Exploring the questions that lead to transformational change
I absolutely love this quote by Rilke. How often do we ask and answer the toughest questions in our lives? The questions that lie deep in our heart – sometimes standing between where we are and what we desire most? The type of questions that can lead us to transformational change…
For most of us, the answer is rarely or never. It took a long time for me to open myself up to deep questioning, reflection and personal exploration. To find the courage to go deep and the patience to allow myself to “live” into the answers.
When I was brave enough to open that door and explore the questions deep in my heart, it unlocked life-changing, eye-opening, transformational change. Suddenly, signs of opportunity were showing up in my life, and this time I was ready! I found the courage to grab hold and go for it, despite my fear. To persevere without the benefit of the light. And I can honestly tell you I wouldn’t trade one moment of struggle or discomfort. In fact, I passionately invite you to allow the tough questions into your consciousness and see what happens. It could be the key to unlocking your potential and achieving your wildest dreams and greatest happiness.
This past week, I had the distinct privilege of sharing my transformation story with 20 amazing women from Women in Leadership, a leadership community that looks at leadership from a deeper and holistic level. The format for my storytelling was a virtual circle conducted via phone. After sharing my story, the women broke into small groups to ponder how asking the right questions at the right time in our lives can lead to transformational change.
The topic was suggested by yours truly and the experience of sharing in the virtual circle (by phone) was richer than I expected. For me, just preparing to tell my story from this perspective of deep questioning provided an opportunity for self-reflection, continued self-awareness and growth. For that, and for the women who participated in the discussion, I am grateful.
Most who’ve heard my transformation story don’t know of the “heavy lifting” that I did internally prior to embarking on the physical journey. Long before I stepped foot in the weight-loss boot camp, I had to come to terms with what wasn’t working in my life and why. Without this internal work, I’m not sure I would have been open to the possibilities to get healthy when they showed up. Nor, am I certain I would have had the courage to grab hold and leap despite my fear.
So, today, I share with you the story of my quest to question what was in my deep in my heart keeping me from what I really, really, really wanted.
Discovering the right question
My story began with the question: Build a business or get a job?
In late 2009, I was struggling to build my new marketing firm, Marketing that Matters, and was out of balance in almost every way. I was working 12-18 hour days, seven days per week in an office chair; living on a diet of fast and processed food; getting about 3-5 hours of sleep per night; and leading a sedentary life. I had no time for fun or socializing, let alone self-care. I ate to drown the stress and the emotional pressure I felt in a business partnership that wasn’t working, and at my heaviest weight ever was at risk for stroke, diabetes, and heart failure. As I focused on trying to do everything and please everyone, my attitude went from the usual “glass half full” mentality to “glass empty.” Everything was difficult.
While talking with a friend and colleague about the stress, I described feeling lost. I felt like the hamster on the spinning wheel and couldn’t see my way off. The question I was wrestling with: “Should I continue to try to build the business after pouring my heart and soul into it? Or, just get a 9-5 job? (Mind you I have never working 9-5 a day in my life!) So there it was: Build a business or get a job? Which would make me happier?
This wise and accomplished colleague suggested I attend the Women in Leadership retreat hosted by the Center for Emerging Leadership. The leadership program, she explained, offered a small, safe community of women considering some of the same types of questions I was thinking about – exploring how to increase personal power and leadership integrity, become more balanced, and become better leaders in work, personal and community lives.
I signed up for the series of four leadership retreats spread out over the year of 2010. I shared the journey with 12 other amazing women from all walks of life and stages of career, and we became witnesses to each others’ stories. It was in this space of retreat with other incredible women that I began the work of tackling the tough questions.
The questions, and certainly the answers, didn’t come easily. The process required intense self-reflection, internal processing in the most authentic and vulnerable way, and facing fear and feelings of inadequacy. But it was absolutely necessary to unleash my true potential. I now recognize the process as daring greatly. And I am forever grateful for the experience and the safe space those incredible women provided for me to do this work.
