Relatively inconsequential disciplines repeated with consistency often lead to great achievements over time. Emotional intelligence is one of those disciplines. Being aware of your intentions, motivations, and emotions can be a super-power if you know how to follow through after becoming aware of them. To begin, or deepen, your experience is to be curious, inquisitive, and probing of your perceptions and beliefs. Perhaps you already have a questioning process for yourself. I find that most people only really do this kind of work, superficially, with new year resolutions or when they’re creating a mission statement for their organization. If you feel like emotional intelligence is not your strongest suit, beginning a basic questioning process could be the gateway discipline you need.
This “10 Savage Questions” post should be read as a prompt. Perhaps these are not the questions you need right now. Perhaps you’ve already worked through some of these questions. Use this post as a prompt to come up with your own savage questions. What are the questions you really don’t want to answer at the moment? Start there.
I called these “savage questions” because they aren’t designed to be “feel-good questions.” Savage questions differ from those saccharine “questions for couples” in that these kinds of questions should elicit a nagging feeling once you’ve answered them. You shouldn’t be able to comfortably shove the information you’ve gleaned to the back of your mind. It should feel like you’ve unearthed a treasure map that you must immediately begin to follow.
10 Savage Questions That Will Give You The Edge This Year
How much, and of what kind of resources, will you spend on your career this year?
What will you do to bring those resources into your life?
How much of those resources are you willing to lose?
What would you keep doing even if you knew you were going to fail?
I hear an incessant chirping from self-help types that usually includes, “If money were no object, what would you do?” That’s a fine exercise. However, money is always an issue. Using the, “what would you keep doing if you knew you were going to fail” asks you to deal with questions of failure and shame. “I’m going to keep doing this thing full-well knowing I could just drive it into the ground,” points out where my passion is strong enough to overcome feelings of shame, doubt, and failure.
Another subquestion to this is “How will I collect my rejection letters?” You may have also run across this excellent post, “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” by Kim Liao. She has this beautiful paragraph, “I asked her what her secret was, and she said something that would change my professional life as a writer: ‘Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.’” So, ask yourself, “How will I collect my rejection letters?” and get to it.
Who is your professional anchor?
“So choose yourself a Cato–or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make crooked straight.”¹ Seneca
What are the metrics by which you will judge this year?
Back in a previous season of “29 Days to Diva”, I used Monopoly and gamification as a framework for talking about our musical businesses. In this post, I called them “grind activities” but we’re really just talking about metrics. “When I listed my major grind activities, I came up with — 1) Practice 2) Email 3) Apply 4) Audition 5) Perform. My brain loves gamification. (Just check out my Foursquare/Swarm addiction. Social gaming nerds, unite!) To truly activate that part of my brain that gets fired up by gamification, I needed to assign each of these activities a specific point value. Now, you should look at your grind activities. Do they lead toward the goals you have already outlined for yourself as a musician, teacher, or advocate? How do you weight them with point values? I know that performing is my biggest investment overall, but it also happens to provide the biggest career returns on investment. Therefore, in my activity points it gets weighted the heaviest. Email gets very few points; however, that grind activity can happen more rapidly and regularly than performing. Which is to say: the grind activities all work together to create your grand point total which leads to the rewards.”
How will you increase your ‘functional knowledge’ this year?
“True learning towards what I call ‘functional knowledge’ requires a mixture of the three. Information, advice, and anecdotes. Information is the hard facts, the science. Advice is how it can be applied to whatever area is relevant, its use. Anecdotes serve to emotionally involve people, to motivate interest.”² Rosie Leizrowice
How will you change your “Looking Glass Self” this year?
“Cooley´s concept of the looking glass self, states that a person’s self grows out of a person´s social interactions with others. The view of ourselves comes from the contemplation of personal qualities and impressions of how others perceive us. Actually, how we see ourselves does not come from who we really are, but rather from how we believe others see us.”³
This question could be reframed as, “Should I change the frequency with which I interact with certain family, friends, mentors, and colleagues?” If we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time, then it behooves us to figure out what those percentages are and how we’re served by and serving our relationships with others.
How does Pareto’s Principle fit into your professional life?
Pareto’s Principle, or the 80/20 Principle, has tipped over into trendy, business buzzword territory. However, have you actually applied it to your life? The principle states that 20% of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. Where in your professional life is 20% invested input responsible for 80% of the results obtained. What feels “easy” for you that intimidates others?
What is your poison?
“Rumi’s answer to questions asked by a disciple – What is Poison? He replied with a beautiful answer – Anything which is more than our necessity is Poison. It may be Power, Wealth, Hunger, Ego, Greed, Laziness, Love, Ambition, Hate or anything.” (The text goes on. You can read it here.)
Another way I talk about “What is your poison” is to say, “You need to know your own black holes.” What are the areas of your person/psyche/world that will just keep absorbing beyond an appropriate level? For many people it seems to be validation or attention. For others, it could be ambition or wealth. We all know that black holes are not empty space. They aren’t a void. They are incredibly dense. No light can escape a black hole. We are responsible for not trying to feed these areas. We are also responsible for not looking to others to continuously pour their efforts into our own areas of needs that can never be met.
If someone asked you for a daily breakdown of activities or habits, which parts would you omit or change in the telling?
Practice this with different “listeners” in mind. Which things would you not tell your mother? Which things would you not tell your best friend? Which aspects would you not tell your therapist? Then, ask yourself why.
Some of the answers get omitted because they’re just not very interesting. That can lead you to exploring how to make more of those experiences more fulfilling. Others would get omitted because you’re not comfortable sharing those aspects with just anyone. That should be another clue to upholding your personal integrity across areas of your life.
What are the events in your own Life Olympics™?
I had a friend who broke down the areas of her life into what she called the “Life Olympics” and I have never forgotten about it. “In the year after I graduated college, I was completely overwhelmed by all of the new challenges of adulthood that were rapidly hurled at me without so much as a syllabus to guide the way. I felt like every time I gained control of one area of my life (paid the bills! bought groceries!) other areas of my life lapsed into disarray and neglect (what? I have to go to the gym every month now?) It seemed like a very high stakes game with lots of rules and no playbook. I identified five different areas that I considered critical to a happy and healthy adulthood and started calling it the Life Olympics – partly inspired by the five Olympic rings, partly inspired by the seemingly Herculean effort involved in mastering any one of these areas day-in and day-out, let alone all five of them.” (I highly recommend you read her post here.)
She writes toward the end of the post, “This year, I started treating the goal-setting process in the other four categories of my life with as much time and thoughtfulness as I do for work. At the beginning of the year, I created five annual goals for each category – 25 goals in all. Some of them are things I could do in one weekend, and some of them are more long-term builds. Every quarter, I revisit my annual goals and set quarterly goals, and each month, I revisit my quarterly goals to set monthly goals..”
What are your 25 Life Olympics goals?
Remember, these questions and their answers aren’t supposed to make you feel good. They are supposed to light a fire that you can either stoke or extinguish. The edge in question is a personal edge. No rejection letter can disturb the peace of your mind because you’ve planned for that. No poison will mysteriously make it into your imbibing because you can see it coming a mile away. Now, plan the next time you’ll write your own savage questions and answer them.