Success is a matter of asking the right questions

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By Sabrina Almeida

I was very impressed by a UBC student who turned up at my doorstep Wednesday morning selling educational resources for elementary and high school kids. Yes, you got that right. She had travelled from Vancouver to Toronto for an internship position.

I immediately a fan given that many students I know want summer jobs as close to home as possible. As a result of supply overshooting demand in big cities, even for volunteer positions, this could mean a summer spent on the couch. But they’re okay with that.

I had a discussion some weeks ago with a second-year student who tried to convince me that it was important to have the ‘right’ and not just ‘any’ job. He was obviously living in La La Land!
I never asked Emma why she had come all the way here. However, by the end of the short five-minute encounter I was convinced that she was a go-getter. In fact, I would have hired her myself if I was sitting at the recruiting table.

My initial irritation at the number of questions she asked turned to admiration as I realized she was trying to make her work easier.

On being told that my kids did not fit the demographic, she sought my help in identifying homes on my street that belonged to the target group. The mother in me took over and I pointed them out. As I closed the door, I marvelled at her smartness. By asking for help, which many Canadians kids seem averse to, she had reduced her effort considerably. As she asked for my name and scribbled it down, I realized that she would probably use it as reference when she approached the neighbours. She certainly knew how to wedge open doors.

Just as she was leaving, she hesitated a bit before asking one final question. Did I know of anyone on the street that had a bicycle they were looking to give away? I looked at her for a few seconds, then shook my head in silence. I wished that I had one to give her as she explained that her bike was stolen from a bus stop.

Thinking about my reaction to her need as I walked back in, I could almost see her securing another bike… all because she was willing to ask.

It’s a problem that I have always addressed with my kids—their unwillingness to ask for help or questions for that matter. Conversations in my friend’s circle revealed other parents experience the same frustration.

I’ve realized that it stems from an overemphasis of personal boundaries and space. Many teenagers consider asking questions to be impolite and an invasion of privacy. Or as being stupid.

Unfortunately, the fewer questions they ask, the less they know how to. Not to mention the wasted effort of trying to figure out things when assistance is readily available.

It also reminds me of the Chinese proverb: He who asks questions is a fool for five minutes, he who does not remains a fool forever.

I’ve observed that successful kids, and people, are not afraid to ask questions or for help—sometimes to the point of annoyance. After all, questions are considered to be critical to learning. Perhaps kids need to realize that this is not exclusive to the classroom.

Even in job interviews you are encouraged to ask questions and judged by the quality of your queries.

I read an interesting blog a few days ago about why kids ask so many questions when they are little and then stop as they approach their teens. Richard Saul Wurman, the original creator of the TED Conference, believes that the school philosophy of rewarding answers and not questions might have something to do with it.

A Newsweek story, on the other hand, suggests that declining interest in school work as they grow could be another reason.

Parental irritation at having to answer kids’ questions might also be a big factor. I’m guilty! Not too long ago I accused my 20-something of driving me crazy with his questions.

How are questions connected to success your teenager might grunt.

Just ask Google! As Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”

All the great inventors too made discoveries by asking questions.

Encourage your kids to ask away. As a wise man said, if you don’t ask… you won’t get!!!

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