This week I’m tasked with understanding someone better than my own friends in three minutes or less. I did this by selecting from a list of prescribed questions in Chapter 3 of “The Art Of People.”
The questions I chose:
What is the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
If you could choose to do anything for a day what would it be and why?
If you had enough money to retire, and then some, what would you be doing?
I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure how this was going to play out. How would I naturally slip these into conversation without seeming weird? In the back of my head I assumed people would wonder why I’m asking these questions. Turns out that was a silly thing to worry about.
I serve on the board for our local Chamber of Commerce. Once a month I spend an hour with 32 business, nonprofit, and community leaders, and although I know some of these people well, it occurred to me that after a year and a half I barely know many of my colleagues.
At our last board meeting I sat down beside a woman I often sit beside at these meetings, although honestly most of our conversations up to this point have be small talk. I asked her about the most exciting thing she’s working on, and she did not disappoint. She’s working on recreating the London Bridge for an upcoming event. Who wouldn’t want to know more about that?
As it turns out her company is fascinating. We talked about a few other projects they’ve been working on, and even another board member joined in on the conversation. Then I learned a little more about what his company does as well. Even though our companies are all quite different we found we had a great deal in common. It was a really fun way to start what normally is a pretty dry meeting.
A day at the beach
When I asked people what they’d do for a day I discovered that is a tough question to answer. Most people started with, “Um I don’t know….” Eventually though more than one person suggested a day at the beach. In fact everyone chose some kind of relaxation activity. I don’t know why, but that surprised me. I guess I thought people might think of something more grand, something they couldn’t normally do. But then again, who wouldn’t want to spend a day at the beach?
In fact, for lots of people life is a day at the beach
When I asked the barista at the coffee shop what he’d be doing if he had enough money to retire he said, “Get a studio.” Apparently he is a photographer (and I’m embarrassed that I didn’t already know that given that I own a photography incubator.) In the end he said his life would be pretty much the same, but he’d have a studio of his own.
Over and over I got similar responses when I asked people this question. I’m sure there are people with miserable soul-sucking jobs out there, but I didn’t stumble across any of those people. It seems most people are pretty happy with their lives and wouldn’t change much. An influx of financial security seemed to only add to their lives rather than change them. One woman said she’d give more to charity, another said she’d help her kids get out of debt.
Weren’t people supposed to say they’d pack up and move to the Virgin Islands? Spend every day on the beach? Never work again? Certainly someone wanted to do nothing. So I resorted to crowdsourcing this question--I posted it on Facebook.
Guess what? I got more of the same. Aside from the outlying person who took it as an opportunity to make a joke, everyone seems to want to continue working in some capacity. Dave Kerpen even said he’d run for President. I guess deep down we like to work, maybe people aren’t lazy after all?
So for one day we’d like to relax at the beach, but for a lifetime we find meaning and purpose in our work.
Nobody caught on either
I asked these questions everywhere I went for about a week and no one seemed to notice. I thought the questions seemed a little scripted, or maybe that people would be suspicious of someone asking this stuff. Turns out whether someone is a postal worker, a barista, or a CEO, it doesn’t matter much--everyone is happy to talk about themselves, and no one finds it suspicious that I might inquire. It’s almost magical really. Without much effort I can remind someone that they matter, that they bring something special into this world just by being themselves.
Although not the intent of the chapter, I found myself asking these questions of friends and family too. I highly recommend this little addition to the FAST action steps. These questions certainly serve to deepen existing relationships as well.
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