All You Need Is One Great Question
We were hiking The Dipsea, a famous eight-mile trail in California’s Marin County that starts with nearly 700 steps. My 17-year-old, a casual athlete who might amuse herself with a swim, a run, and a speed bag session all in the same long pandemic day, was forever just up around the next corner. Finally, the lunch break I’d been waiting for was upon us and we sat down side by side looking at the Pacific Ocean. After a few deep breaths, Claire passed me my egg sandwich and said, “So I was thinking on the trail about what I need to know from you before I go to college, and here’s question number one: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? Like, ever?”
“Well, that’s getting right to it, isn’t it?”
“No time to waste,” she said, needling me with the idea of her imminent departure, which will make my husband and me empty nesters.
“It all comes down to the people. That’s the biggest thing. Every job, every trip, every project — with the right people, it’s a dream. With the wrong people? Oy. The wrong people can ruin paradise. The wrong people could ruin this,” I said, extending my arms to frame up the world class views.
“Got it,” she said, squirreling it away as she devoured some chips.
On the long ride home, it occurred to me that there’s something else I believe, a related belief that is crucial to living a full life: if you want better connections, ask better questions. It’s easy to mistake one kind of person for another. And the only way to know if you’re teamed up with the right people or the wrong people is by asking questions.
My husband was once seated next to a very strange guy at a work dinner. The guy was so strange, in fact, that Edward texted me from the bathroom: “Brutal, be home sooner.” But then somehow they got talking about Thailand, where we had been on our honeymoon, which led them to Madagascar, where this man — wait for it — had been a political prisoner for 90 days. This may well have explained why he seemed a bit odd, and it certainly paved the path to an interesting conversation.
How could I have left out the thing about asking questions? It’s my life’s work. I mean, I wrote a book called Tell Me More that encourages more questions and less answers. I have a children’s book coming out in April called Hello World! that makes the case for asking questions as a way of life. I interview people every week for my podcast and sit down for extended sessions for my PBS show.
But thinking about it now, I see there’s no need to worry about conveying all this to Claire. She already intuitively understands the potential of one good question to change any conversation, any day, any life. She proved that by asking one.
For great conversations that dig into the questions we should all be asking, listen to Kelly Corrigan Wonders.