Only Father Knows Best©

Many of you are too young to remember Father Knows Best, starring Robert Young as Jim Anderson, the father who always did the right thing, the perfect “Dad” who always, well, knew best. Father Knows Best was one of the most beloved television series of the 1950’s and 1960’s, but it contains a false premise that carries over into much of our thinking today – namely, that there is ever truly a “best” answer, solution or choice. I don’t believe there is any such thing as best and, therefore, the search for the elusive best will almost always get you lost.

I recently met Pat, who has been trying to figure out which direction to take her career for the past 18 months. Pat is highly educated, very intelligent and well established in her career. She seemed to be on a well thought-out career path, but she was having questions and had been assessing, evaluating and considering many options prior to when I met her. Pat seemed to be very thoughtful, and I thought she certainly would be able to make a good decision on her next steps. Yet she was feeling stuck and had been unable to make a decision for over a year. I wondered what could be getting in her way, and then we found it: Pat had been asking herself a very bad question – in fact, an impossible question.

I love questions. I love how questions create insights and unearth wisdom. I love the search for better and more powerful questions. I love discovering questions that lead to new wisdom or awareness. I would love to say that my search for great questions is always logical, but often my greatest understanding and insight into questions just happens. This is precisely what happened in my conversation with Pat.

I asked Pat a pretty basic question: “What have you been trying to figure out?” In response, Pat said that she had been trying to figure out the “best direction for her career.” In an instant it hit me, and I immediately said to Pat: “That’s your problem. You’re asking yourself an impossible question because it’s impossible to know what is best now.” Are you with me? Whatever is best only becomes best and can be known to be best in the future (once you know the outcomes). You cannot know what is best right now because you don’t know how things are going to turn our and how your choices are going to manifest. Thus, when you try to figure out the best anything – answer, solution, choice, direction – you are setting yourself up for built-in procrastination and indecision.

If you’re trying to figure out what’s best, but you can’t possibly know what is best, then you are asking yourself to do the impossible. No wonder this can get you stuck and keep you where you are. When I shared this thought with Pat, she responded “No wonder I’ve been stuck for the last 18 months. I’ve been twisting myself inside out trying to figure out an answer that I can’t know for sure.” Unfortunately, this is the question that many of you are trying to answer every day – and it’s a search for the impossible.

I know, I know. You’re wondering what questions you should use if seeking the best answer is actually the worst question. Simple: Ask the questions that will lead your thinking and intuition to a good answer for you. For example, for Pat I suggested these questions:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What are your gifts?
  • What do you want to create with your career?
  • What impact do you want to have?

I’m sure that there are more questions for Pat, but the point is that these questions invite Pat to go inside and ask herself some challenging but answerable questions. Once she has these answers, she can assess, evaluate and consider what direction these answers point toward in her career. The same process applies to any situation, problem or opportunity you are considering. Be honest with yourself, see how your answers fit together (and what direction they point), trust your gut and take action. Only after you begin to take action will you create outcomes so that you can later determine whether they took you a place you wanted to go.

Ultimately, you will never know (even down the road) if you chose the best route, direction or path. Even if it appears really good when it becomes reality, you still can’t possibly know if it was the best path because you’ll never know the outcomes you would have created with a different choice. Unlike television characters and families, life and business is not about knowing or achieving the best. Instead, it’s about pursuing the best – in yourself and of yourself. It’s about being clear about who you are and who you desire to be, and then taking action consistent with those choices. It’s about telling yourself the truth (about yourself) and then trusting that your choices will take you where you are meant to be.

I imagine that many of you are disappointed. The illusion of deciding what is best or achieving the best possible outcome can be intoxicating, but it’s still an illusion. Even the idea of doing your best is an illusion, since none of us can know if we’re doing our best (not really). However, if you’re willing to let go of the pursuit of best and diligently pursue who you are (and then take action on what you discover), then you can not only exceed your wildest expectations but you will also create impact in your business, your community and your life that will resonate far into the future. Father may have known best, but the rest of us will have to settle with the paradox of seeking our best without knowing what’s best. As a friend often says, “It’s just another day in paradox,” and I invite you to embrace the paradox and release the search for best.

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