Questioning and mid-life crises

Cal Fussman, one of the world’s greatest interviewers, has an interesting origin story.

As a 7 year old, his teacher walked into his classroom, looking pale, and announced the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cal was sent home, where he learned that Lyndon B. Johnson, the vice-president, was now the president of the USA. As soon as Cal saw this, he was filled with a burning question on how Lyndon B. Johnson felt in that moment. He surely wished to be the president of the US – something he would never have expected. And yet, it was under conditions that were tragic. So he picked up a pencil and a paper, scrawled a note to the president’s office and posted it. A few months later, he received a reply from the president’s office that shocked his parents. It was a huge deal in his seven year old life – his neighbours wanted to see it and his principal wanted to meet him. This incident would mark a turning point in Cal’s career – one that taught him how asking a good question can get you in touch with the most powerful person on the planet.

We are born into this world, as every toddler’s parents would attest to, as natural born questioners. There is no end to our innate curiosity if it were only nurtured. And yet, we are conditioned out of asking questions by society at large – our teachers, parents, classmates and peers alike.

At the same time, most people face existential questions – especially at the middle of their lives, when they have made certain choices and followed down paths without considering them deeply enough. I made several of my life’s most important choices without the diligence that was due. I never had a real conversation with a mechanical engineer about a day in his professional life before choosing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

When we ask enough ‘Whys’ and they are convincingly answered, our decisions have the weight of conviction behind them. As in most cases, prevention is better than cure when it comes to mid-life crises. And the best way to prevent them is for us to question ourselves and the world around us with the persistence and the abandon of a 7-year-old.

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