Career Success Through Asking Unusual Questions

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As a life coach who specializes in helping people find career fulfillment, I am always looking for questions that will trigger awareness about satisfying work. After all, it's the questions that enable people to sort out their desires, values, interests and couple these with their natural talents and trained skills.

Ask a powerful question and you have the ability to cut to the core of what most matters to a person. The trick is to find questions that unlock both emotional and intellectual concerns. Many people become disheartened about career selection when they follow a path based solely on head (reasoning) rather than heart (passion) - I'll become an accountant because it's a respected profession or I won't pursue teaching even though it's my passion because teachers are so poorly respected and paid. Directions followed purely for passion may lack realism - I'll become a football player because I love sports, even though I have limited skill and prowess.

So, I've made it my business to collect and create questions that may seem quirky, but help identify the ultimate quest. Sometimes questions occur from observing life experience – such as “For what behavior were you razzed as a child?" I had stumbled on this one when I noticed a pattern between what some had told me had been a frustrating experience at various points in their lives. I wondered - what if we took the judgment out of this? What information is being offered? After all, Johnny Carson's teachers accused him of clowning too much. Oprah was told she talked too much.

Other questions arise out of a seemingly impossible situation. “Even if you hate your present job with a passion, is there one area in particular you enjoy?" One woman found that she loved clipping articles about her industry and giving them each day to her boss. When she coupled this activity with additional competitive research, she was able to create a new career path for herself within her company as Competitive Intelligence Manager.

One of my favorite questions, however, is asking, “Is there someone out there who is doing work that makes you jealous?" Naomi Stephan, Ph. D. , author of Fulfill Your Soul's Purpose: Ten Creative Paths to Your Life Mission (Stillpoint Publishing, 1994) says, “Your jealousy and envy can be friendly clues about areas that you are neglecting in your career. "

What's helpful about this question as well as others that emerge from negative information is that people are so accustomed to complaining that what makes them jealous is readily available to them - if they are willing to admit it. Faced with many career choices, a person who has many interests may feel overwhelmed. But asked about whose work day you envy this same person may easily begin to focus.

It's important, however, that the jealousy be directed to the actual activity of the job. Being jealous of someone's salary or powerful trappings is not what will bear fruit on this quest.

Stephan noticed she was jealous of Gloria Steinem when it was announced in the paper the celebrity was coming to town to promote her latest book. However, Stephan realized she wouldn't be envious about a famous stock market analyst autographing a book. Yet her feelings towards Steinem were a clue that part of her life mission was to be a respected writer and communicator. Stephan suggests the following exercise to discover your own clues: Make three columns and fill them in:

    1. Person Involved 2. Circumstance of the Trigger 3. Lesson
Write three or four examples of situations that raise your jealousy or envy. Then decide which jealousy is greatest and what you need to do to act on it. Compare each of the people you are jealous of to see which one ranks highest.

Collecting and asking quirky questions like these above among members of a department or work group can be particularly fruitful. Imagine challenging your colleagues over lunch to consider taking on new projects based on small areas of their jobs they want to grow. Will you admit to each other what behavior you've been razzed about throughout your life? Will you come clean about work you envy?

If so, you may be delightfully surprised how much support you may receive from those who will champion your pursuing a direction that clearly incorporates the best you have to offer.

Melanie Keveles MA, CPCC, Certified Professional Life Coach. She’s a “dream champion, ” working with people who want to change career direction, start a business or publish a book. She’s available via e-mail at, by phone at 715-394-4260, or


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