In a recent article, author Warren Burger adapted a chapter from his provocative book, A More Beautiful Question, which he wrote to help people use “the power of inquiry” to do more with their hopes, dreams, and lives.
Although originally intended for adults, the questions can be a powerful tool for younger people. If you have a teen at home, the questions are well worth sharing.
Take a look at the summary questions below and try answering them for yourself. Then use the questions as a starting point to help your child determine what he might be passionate about.
1. What’s your tennis ball? (Or: What am I doing when I feel most beautiful?)
The question comes from a commencement speech by an entrepreneur whom Burger quotes: “The most successful people are obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball.” The point, as the speaker said, is to “find your tennis ball—the thing that pulls you.”
One exercise is to go to a bookstore and see what section of the store appeals to you. That can help reveal what “pulls you.” Burger quotes a fellow author who states, “What you spend time doing can also tell you what you should do. Because sometimes the things we do without thinking really are things we naturally enjoy or are good at.”
Then there’s a related question: “What am I doing when I feel most beautiful?” This goes beyond what pulls you, and helps identify “what makes you shine.” Burger quotes the leader of a non-profit who says it’s important to think about “that time and place where you feel most alive—whether it’s when you’re solving a problem, creating, connecting with someone, traveling.” Whatever it is, find a way to do more of it.
2. What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Burger credits PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel with this question. It is quite a challenge, intended to “help you figure out what you care about and also determine whether it’s worth pursuing, based on uniqueness.” “Originality,” says Thiel, “is deceptively hard.”
But, as Thiel points out, this is a way to find your own unique niche. Instead of trying to do what others are doing, go “through the open door that no one is looking at.”
3. What are your superpowers?
The idea here is to identify the powers and strengths that you bring “effortlessly to any situation.” There is a brilliant, short (8-minute) video on YouTube by the filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, called “The Science of Character,” which can help you define your strengths, build on them, and create a vision for personal success and happiness.
Need more input to identify your powers? After interviewing millions of professionals, The Gallup Organization came up with a list of 34 distinct strengths. View the list and see where you fit. “Once you’ve identified your own strengths,” writes Burger, “you’ll be in a better position to make the most of what you already have going for you.”
4. What did you enjoy doing at age 10?
Think back, says the author, “to what you loved doing before others started telling you what you should do.”
Burger quotes a psychologist who adds, “The things we loved as a child are probably still the things we love.” He suggests you write down a list of favorite activities and interests from childhood—“and see what still resonates with you today. And then it’s a process of updating those loves. You may have loved something that doesn’t even exist now, or doesn’t make sense in your life now—but you may be able to find a new version of that.”
5. What are you willing to try now?
Burger states, “One of the best ways to find your purpose and passion is through experimentation.” He notes a professor who has studied the ineffective path many people take before striking out in a new direction: they study it endlessly. But a better way is to “Learn who we are—in practice, not in theory—by testing reality.”
The professor advises engaging in a series of “trials and errors”; in other words, find ways to “get experience or build skills,” and uncover “opportunities to experiment.” She concludes, “We need to act.”
6. Imagine looking back, 20 or 30 years from now: what do you want to say you’ve accomplished?
This is a potent one. Burger writes: “Think of this exercise as a less-gloomy version of write-your-own-obit. What would you include on your list of hoped-for achievements?”
7. What is your sentence?
Summing up one’s purpose into a simple sentence can be a gateway to living a life of greater meaning. It’s designed “to help distill purpose and passion to its essence by formulating a single sentence that sums up who you are and what, above all, you aim to achieve.”
Burger quotes the famous Congresswoman and author Clare Booth Luce, who told President John F. Kennedy, “A great man is a sentence” (e.g., “Abraham Lincoln preserved the union and freed the slaves.”).
But you don’t need to be a president to have a sentence! Burger suggests sentences such as, “He raised kids who became happy, healthy adults,” or “She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.” And finally, he asks: “If your sentence is a goal not yet achieved, then you also must ask: How might I begin to live up to my own sentence?”
Featured Image – Chris Hunkeler / CC by 2.0