Learn to question and lean in to the discomfort
Between the second and third leadership retreats, I had uncovered the real issue/question. It wasn’t whether to build a business or get a job. Rather, I realized that I wasn’t in the equation of my own life. There was no time for even the basic care of Lori. Nothing. Nada. And the truth is, I was slowly dying inside. It was clear, this was not a life path I could sustain.
As I learned to question and lean into the discomfort of what was coming up for me, I discovered that I was filling my life up from the outside because I wasn’t fulfilled on the inside. Pretty classic stuff, right? I was doing everything for everyone else trying to prove my worth because I didn’t have self-worth, self-love and acceptance. Now that I was aware of this, the question was how to change it.
So, the question for me on the surface – which was all about work – wasn’t really the right question at all. Rather, it was a symptom – the surface layer under which lied a host of other questions and challenges. Yikes! Who signed up for this? Once I fully understood and was aware of what was keeping me from the life I imagined, I couldn’t live my old life anymore. I had to do something about it.
During the third leadership retreat, I wrote my story from the perspective of the future. Looking back on my life from the perspective of the future helped me create and articulate what I really, really, really wanted. I was able to describe what it looked like in detail. A healthier Lori – both physically and emotionally. A Lori living in the very center of her equation – the center of a full and vibrant but balanced life. And that became my new focus/goal.
The question I needed to ask and answer really was: How do I move from a life out of balance to a life with Lori in the very center of her equation? Thus, the term “put yourself in the equation” was coined.
Be open to the possibilities and grab hold
I met O’Neal Hampton from NBC TV’s Season 9 of the Biggest Loser in the fall of 2010. He was starting a fitness boot camp on the North Shore of Lake Superior at the resorts where I work. O’Neal walked into my life through the work door – the only door I was paying attention to at the time. In that first business meeting he looked me in the eye and told me “We’ve got this. We can totally do this.” He was referring to me losing the weight. And in that one stare-down that lasted for a full minute, he gave me hope.
I cried the entire way to my car that day after meeting O’Neal. I cried because for the first time in years I had real hope. I knew in that moment that my life was about to change forever. And I was scared. Terrified actually. But now that I knew the question I had to answer and the issue that was blocking me from reaching my dreams, I was open to real change. The opportunity presented itself to change my life and I grabbed hold.
In December of 2010, I attended O’Neal Hampton’s two-week live-in weight loss boot camp – Biggest Loser style. That’s when my physical transformation journey to a healthier Lori began. For those of you that are not familiar with my story, YES, the camp was hell. The toughest thing I’ve ever done – and the very best! We exercised hard 6-7 hours per day (some days 8 hours). We climbed mountains in snowshoes in the middle of winter, multiple times. There was throwing up, cussing, crying, more throwing up, more crying and a whole lot of “I cant’s.” But those “I cant’s” were soon turned into “I can’s,” and I left the camp 21 lbs lighter with a new sense of confidence. I believed that I could do anything I set my mind to. Absolutely anything! This propelled me forward and has stuck with me to this day.
Over the next 18 months, I worked with Leif Anderson on a customized nutritional and exercise program that was guaranteed to work, if I worked the plan. And this time, I did. You can read more about my story to put myself in the equation here and about the five principles for my success here.
The moral of this story, is that none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t done the internal work on my mindset to be open and ready. If I hadn’t had the courage and the fortitude to find and explore deeply the right question, and face my fears in doing so. Along the way, I learned that I truly am enough – just exactly as I am. I learned to love myself and accept myself with all of my amazing flaws and imperfections. When I do that, I show up authentically, intentionally and enthusiastically in my life, in the center of my equation, and everything works out. It’s pretty darn amazing!
