spent a week in the hospital, getting ready for surgery and recovering. A month later, I was healthy and back at work, albeit with a totally new outlook on my life and the lives of others. Since that surgery five years ago, I have said often, “I would wish open heart surgery for all my friends.” A strange wish, I know. But the lessons I learned from this medical crisis have enriched my life enormously. Here they are, sprinkled with five years of perspective:

1. You and I are going to die. Someday. My death is going to happen. Your death is going to happen. My wife and children are all going to die, too. It’s not a matter of “if.”

2. Death might be right around the corner. Today, tomorrow, or the next day. You and I might have only three days, and we might have 60 more years (21,900 “last days to live”).

3. Every day is a gift, every friendship is a gift, every child and every interaction with your children is a precious, fleeting gift.

4. Be kind and loving to everyone. From your spouse and children to the guy at Dunkin’ Donuts who gives you your coffee at the drive-thru. Tell people whom you love that you love them. Reveal to people their own greatness – NOW. It might be your last week on the planet, and it might be their last week on the planet.

5. Perceive the time you spend with loved ones, or working on projects you’re passionate about, through the imaginary lens of a home video camera. Savor everyday moments with loved ones. Record them on film in your brain and thank God for these memories that you’re experiencing first-hand right now. Laugh often at how fast time goes by, and be grateful that it doesn’t fly by even faster. Ironically, this will slow down time.

Ultimately, I have learned that if I die today, what a great life I’ve had! Because of my gratitude for life and my moment-to-moment appreciation of relationships, experiences, the wind blowing and the rain falling, I am literally ready to die at all times. I can imagine the future moment when I’m lying in a bed or on the ground, knowing I am about to die, and I imagine smiling, feeling no surprise or regret (though I also imagine the enormous sadness of leaving my family behind).

I live every day with the realization that any additional time that I am granted is stolen time. After all, had I been born at any other time in history, before current heart surgery technology and know-how, I would have been dead at age 33, two of my children would be fatherless, and the other two would not have been born.

My appreciation of life is greater than that of 99% of my friends. And I have open heart surgery to thank for that.