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[Many people have asked me to blog my TEDx San Diego talk… it’s below.Here’s the video.]
What if there was a Question you could ask, that when answered, brought you a feeling of profound fulfillment, deep happiness, and inner peace.
The answer put a spring in your step, made you look 10 years younger, made children and animals love you. It resulted in your seeing God, or the divine, in all human beings. It gave you a solid, consistent sense of safety and belonging you never imagined possible. The Answer enabled you to love and be loved like never before.
My Question took me to a Buddhist monastery, 700 of the Fortune 1000, a geisha training room, the Clinton and Bush White Houses, the L.A. County Morgue. It brought me to the feet of great spiritual masters in holy places, to world leaders in gilded mansions and massive board rooms. It brought me to serve the homeless in grimy gutters.
And finally, it brought me to the homes and hospital rooms of 16 strangers, hospice patients that I volunteered for, loved, talked with as they died… all with their Question unanswered. And I thought to myself, what is my Question? I don’t want to die with it still unresolved.
And this is how I realized that we all have one Big Question. Your Question forms the theme of your life. It drives you, it’s why you do what you do.
What is YOUR Question?
When I was 7 years old my father told me I was supposed to be a boy, and as a girl I wasn’t pretty or smart. My Question quickly sprung forth:
Am I good enough?
Oh my gosh—maybe I wasn’t good enough, maybe I was a reject of some sort. If I wasn’t good enough, what was I going to do with my whole life ahead of me? Live some sort of inconsequential, substandard existence?
So I set out, Question firmly planted in my gut, and I started to achieve. Because I figured if I achieved enough then maybe I’d have sufficient proof that I was indeed good enough.
And here I stand, 41 years later, with an excessive amount of achievements–all in an attempt to make sure I was good enough. Has my Question been answered? More on this in moments…
Often we think…
We need to look perfect/be polished to get respect, be taken seriously, be considered worthy, to be considered good enough. We think our intellects will get us through most, if not all, situations. We will never find our Question, or our Answer through thinking …
Our intellect is NOT in charge—our emotions are.
90% of our responses are emotional – 90%*
Our emotions respond 400x faster than our intellect – 400x*
(Source: UCLA and Hoffman Institute, 2010)
If you just…
Find the Big Question you are asking yourself…
Then you get…
The coolest quest ever – finding your Answer, feeling your Answer. And this enables you to find out what you really want, and to be happy when you get it… it enables you to get off the perpetual wanting things-getting them-feel temporarily satisfied until you-want things-get them-feel temporarily satisfied… and so on.
I figure people are like software. We can intentionally design our next version. So how do you do this?
You decide to evolve. Consciously. Intentionally. You decide to buck the “hide who you are” trend that humanity has celebrated for centuries. Here are 3 ways to intentionally evolve:
Revealing yourself can be scary. We all have masks to hide who we are, armor to protect our soft underbelly. Yet you can reveal yourself in inches–which is what life is about—and in time those inches become feet, yards, miles.
A remarkable man, Gregg Woods, brought me in to lead the Intranet Strategy for the Clinton Administration. At one point we had 90 days to get every government department to launch an intranet app… we’re talking converting mainframe programmers to web developers… pretty radical stuff. I was in my 30’s, I wanted to do it right, the pressure was high. I had to look good, be professional, And I was sooo moved by what Gregg was doing, by how he’d reveal his humanity and his team would totally respond—they’d rise up and do the almost impossible. The change he was affecting, the trust he placed in me. There was a time when I could’ve told him how he had changed my entire experience of the US Government—my entire experience of leadership and management overall – But I didn’t… I thought I’d look weak, mushy, unprofessional. Years later I said To hell with it, and called him up. He didn’t answer. He’d died of pancreatic cancer a few months before…
I didn’t reveal myself. I chickened out.
When did you choose to stop revealing yourself?
Was it an isolated incident when life smacked you down? Or when you were elevated high and thought showing your humanity way up there might result in others taking advantage of you, or not taking you seriously?
Every word, thought, action, interaction is an opportunity to reveal yourself. It’s bringing you closer to who you are, to finding your Question… to finding your Answer … don’t miss the opportunity! Take off your mask, shed your armor—even for a moment–show us who you are.
The next way to evolve is to:
2-Stand for yourself.
You have all the answers within yourself.
This is why searching for the latest/greatest achievement, strategy, technique, trend will fail you every time… grabbing desperately for any lifeline or distraction won’t help either. At best these will provide only temporary relief. Because you are focusing out instead of in.
When you focus out, you aren’t standing for yourself. You’re asking for the answers outside, and you will NOT find them there. I did this with “power by association”, by hanging out with powerful people and hoping their influence would rub off on me. But no amount of C-level connections and impressive relationships will do it. Why? Because I wasn’t standing for myself.
Standing for yourself is an inside job. Every day you make choices to stand for yourself… or not.
When you feel the tug to look outside for answers, and it’s palpable, the tug of the world, it helps to have a tool to remind yourself to look inside. You can repeat a mantra… one of my favorites is: “I am enough, I do enough, I have enough” and this will help you Get Still.
We must stop our thoughts to find out who we are, to find out who exists behind the 60,000 thoughts we have each day that are 90% repetitive. (Source: Dr. Fred Luskin, Stanford)
We are surrounded by pauses. Yet we often fill our minds and schedules out of fear of emptiness. Emptiness is where your Answer is.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to serve the Dalai Lama. Day one everybody was assigned tasks – cool tasks! Gardening, setting up the temple, etc. Do you know what my task was? Cleaning… toilets. Lots and lots of toilets. And showers and floors. At first I thought “Gross– I hire people to clean for me!” Then, thankfully, I shifted to “This is so cool. I am going to clear some elitism and ego—which are symptoms of not good enough– with all this cleaning.” Twelve hours of cleaning on day one, twelve more on day two. BRING IT! I had lots of time to get still as I cleaned, to seek the Answer to my Question. On day 3, I was placed front and center before 14,000 people, representing His Holiness. I wouldn’t have been ready for this had I not cleaned grubby toilets and basked in humility and silence for the 2 days prior.
Get started now. If you simply spend 5 minutes each day seeking silence, within 30 days or less you will start to hear it. You’ll start the process of knowing your Question and seeking your Answer. And revealing yourself and standing for yourself will get easier.
What is Your Question? Are you living, being, seeking the Answer?
I got my Answer in my head the Fall of 2007 as my first book was published. I get my Answer in my heart on a daily basis, as I reveal myself, stand for myself, get still.
It has taken me 41 years to really internalize my Answer, and even then, it’s an ongoing process.
If we never meet, I want to leave you with this:
Reveal yourself, stand for yourself, get still… and there you’ll find your Question and your Answer.
One day you will die. Will your heart be heavy with your Question, or light with your Answer?
You are a fascinating human being.
You have very little time on this gorgeous and mysterious planet.
Get curious about yourself.
Show us who you are. We want to know you.
Christine Comaford no longer cleans toilets, but would if the Dalai Lama asked. She combines neuroscience and business strategy to help CEOs achieve rapid growth and create high performance teams. Follow her on twitter: @comaford. Her current NY Times bestselling book is entitled SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.
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