Choose carefully the questions you ask.


Outside is the first decent rain I have seen in months. I’m watching it from my perch in a Sydney café on a wet Saturday morning.  The city is still sleepy.  A few of us early risers are sipping at a comforting cup of joe, the regulars going through their morning chat routine with the owner. There’s a bloke over in the corner flipping the pages of the weekend paper.  I get the feeling he’s done that before, at that same table.  I think maybe there’s a bloke like him in every café right now.  Flipping, sipping. 

I’m a tourist here, in this café.  An outside observer to its intimate morning routine.  It’s so nice to sit and be wallpaper for a change. 

At the table next to me is a man and woman.  I guess them to be friends, possibly lifelong friends.  Both English by accent and both old enough to know better while still young enough to know the meaning of dreams. The man, we will call him David, he looks like a David, is the quieter of the two.  The woman, who we will call Mildred, she doesn’t look like a Mildred but it’s a convenient stereotype, is muttering.

My caffeine-seduced brain lets my consciousness wander over to their table and plonk itself down in the middle of their unfolding conversation. 

There is a pause.  David bravely steps into the breach and mentions he would like to go live in Far North Queensland.  His dream destination is only a few thousand kilometres north of where he currently sits, but his posture says it is a universe away. 

Mildred is aghast. 

“What will you do for work?  Where will you live?  You can’t just go do that.  There’s no jobs up there. You’ve got to work!”  Mildred fires.

I now see how that universe was created. 

David takes pause and then edges forward again.  “I have some money saved.”  He mentions a sum that I would classify as a tidy little nest egg.  I could travel around the world for years on substantially less. 

“But that won’t last long.  There will be living expenses. You won’t be able to live near where you work, you’ll have to travel.  Have you considered that?”

It’s 7am.  David’s shoulders slump a few extra millimetres.

“What if you want to come back to Sydney? You won’t be able to afford that.  You’ll be starting again.” 

The next assault was underway.  David started his riposte but was cut off mid-sentence.

“Of course," Mildred offers "I’m not saying don’t do it but there are lots of things you have to think about.”

Is that Mildred retreating?  I don’t think so, she is just fiendishly clever.

Of course, Mildred is right.  There are lots of things to think about, with potentially disastrous consequences down every avenue.   However, Mildred is also conveniently side-stepping the reality that it doesn’t matter which way David turns, whether he stays or goes, there will always be questions and things will go wrong. There will be problems and pain. That’s life. 

Mildred has done me a big favour this morning.  An unexpected gift of clarity.  I have been reminded that often the only difference between people who get to live their dreams, and those who don’t, is the quality of the questions they ask.

The questions of life are endless and to every question there is an answer.  Some of those answers will take us down the path toward our dreams, others will distract us and bury us.  Choose carefully the questions you ask.

Imagine where David would be now if, upon confessing his dream, Mildred responded “Fantastic! How can I help you make that happen?”

Now that’s a good question.  It can give rise to a really great answer from David, or maybe more good questions, and Mildred gets to start her day knowing she has helped David make his dreams come true.  Nice one Mildred.

The conversation between David and Mildred drifts on, my brain detaches. It’s time to leave and get on with the day.  As I get up from my table an impulse hits me. I catch David’s eye and mouth the words ‘Do it.’ His eyes lock to mine and give me his answer.

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