Wait, What?!

Terlingua, Texas

December 29, 2019

These are the questions you should ask yourself and others on a regular basis. If you get into the habit of asking these five questions, you will live a happier and more successful life. You will also be in a position, at the end of the day, to give a good answer to what I call the bonus question—which is probably the most important question you will ever face.

- Jim Ryan

The following is my summary of Jim Ryan's book, "Wait, What?!" The book followed his commencement speech (above) given at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2016 where he served as the dean. UVa was lucky enough to hire him away to become the 9th president of The University in 2018.


- Most of us spend too much time worrying about having the right answers.

- Spend more time thinking about the right questions to ask. - Only by asking questions of others can you articulate a vision that is compelling to those with whom you work. - An answer can only be as good as the question. - Posing good questions is harder than it seems. - The moment of discovery is the discovery of the question. - It is important to listen for good questions. - Learn to distinguish the hostile questions from the clumsy but innocent questions. - The only truly bad questions are statements disguised as questions designed to trip you up or be hostile. - Questions are like keys, the right question asked at the right time, will open a door to something you don’t yet know, something you haven’t yet realized, or something you haven’t even considered about others or about yourself.

Chapter 1: The First Essential Question - Wait, what?!

- This question is at the root of all understanding

- It can be asked in different ways with pauses or emphasis. - Clarification is the first step towards truly understanding something.

- A good way to avoid jumping to conclusions.

- It is better to ask clarifying questions first and to argue second

- The world will be a richer place for you the more you understand the people and ideas you encounter in it.

Chapter 2: The Second Essential Question - I wonder....? - The first half of a question that ends with “why” or “if.”

- This question is at the heart of all curiosity. - A way to prompt yourself to improve the world around you. - The world is filled with mysteries and puzzles waiting to be solved.

Chapter 3: The Third Essential Question - Couldn’t we at least...?

- This question is the beginning of all progress. - The core of a series of questions. - A way to get unstuck. - Whatever can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it. - Getting started does not guarantee success but it does guarantee that you will not live - with regret about failing to try. - What we don’t do often haunts us more than what we actually do.

Chapter 4: The Fourth Essential Question - How can I help?

- This question forms the base of all good relationships. - Avoid the savior complex by doing something you THINK will help.

Chapter 5: What truly matters?

- This question helps you get to the heart of life.

- It helps you separate the truly important from the trivial.

- “What truly matters?” cuts to the heart of what’s important in any situation. On a deeper level, it’s a question that many of us spend our lives attempting to answer (unfortunately, many of us in vain or until it’s almost too late). Ryan believes “what matters” boils down to four categories:

- Family

- Friends

- Work

- Acts of kindness

- Within these broad categories, you have to figure out for yourself what truly matters.

The Bonus Question: Did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

This quote is from a poem by Raymond Carver, who was suffering from cancer at the time he wrote it. It’s an important question because while it acknowledges, through the phrase "even so," life’s challenges, it speaks to our power to rise above them to attain “joy and contentment.” It also helps you consider now what will likely matter to you when your time has run out.

If you live a life fueled by the ying and yang of curiosity and understanding; if you remain willing to try new things and to help and learn from others; and if you stay focused on what truly matters to you, I do believe you will be in a good position to say "I did" when it comes time to yourself the bonus question.

The poem continues:

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth.

The word "beloved" is important here because it means not just dearly loved, but also cherished and respected. Feeling beloved is not the sole measure of a life well lived. But I expect that for many of us, leaving this earth feeling loved, cherished and respect is a worthwhile goal and, in the end, a worthwhile reward. Asking good questions - and listening to the answers is as true a path as any toward this goal and reward. It is through such questions, after all, that bonds are formed and deepened.

I like this last question although it seems a bit to self focused - "did you get" as opposed to "did you give." I might reword the bonus question: "Did you give all you had to this life and to others; did you leave it all on the field?"

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