5 Questions That Can Change Your Life!

Robert L. Veninga, Ph.D.

All of us need to be inspired. Sometimes we receive inspiration from a great book, a provocative film or an exceptional speech. At times inspiration comes from an encouraging word from a friend. In my experience however, the best way to stay inspired is to ask five questions, the first of which is this: What Does My Heart Long To Do?

I frequently ask my students at the University of Minnesota to reflect on that question. Most students answer thoughtfully as did the student nurse who said: "What I long to do is to have a career that matters. Not just to me. But to my patients and their families. When my career is over, I want to know that my life mattered." With those values, it is not surprising that she is considered a national leader by her nursing peers.

The second question is this: Can You Inspire Others? I know what you might be thinking: it is my bosses responsibility to inspire, not mine. Not true! It's your job to inspire. How to do it? Recognize the work of your colleagues.

Does recognition really matter? Consider a food service worker at Walt Disney's Dolphin Hotel. This employee's goal is to help customers have the best vacation of their lives. By some standards he is not highly paid. But when asked why he works for Disney he replied that his work is appreciated. "How do you know?" he was asked. The answer: "They tell me every day." Recognize good performance and you will inspire many.

Now we come to an interesting question that will largely determine your happiness: Can you stay away from angry people? Toxic people can ruin your day. They diminish dreams. They can put you into a perpetual funk. Stay away from angry, dispirited people. And if you can't stay away, be polite. But keep interactions brief. The reason? Toxic people take away energy. They take away joy. They take away pride in your accomplishments.

Now we come to the fourth question: Can You Be Creative At Work? Sometimes students ask: "What does it take to succeed?" The answer is to be creative. Every organization has problems. And every organization needs creative people to solve them. If you can solve the most critical problems your organization confronts, you will be the most valued person in your enterprise. And you will inspire others to greatness.

I recently heard a story of a young student who was doing her internship in a west coast hospital. At a staff meeting the CEO indicated his concern because employees were forgetting to wear their name tag. "It's a frustrating problem that doesn't go away." he said. "Does anyone have a solution?" No one responded. Then the student offered a suggestion: "Place a sign at the cash register in the cafeteria indicating that everyone who is wearing their name tag will receive a 5% discount on the price of the meal." Can you guess what happened? Within two weeks, 95% of the employees were wearing their name tag! The student was hired as a full-time employee the minute she graduated from college!

Now we come to a final question that will help you stay upbeat: Can you be an ordinary hero? What is an "ordinary hero"? It is a person who simply does the right thing without expecting applause.

Shortly after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, two individuals visiting the city recorded their observations of heroes in action. Who were these heroes? "They were the maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks in elevators. Mechanics who wired any cord that could be found to ferry people out of the city. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered money and toiletries.." A lot went wrong in New Orleans during those fateful days. But there were heroes who made everything better - without applause. Be an ordinary hero and you will inspire others as well as yourself.

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"Bob Veninga brings warmth, humor and clear insights to some of our most pressing human and business problems."

Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., Co-Director
Center for Mental Health and Media
Harvard Medical School

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