I just got back from an eye-opening trip to Colorado, where I took the above photograph, along with many others. There are certain trips that come along only once in a great while. They always happen when you are ready for them (which you can’t know going in), and you can only understand their significance in retrospect. They energize, inspire and most importantly, they reveal something to you about who you are. You see the world differently when you return.
Colorado made me realize that I’ve been doing things all wrong. Most of us are, people and businesses alike. Ever since I moved to California (and before, if we’re being really honest), I’ve been asking myself: What should I do? Everyone around me has been doing the same. It’s like we’re all stuck in an existential feedback loop, making decisions that strive to answer this question or at least make us look like we know what we’re doing… but ultimately to no avail.
Because it’s the wrong question entirely. It does not lead you out of confusion and into contentment. In fact, it tends to do quite the opposite, because inevitably, we never feel like we’re doing enough. There’s always someone more successful than you, and they’re probably younger and better-looking, too. There’s always a company that launched after yours but has already gotten funding. You look at yourself in comparison and think, we aren’t so different. What are they doing that I’m not. What could I do differently? In short, what should I do?
There’s something even more sinister, though, that happens when we get stuck in what-should-I-do land. We become blinded to what we have to give. This question keeps us focused on ourselves, looking inward at what’s wrong with us, not outward at the world and the many opportunities we have, every day, to give something of ourselves to it. It also makes us deeply unhappy.
The next time you catch yourself asking, “What should I do?”, ask instead, “How can I serve?” You’ll be amazed at how your perspective shifts. Instead of feeling stuck in big abstractions and an uncertain future, you’ll find yourself able to focus on what’s in front of you and what you have to offer right now.
This question is the most empowering question in the world. It will reveal to you the challenges you care about, as well as your own capacity to meet them. It will show you your strengths and guide you toward your passions and your true self. When we focus on what we have to give, we cannot but be authentic.
It works for businesses, too. How can you serve? Try it.