Harvard’s College of Education Dean, James Ryan, recently gave a speech to the year’s graduating class about the 5 essential questions to ask for a successful and happy life. Regardless of life’s barriers, both personal and professional, there are ways to establish the necessary grounding to move forward.

1.) Wait, what?

The first question allows the individual to take a step back and evaluate the situation at hand. Before taking any kind of action, one must be completely aware of what is happening.

2.) I wonder why/if… ?

Two questions are actually asked here. Wondering why something has occurred or continues to occur helps one to remain curious about their environment. It also helps them to recognize when something is awry, therefore leading to wondering if there is anything that can be done to improve the situation.

This question encourages determination to evoke positive reconstruction.

3.) Couldn’t we at least…?

Even with determination, there will always be obstacles. The most difficult thing regarding obstacles is the ability to surpass them. By asking, “Couldn’t we at least?”, one is able to begin the process of moving forward, regardless of how small the initial steps may be.

4.) How can I help?

Ryan expressed the dangers of the “savior complex,” stating that although it is human nature to want to help others, one needs to beware of the idea that they are in control of another’s life. By asking “how” one can help another, they are taking direction and understanding that others are experts of their own lives.

Remaining humble in difficult situations is at the core of healthy relationships.

5.) What truly matters?

Sometimes, things just are not worth fighting for. Asking what truly matters enables one to define exactly what is important enough to invest time and energy into. Ryan said, “It forces you to get to the heart of issues, and to the heart of your own beliefs and convictions.” Overall, this question ensures that the path you are on is the right one.

By regularly asking yourself (and others) these 5 essential questions, the idea is that at the end of the day one will be able to answer what Ryan suggested is one of the most important questions that could ever be asked: “Did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?”

Again, he touched on the fact that life is difficult and achieving what you want will never be simple. But at the end of the day, if you ask those 5 questions, the answer should be “Yes I did. And I worked hard to get there.”

As a company that is all about Asking Powerful Questions, we hope this article inspired you to question more deeply.


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