Like many others, I have always been fascinated by and drawn to those who achieve what the rest of us just dream about. And, from an early age, I suspected there must be a common denominator, a secret sauce. They could not all be geniuses, right?”
I first met Dr. Clark Moustakas in 1994 when I enrolled in graduate studies. By then he had published over twenty books, and co-founded a graduate school of psychology which continues to thrive today as the Michigan School of Psychology in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
During our first one-on-one supervision meeting, I respectfully asked Clark how he did it all. With a beguiling smile that seemed to say “I know, and you can too,” he stated that he simply followed a single question “each-and-every day.” Momentarily stunned by his humility and directness, I asked him what his question was and he replied, “What is loneliness?” I already knew that his 1961 book, Loneliness (most recent version: Hauraki Publishing, 2016) was the title of his most revered and best-selling book. But now I understood that his book was not just the result of his writer’s craft; it was a window to his essence and meaning. Pursuing the question of loneliness enabled him to move beyond his perceived capabilities, and made impossible things possible.
In that moment, I also knew he was handing me the secret sauce and the recipe for living a self-actualized life. What he did not hand over was a process for finding a life-transforming question, but my search was on. Some months later, my question arrived quite unexpectedly, and my deer-in-the-headlights reaction convinced me it was “mine.” That same question continues to drive me today. It is the intuitive lens I use to examine life, and a bridge to a purposeful life.
My question,“What is boundary?”, was embedded in every nook and cranny of my life story, waiting patiently to be discovered. Pursuing an answer led me to numerous insights and further discoveries. My own research kept pointing to the fact that boundary was co-created, meaning it involves at least two people and a certain mutuality. This goes counter to the commonly accepted notion that boundary is a wall we build on our own. We can (and sometimes do) try to build these kinds of walls, especially when we are fearful, but they can become obstacles to real growth. My research also revealed that a healthy boundary is both flexible and whole. A boundary that has lost its flexibility through trauma, grief, or addiction produces feelings of being stuck. Holes in our boundary fabric produced by trauma, loss, etc., affect our ability to form healthy connections with others. In my work with clients, I found that various forms of play can restore flexibility, and integrating mind, body, and spirit creates the balance needed to repair boundary tears.
Finding a Powerful Question is not therapy, although it can lead to healing and truth. As in the case of Dr. Moustakas, it is stepping onto the same playing field as Albert Einstein and others who have achieved historic breakthroughs. In his biography of Einstein, Walter Isaacson noted that at age sixteen, Einstein had a single question that inspired him throughout all of his discoveries-“What would it be like to ride at the speed of light next to a beam of light?” (Isaacson, 114) Dig a little into the lives of Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, as I have, and you will find the Powerful Questions that drove each of them.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to help a group of fifteen entrepreneurs discover their Powerful Questions. That effort produced some amazing results, and created programs that continue to have a positive impact in Marquette, Michigan. One such effort was Start the Cycle, a bicycling program that offers area youth a chance to train for and compete in a strenuous mountain bike race. That program began when a local entrepreneur, Curt Hewitt, and I asked what impact mountain biking might have on at-risk youth. Another entrepreneur in the group, Laura MacDonald, saw this as a perfect fit for her Powerful Question, “What is legacy?” Under her leadership, Start the Cycle has expanded, serving hundreds of area youth since 2011. I detail Laura’s story and similar achievements in my just-released book, Ask* your Powerful Question. In 2017, I had the opportunity to introduce Powerful Questions to graduate students at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. It was valued enough that it is now a course in the school’s Master’s level curriculum for lay students.
People ask me “Is this a spiritual approach? An entrepreneurial one? Or some sort of therapy?” If by therapy you mean finding out what is authentic and passionate in yourself, the answer is a resounding yes. If you are a seeker of any sort, be it spiritual or entrepreneurial, a Powerful Question will reveal what you truly desire most. Traveling this path is stepping up to the specialness of you. I cannot say it any better than Plato did in 399 B.C., “An unexamined life is one not worth living.” Find your Powerful Question, and let it lead you to the purposeful, passionate life you were born to live.
John Olesnavage, a resident of Big Bay, Michigan, is a psychologist, educator, and author who follows his own Powerful Question “each-and-every-day.” In addition to Ask* your Powerful Question, John also wrote Our Boundary, a book describing his ground-breaking, boundary-based approach to counseling.
Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.