New Series: The Answer to the Question

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I’ve had the idea of writing this post for a long time, and I’m finally ready to do it. For as long as I can remember, whenever I’d meet someone new at home or abroad, I’d strike up a conversation. It’s just how I’m wired. If someone enters my orbit, or I enter theirs, like on a plane, or in a line for coffee, or whatever, anywhere in the world, my first instinct is to engage them in conversation. If the person wants to converse back,  and it’s not a quickie, (i.e., not a 3-person Starbucks line, but a long line, or a flight, or something like that,) no matter what we talk about, at some point in the conversation with this new friend from another city, country, culture, lifestyle, or whatever, I’ll ask them a question I’ve asked a few hundred people: Simply, “What’s the most important rule by which you try to live your life?”

Sometimes I have to repeat the question and explain that I’ve been asking that same question for years to people I meet while traveling because their answers interest me. One person actually thought I was trying to be coy and actually asking about an after-hours club. Granted, that was in Thailand.  But the question has always been simple, and always the same: “What’s the most important rule by which you try to live your life?

It’s just one question, sure. But over many years, I’ve written down all the answers I’ve gotten. And it occurs to me that perhaps these answers might offer a bit of help or benefit to anyone who discovers them as they make their way through their life, just as I keep asking the question as I continue to make my way through mine. I currently have somewhere north of 210 responses, from six continents, collected over 14 years. My first ask was to a gentleman in a pub in London, in 1998, my first time overseas by myself. My most recent ask was in the Western United States, last week.

Over time, I’ll write multiple posts with answers I’ve collected. I have no plans to stop asking the same question, and judging by my current travel schedule, I’ll have plenty more chances to ask it, so maybe this will become a recurring post. A few people who have answered have suggested I write a book of all the answers I’ve gotten and make some money from it. I haven’t, I guess because everyone who’s given me their answer has done so for free – Why should I profit from what they gave me out of the kindness of their heart? Maybe if I’d started this idea with the end result of writing a book, it’d be different, but for me, the idea to ask the question came to me because in 1998, I was starting out as an entrepreneur, knew very little, but was sure I could use all the help and advice I could get. I believed that everyone I met had something to contribute. The answers people have given me that I share here with you, aren’t edited at all. They’re what people said and what I wrote down. I’ll comment on them, but the answers are pure. That I guarantee.

I’m not going to reveal the names or any identifying details of anyone who has answered my question over the years. Heck, some of the people who answered never gave me their name, sometimes we were rushed and I could only get their answer. So here you’ll find answers to my one question, perhaps along with the general location where I met the person. Nothing more. We’ll keep it simple: I’ll go through several answers in each post, and try to be diligent about my posting frequency.

So, let’s begin!

I’ll kick it off with one of the most unexpected answers I ever got: A CEO of a huge, well-known company told me this in San Francisco over a breakfast. I expected something hard-hitting, something about going strong 24/7, never say die, etc. Instead, he said this: “Whenever you find yourself with extra, unscheduled time, try and catch a few hours of extra sleep. It’ll give you a recharge your body and brain probably need, and you never know when you’ll be able to do that again.” That’s one of my all-time favorite answers to my question. It’s so simple, yet so overlooked by almost all of us. The best thing we can ever do for ourselves, our families, our business, our coworkers, or anyone who counts on us, is to be “on game” when we’re needed. Without enough sleep, you won’t be on game for long. It might not catch up to you today or tomorrow, but lack of sleep WILL make you less than your best, heck, it’s probably doing it already. And when your body is really hurting for sleep, it’s usually at the worst possible time, when you’re truly needed, and you’re truly off your game. So if you have the opportunity to go to sleep an hour earlier, or stay up and watch “How I Met Your Mother,” DVR NPH and get some sleep. He’ll still be there for you this weekend, and you’ll be all-around better for it.

In Sweden, a guy I met while running the Stockholm Marathon (i.e., we were both running super-slow by mile 20 and kept each other company afraid all the finish line volunteers had left) told me he “always confirms sureness with one more check.” I.e., no matter how sure he was that he packed his race number bib in his bag before he went to sleep, he looked again before he left for the race the next morning. I get it – We get into habits of security where we’re used to doing things, until the one time we forget a step, and it screws us. (Yeah, it’s cool, I always put my phone in inside jacket pocket. Oh, crap – Where’s my phone?”) We’ve all been there. Nothing wrong with one more confirmation check. It might save you.

A woman I sat next to on a flight from Richmond, VA to NYC answered thusly: Always remember that everyone has a story, and you never know whose story is going to spark you. She was playing on a central theme I’ve noticed over the years: Never forget to shut up every once in a while and just listen. I believe in it. I figure if I’ve heard that same theme a bunch of times from different people around the world over the years, it must work.

Sometimes, I don’t have the time to write down more than the date, city, and quote – So I don’t remember where I was when I got this answer from someone – I forgot to get his or her name. That’s happened about a dozen times over the years. But this person said simply, “Mind your own crops.” I don’t know anything more, or what he or she was inferring, (and I wish I remembered where I’d met them,) but if I had to make an assumption, I’d think maybe it was something about minding your own business? Or maybe not gossiping or caring about gossip and focusing more on improving your own issues? I don’t know… Perhaps you can draw your own conclusions whenever I didn’t manage to get all the info. Heck, leave your thoughts these or any answers in the comments!

Speaking of comments, I’d love to know what you think about this idea. Should I continue it? You can easily answer down below. Since I’m continuing to ask questions as I travel, I’d welcome suggestions or ideas about how to improve that side of it, too. Either way, if the response is positive, I’ll post another edition soon, and as always, thanks for reading.

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