Living in the Questions

By Michelle Ward

Discovering what you wanna be when you grow up is a process. There are skills to identify, values to name, responsibilities to consider, questions to ask & get answered, truths to uncover, false beliefs to conquer, and tons of self-reflection to, um, reflect on. As The When I Grow Up Coach, I pride myself on working with creative types (like me!) who are looking to make a career transition. Some want to turn their creative pursuits into a thriving entrepreneurial endeavor, while others come to me with nothing other than a sense of, “This ain’t working & I’m not gonna take it any longer!” Either way, it’s no quick fix, which is why I encourage all of my career change clients to work with me for 12 sessions. For some reason, that’s been the magic number for most of my clients to not only come to the conclusion of what they want their grown-up career to look like, but to have an action plan in order to make it happen.

Something happens, though, around the halfway point, where my clients develop what I like to lovingly call “The Itch”. They’ve spent almost 2 months figuring out what the pieces of their puzzle consist of, & they’re ready to see The Big Picture. The Dream Career. The Answer. The Key. The pressure is on. The stakes are heightened. They want to know, and they want to know now.

It’s about that time in the process that I annoyingly & purposely ask them to “live in the questions.” But what does that mean? How can you let yourself do that? And why haven’t I been punched in the face yet? Well, “living in the questions” is another way for me to say:

•    Make sure you have the up-to-date facts & figures. One of my clients has had a love for interior design for over 10 years, yet we didn’t really discuss it as a viable option during our first 5 weeks together. When I asked why, she responded, “I can’t make any money doing that as a living.” When I asked her when she looked into interior design as a career, she responded, “About  10 years ago.” Thankfully she realized that she might be way out of touch, & agreed to humor the idea for just a week or so & see what new developments have emerged in that field.

•    Leave the jadedness at the doorstep & force yourself to stop thinking, “This can never happen”, just for a week or two or three. Yup, you can even put a reminder in your calendar to “Suspend Disbelief” & then “Reinforce Disbelief”, but for the time in between, let yourself dream & really ask, “Can this really work in my life?” and “How?”

•    Don’t worry – you won’t be committed. Some of my clients confess that deciding to even simply research a possible career has them expecting to be hauled away, forced to work at that career for the rest of their lives. “But I still want to explore the other options,” they’ll say, even though that’s exactly what we’re doing – exploring the options. Embrace the word “explore” & “experiment” & give yourself the space to do just that, pressure-free & without fear of jail time.

•    Notice the things you keep coming back to. Many times, my clients will end up deciding on the career that’s been rattling in their heads for weeks or months or even – yes – years. For some reason, though, they’ve been discounting that option because it’s not “feasible” or “realistic” or what their parents are expecting them to do. Take the new optimistic, exploration-filled you & ask yourself why this won’t be put to rest. What is it trying to tell you, and what are you scared of?

•    Listen to your gut. It’s really trying to tell you something that you brain might not want you to hear.

•   Only consider the here & now. Try to forget the past & not worry about the distant future. I know it’s tough. We seem to be programmed that way, right? A lot of my clients put the pressure on to figure out The Career of All Careers For The Rest of Their Lives. No wonder they don’t want to commit to even researching anything!  Nobody has a crystal ball, so just consider your next career as one that’ll satiate what you’re looking for now, or the next few years. Also, take the old voices that told you that your finger paintings weren’t any good & the current voices that are saying that you’ll never retire on a finger painter’s salary & put them to bed, too. That’s all in the past, & in the unknown future.

•    Don’t rush. One of the biggest red flags a client can give me is when they come to our second or third session & declare, “I got it!” Sometimes they’ll have even accompany that declaration with the announcement, “And I just put $1,000 on a certification program to do it!” Oy vey. Usually, that ends with them fighting to get their money back a week or two later. While I don’t even want to discourage anyone from finding The Thing they’re looking for, ask yourself if this is a real, true, honest decision or one coming from desperation or fear. If you can’t tell, let it sit for a while. If it’s your true love, it’ll still be there when you feel more secure that it’s the right match for you.

I won’t lie. Living in the questions is scary. When we’ve made the statement that we’re ready to find what we’re looking for, and devote the time, energy, & emotions to solving that mystery, we want answers & we want them now. By allowing ourselves a bit of time to live in the questions, we’ll be able to live in the answer that much more fully, completely, & honestly.

So let yourself suspend that disbelief, even for a while, and give yourself the room to breathe, explore, dream, dig, be optimistic & listen to your instincts. Only then can The Big Picture take shape, The Dream Career becomes a realistic one, The Answer is shown & The Key unlocks the door you want to walk through.

Until then, live in the questions. It’s a good place to be.

Photo by hkoppdelaney. Used under a Creative Commons license.


Michelle Ward, aka The When I Grow Up Coach, works with creative people to devise the career they think they can’t have – or discover it to begin with! A certified life coach by the International Coach Academy & a musical theater actress with her BFA from NYU/Tisch, Michelle has been featured in “Newsweek” and “Metro News”, is a co-host on Spring & is about to embark on The Declaration of You with Jessica Swift. She could be found coachin’, bloggin’ & givin’ away free stuff at

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