I spent a good amount of my 20s and 30s feeling lost. I was troubled by my uncertainty and my lack of Focus and clarity about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I pursued and received my undergraduate in psychology, primarily because I was fascinated with what distinguishes one individual's behavior from another. But even though I was gainfully employed, I still wasn't sure how to use this fascination in the real world.
From early on as a sales executive at Xerox, I would dream with a colleague about what we would really love to do if money was no object. My dream was to be a motivational speaker, which was crazy because I had no frame of reference or experience in the arena. I also quickly discounted it because of the travel involved, which didn't sound too fun. I subscribed to Psychology Today and read every book I could get my hands on in a quest to sort out my purpose and my relentless drive to be my best at something. I truly wanted to believe anyone could do what they love and the money would follow. But, to be honest, I didn't totally buy that line at the time. I mean, come on, what am I supposed to do? Get paid to listen to great speakers in the field of human performance who talk about their life lessons with inspiring stories? Tethered to this pursuit was this aching, gnawing feeling that I was not on track to do anything truly meaningful and fulfilling outside of my family life.
And then it happened. My breakthrough game-changing moment came when I read a book entitled Never Buy a Hat if Your Feet Are Cold by Ken Felderstein. I was so captivated by the message that I risked it all and asked to meet with the author for lunch. He admittedly was not sure if I was some crazy psycho who creeps on book authors or a genuine fan. I think what saved me is that he had also worked for Xerox in a different division, and figured "Xeroids get each other." What started as pure inquiry became a lab project for Ken on a new project he was working on. He asked me a series of questions that started to pinpoint some direction. Ken asked me to describe, in vivid detail, the peak moments in my life and the feelings that came with them.
This question led me to create a perfect scenario of what an ideal work day would look like for me, based on what I yearned to do and what seemed easy, fun and intrinsically rewarding. He asked me to paint this picture without holding anything back, with no hesitations or rational reasoning of why it wasn't possible. A few years ago, I came across this old dream sheet while cleaning out a storage box in the garage. As I reflect on Ken and what he did for me with just a few short coaching sessions, I realize he embodied exactly what I hope to be as a coach myself. He simply cared deeply about what made me tick, what gave me emotional energy, and about what might happen if we all treated each other with that same possibility.
One powerful question changed my entire mindset. He gave me permission to focus on my emotional highlight reel, beginning the journey of a more focused, purposeful trajectory for my life. By reviewing my peak moments and exploring the career focus they entailed, he hit upon a successful formula. What changed my life -- and what can change other lives dramatically -- is asking smart questions.
For me, the work didn't end with the question. Actually visualizing and writing it down made the real difference. The road forward from that moment clearly had its bumps and hard-learned life lessons as I started to sell seats for human performance seminars for straight commission. I then worked for an adult learning university, and now for the past 12 years have worked as a seminar leader and speaker at Gallup.
As I teach others how to become strengths coaches, I realize the power of this question about peak experiences when I see participants get so fired up when they start to share their stories. It is an accelerator for building trust with a client. It demonstrates a caring and an individualized approach. It drives huge engagement with you as a trusted adviser and coach. The peak performance question is personal, can build intimacy and credibility, serves as a differentiator and creates fully present moment awareness with the client. When you ask that question, look for the lights to come on. You will see it in their face, body language and voice. Ask it next time you have an introductory coaching session and see the shift in the relationship. In the end, we all have the clues to greatness within us. Sometimes all it takes to unlock our potential is a caring coach with curious questions.
Steven Beck's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Communication, Woo, Maximizer, Strategic and Activator.