Have you ever had that moment when you look in the mirror or stop to survey your surroundings and you think “How did I get here?” (Just like the Talking Heads song.) We do all these things every day in work and life and after a while, it can become mechanical. At that moment, have you ever asked yourself “What if…?”
Sometimes you’ll get to a space,and it’s not wrong but it also doesn’t feel right. If you notice that feeling, you have a choice. You can choose to stay the course, or you can be intentional about re-imagining your place, your lifestyle, your relationships, career or simply re-imagining one aspect of your life that may just unlock more than you ever imagined.
I’d like to share a personal story about my mom’s ability to re-imagine herself later in life, and what this has taught me. Today I use that lesson to engage my team members and drive a healthier workplace culture.
One Simple Change
In the mid eighties, my parents moved permanently to Charlotte, NC, from Egypt when they were in their fifties. Once she moved to the US, my mom chose not to drive. She had been a self-reliant woman with a meaningful career as a banker (who drove to work) for as long as I had remembered. Then she retired early and opted out of driving, preferring to travel as a passenger with my dad at the wheel.
As my dad got sick and became weak in the late 1990s, Mom’s ability to get around diminished. He actually needed her to take him places, especially to the doctor. Throughout those years, I often mentioned to her that I thought she ought to learn how to drive by herself in the U.S.
Mom always responded by saying she wasn’t good at it and was somewhat intimidated. As Dad became weaker, I was more intentional about the dialogue we had around her driving.
I never meant to follow a formula for getting her to act; it was simply a necessity! Something needed to happen.
After a lot of discussion, lots of “what if’ questions, and many re-imagining moments, a new picture emerged for my mother. Finally, she understood the transformational impact that driving could have on her life, and said Okay. We lined up the lessons, took the test, and it all worked.
A couple years later my dad died.
And I remember very clearly my mom looking at me and saying, “I never could have imagined that I would be able to drive myself. I’m so glad I’m driving! I feel so much better about life, and about myself, especially now that I’m alone.” Mom had experienced and tasted the outcome of re-imagining her life as a driver.
Since my dad died, she has become able to do everything he had done, and more, and she does it really well.
Ask yourself a what-if question today
Let’s assume that everything is going fine in your life. Still, when was the last time you took emotional inventory, and gauged your level of fulfillment and satisfaction? Something could be broken or scary and all you might have to do to fix it is ask yourself, “What if?”
My mom asked “What if I could drive myself?” And now look. Think about the hundreds of what-if questions that have changed lives, industries, and history. Every day we reap the benefits of what-if questions. Long ago, somebody asked “What if we could just communicate electronically rather than sending these paper memos around the office?” And now look. What does your what-if question look like today?
Inspired by this topic? In a companion blog, we take a closer look at some examples of what-if questions and why they are so important, both personally and professionally.