Explore the questions and transformational change is possible
Having the courage to explore deeply what you really want and what is standing in your way is the first big step toward transformation. And, for many of us, it involves challenging questioning of ourselves and the willingness to face fear and shame head on. To quote my favorite researcher and storyteller, Brene Brown, we all have fears and experience shame – to be human is to do so. It is the brave and daring who meet those fears head on who open themselves up to experience transformational change. And there is freedom, enlightenment and empowerment in doing so. I know this because I have lived it. And it is the best, coolest, and most awe-inspiring thing you can imagine!
While exploring this topic in virtual conversation with the women of the Women in Leadership Community this past week, I reflected on it this way.
So often what and how we think stands between us and our wildest dreams or aspirations. We get stuck on explanation, rationalization and excuses. Things such as lack of time, lack of money, fear of inadequacy, fear of what others will think, or lack of support can stall us. Our message becomes in effect – “I can’t” for these reasons. The questions are focused on why. Why can’t I lose weight? Why am I so stressed? Why is running this business so difficult? Why doesn’t he love me? Why questions can keep us stuck and lead to resistance. And this takes energy, focus and time that could be used to propel us forward. Instead it often keeps us focused on the past. And, as it did in my case, it can lead us to focus on the wrong question.
If we flip our frame and focus instead on “what” questions such as: “What do I really want or desire? What would make me happy? What is getting in my way? What am I afraid of? What would happen if? … we are freed from the past and an obsession with the obstacles. The focus is more positive and proactive. It propels us to action rather than resistance.
Now that I am living from a place of joy and optimism and the “glass half full/cup runneth over girl” is back, I find myself more focused on “what” questions that lead me to greater understanding, self growth and learning. Questions such as: What’s great about having this problem or challenge? What lesson is here? How might I learn from this? What is my next action?”
Mind you, this mindset is not always easy. I am not perfectly living in this place at all times. But more frequently than not, I find myself able to question “the what” with a focus on action. I am practicing this right now while wrestling with difficult work and relationship challenges at the same time. And while in some moments and some days I don’t feel I like being positively focused on the learning, for the most part I am able to step back and appreciate the experience for what it is teaching me. Another gift of transformation.
Where and how to begin
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from people when I share my story is, “What if I don’t know what I really, really want? I don’t know the question or even where to begin?” My answer is simple. Pay attention to what you are practicing in your life and then note if it is working for you. Simply become more consciously aware. We are all practicing something in our lives on a daily basis. Just learn to notice what you are practicing.
Eating healthy and going to the gym is a practice. As is going to McDonald’s drive through and bingeing on burgers. Working 12-18 hour days and giving up yourself to others is a practice. As is putting yourself in the equation and nurturing you. Spending time with your kids is a practice. Not being home for dinner 4-5 nights per week is another. Once you become aware and note if it is working for you or not, it is difficult to ignore. Often we get so busy or so out of our equation that we have our head down going through the motions of our day/life and we lose touch with what is working and what isn’t.
Once I discovered what I was practicing that wasn’t at all working for me and why, I became very uncomfortable with my situation. This lead me to change. At first, it was incremental change which allowed me to discover the right question/issue and then that lead to transformational change which has now lead to a life where I live more intentionally not purely out of habit. And I am so much happier.
So if you are stuck or don’t know where to begin, try asking yourself: “What am I practicing and is that working? Then take it from there.
Reflections from Women in Leadership
The Women in Leadership Community in their discussion had some awesome and insightful observations about the power of questions to transform our thoughts, our individual journeys, our enough-ness. They observed that this type of intense questioning changes depending on the various stages of our lives, but regardless can help us focus on the “right” things. In the virtual group, we also discussed how asking “what” questions can gently allow you to go deeper. One woman referred to that as a luscious process! I love it. I wouldn’t have referred to it as luscious when I was in it, but I also wouldn’t have traded the questioning part of the journey for anything.
I would love to hear from anyone brave enough to read this entire lengthy blog on the topic of exploring questions in your own life. 🙂 Do you believe deep questioning can lead you to transformational change? Tell us about your experience. When has questioning helped you clarify your goals or achieve your wildest dreams? Okay, to also ask questions about my story and process.