“There’s something about this that has your attention, isn’t there?” continued John. Mike nodded. “I don’t know what it is, it might be a specific area of your life where you are trying to figure out what you want or it might be that general sense that you could be doing more with yourself; if only you could get clear on what it is that you really want. You may feel or long for this kind of clarity because you believe that, once you are clear about it, you can commit to a firm direction.”
“Whatever it is that keeps pulling your attention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the bigger decision, the unspoken one, the thing that you first have to figure out that you want before you figure out what you want. And it’s this…”
Have you decided that you actually want to figure out what you want?
“What do you mean?” Mike said “Have I decided that I actually want to? Of course I have.”
“Hold on a sec.” said John sitting down. “Here’s an example from a different field. Researchers in creativity have found that the single biggest thing that helps people become more creative is when they decide to become more creative. There is something about that decision that either sparks more creativity or somehow gives permission to someone to allow themselves to discover and express their creativity.”
“In the same way, now is the time to decide that you want to figure out what you want. I’ve got some questions for you.” He handed Mike a sheet. “Take a moment with these questions.”
Mike read down the sheet…
- How do you know that you really want to figure out what you want?
- Have you made a firm decision to figure out what you want? How would you convince a good friend of this?
- What’s in you for me to figure out what you want? What will you gain?
- What will you have to lose or give up or stop once you figure out what you want?
- What will happen if you don’t figure out what you want?
- What won’t happen if you don’t figure out what you want?
“I’m confused now” said Mike, “how will I lose anything by figuring out what I want? As far as I can see all I stand to do is gain.”
John stood up again and drew a stick man on the whiteboard. “Let’s assume this is you” he said and then drew an arrow pointing away from the left of the figure and printed the word GAIN on top of it.
“So, what will you gain by finally figuring out what you want?”
“That’s easy” said Mike ticking them off on his fingers
- ‘I’ll gain a sense of direction’
- ‘I’ll know what to do about my future career’
- ‘I’ll be able to make future decisions more quickly’
“All true” said John “now let’s look at what you will have to leave behind” and he drew another arrow pointing away from the right hand side of the figure and printed the word LOSE on top of it
“So what will you lose if you gain all of these things?”
Mike paused. “Well…”
- ‘I’ll lose a big reason for not doing anything’
- ‘And I suppose if I really knew I’d lose all those long conversations with friends when I keep going over what I don’t know’
“Good” said John “What else?”
- ‘Oh I can see that I might, in truth, lose some choices by coming to a firm decision’
- ‘And if I’m honest I’m a bit scared of really finding out what I want because it might mean big changes for me so I suppose I’ll lose some comfort’
“OK” said John drawing an arrow pointing down from the feet towards the bottom of the whiteboard and printing the word STAY.
“What will happen if you don’t figure this out for yourself?”
“I guess” said Mike “that I’ll stay stuck and I don’t like the thought of that and I don’t want to be one of those people who ends my life standing in a pub regaling people with stories of what I could have done.”
John tapped the whiteboard with his marker. “These questions help you to look at the problem from all sides. Often it is not enough just to think about what something new will bring us. You know that because you have been resisting figuring out what you want, so there must be a strong reason for this. Asking these questions helps you to see round the problem. ‘What will you gain?’ is straightforward. ‘What will you lose?’ may reveal the thing that is preventing you figuring it all out for yourself. ‘What will happen if you don’t figure it out?’ This question gets you to ponder the consequences of carrying on like this and ‘What won’t happen if you don’t?’ gets you to ponder the downside of the possible gains.”
“Before our next meeting I’m going to leave you with these questions to ponder and although you don’t have to write the answers down it will make a big difference if you do. I suggest you find a quiet corner and give them your full attention.”
“I’ll only continue to work with you if you make this first decision because without it, nothing else will work. Decide for yourself first, that you want to figure out what you want and second, that you will figure out what you want. I can’t help you unless you are totally clear on these points. Phone me when you’ve spent some time with these questions and we’ll talk again.”
“Hang on” said Mike “What will you tell the HR people?”
“I’ll tell them that you are setting goals for our work together” said John with a twinkle in his eye.
As he left Mike looked at the questions again. ‘Maybe it is possible’ he thought. He felt strange, an odd feeling that he hadn’t had for a long while, he was excited. He hadn’t felt that way in years. He began to plan a long lunch at a pub he knew in a quiet part of town.