The #1 Most Important Question You Can Ask Yourself

One Friday morning, I was driving up Topanga Canyon to a routine doctor’s appointment while pregnant with our son Jake — but my mind was already at my desk in Santa Monica. I was rehearsing difficult conversations I needed to have about time sensitive projects that weren’t going as planned. I didn’t notice the car stopped in front of me and drove into it.

I was fine, unborn Jake was fine, the driver of the car I hit was fine, but my career was critically injured.

My doctor said my job was too stressful. I didn’t believe him. The day after the accident, quite certain I was fine, I nearly fainted in the grocery store. Perhaps I was stressed beyond my capacity. The Monday after my accident, I reluctantly took a leave of absence – one that lasted almost 5 ½ years!

In the years I was home with our babies, I imagined work I could do that would be flexible enough that I could have work-life balance and wouldn’t end up collapsed on the floor of the market again. Eventually, I returned to work part-time when the kids were both in school.

And then I went back to work and I was miserable and pushing just as hard as before. I realized I couldn’t be the only person struggling to redefine herself after a major life transition and career interruption so I started training and practicing as a professional coach to make a difference and to create a better life for myself and our family.

Was I living the life of my dreams?

One day, someone asked me what my life was like and in a moment of surprising vulnerability, I said out loud, “Every day I go to work, a little part of me is dying inside.”

Dying inside? Dramatic, yes, and also true.

It took me MONTHS to figure out how to make a change. There were many factors at play:

1) I had to admit that what I wanted was beyond what I knew how to do,
2) I had to commit to doing whatever it took to get there; and,
3) I had to decide that pursuing this dream and entering into something completely unknown was worth it.

I decided to hire the best coach I could to help me find the courage to quit my job and change my life.

So why am I telling you this?

I was a straight A student, received a scholarship to attend UCLA, had a job right out of undergrad, earned a graduate degree while working full-time, and kept moving up in my career. I’d done everything I thought I was supposed to do, and in the blink of an eye none of it mattered as much as being well enough to care for the baby I was growing and to focus on nothing else.

I didn’t know what I wanted until I knew what I didn’t want. I followed a lot of paths that I thought were right and ended up burned out and disappointed. Dying inside.

Right now, people around me are suffering and they won’t tell anyone because their lives look perfect from the outside. They are smart and wonderful and successful and amazing and are also dying inside like I was. It breaks my heart. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had recently where people can’t – or won’t – answer the question, “What do you want?”

Do you know what you want?

Ask yourself the question, “What do I want?” and see what happens next. And, while you’re waiting, keep an open mind, because as soon as we start declaring what we want, we tend to make up reasons that we can’t have it, shouldn’t want it, and on and on. It’s exhausting.

I’ll offer you a few suggestions to save you the time I wasted.

First, stop it.

Next, allow yourself to imagine a future in which you have what you want, without trying to figure out how to make it happen right now. Find inspiration around you, in nature, in other people’s stories, and hear what your heart wants. If you still don’t know, focus on what you like and what’s interesting to you and see where it takes you. Your dream is waiting for you.

If you tell people what you want, most will love to help you. And, if you think I can help you, I hope you’ll ask me.

P.S. If you want to know what else can change when you decide to change, head over to CTI’s Transforum Blog and read about my approach to changing the world!

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