Some of my readers may be old enough to remember the vice-presidential debates leading up to the 1992 presidential election. Participating were Senator Al Gore, Vice President Dan Quayle, and Commander James Stockdale, who spent eight years in captivity during the Vietnam War. He was misunderstood and made fun of after the debate for his opening remark that began, “Who am I? Why am I here?” Since he had not had the time to prepare for the debate due to the nature of running mate Ross Perot’s candidacy, people assumed he was referring to his lack of preparedness.
But was he? Those are perhaps the two fundamental questions of life, and if anyone had earned the right to bring them up on the national stage, it would be someone who went through the adversity he had. And if there’s anyone whose answers to such fundamental philosophical questions would be of interest, it would be someone running for national elected office. Do you think our political leaders ask themselves those big questions? Do you ask them of yourself?
Asking ourselves big life questions helps us lay the foundation for achieving goals.
Though the “big questions” differ from one person to the next, and from time to time over a lifetime, here are some of the most common ones and why it’s right to ask them of yourself – on both a personal and professional level.
“Have I Made a Difference in People’s Lives?”
This question can be asked and pondered on many levels. For example, if you have children, you certainly made a difference in their lives by bringing them into the world. Few of us can claim to have made world-changing advances like Jonas Salk, who delivered one of the first successful vaccines against polio. But we can all ask ourselves, “Did I thank the person who handed me my coffee at the drive-up window?” or, “Have I told the people I love that I love them?”
“What Am I Refusing to Admit to Myself?”
This is one of the more difficult questions to ask ourselves. Few things are more tragic than the person who refuses to acknowledge reality. Why is it so hard to admit that we can’t hit those high notes when we sing, or that the two-handed backhand is how we’re going to have to play tennis from now on?
It’s not easy to have our self-concept challenged, yet humans constantly change. Some of those changes aren’t necessarily good, but others are. Think of the earthy, satisfying taste of a properly-aged bottle of wine versus the bitter chalkiness of the wine that has not had the chance to ripen into itself. There are ways humans are like that too.
“Can Kindness Change the World?”
The Dalai Lama said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” It makes sense, yet we may sometimes feel as if kindness isn’t worth the effort. Whether kindness can change the whole world may not be the right question. Rather, we should ask if our kindness changes someone’s world. You didn’t have to rescue that slow turtle from the rainy highway, and the world will go on whether you do or not. But if you do, you can feel confident that your kindness changed the world for that animal.
Kindness may not change the world for everyone, but it at least temporarily betters the world for you and whoever you help.
“What Are My Values, and Am I True to Them?”
People talk about “values” all the time, as if they’re as inevitable as gravity, but have you ever really taken the time to define what your values actually are? Not what you think they should be, but what you actually do value. There’s tremendous power in simply knowing what is most important to you.
Once you do, you’re that much closer to being able to answer whether you are actually living a life that is in harmony with those values. Shining a light on our values and our commitment to them can be upsetting when we know that we have fallen short, but doing so is the first step in realigning our lives with what we believe to be most important.
When I work with organizations on developing outstanding culture, asking those big questions is part of the process. I invite you to contact me so we can talk about corporate culture and how I assist organizations with it. If not, I at least hope you will recognize the value of asking yourself – both on a personal and professional level – the big questions in life.