I was in a museum once, reading about Native American culture when I stumbled upon a “way of life” type reflection. I don’t remember the exact context, but I have the four questions.
I’d think if someone were to put four questions for self-reflection, they would include the heavy hitters – asking if you are happy or if you are doing something meaningful. I thought the questions would include things about the relationship you have with loved ones. But these questions are simpler than that – the stunning reason they stood out to me in a loud museum and the reason I’ve kept them on a note card with me for over a year and a half since.
When was the last time you…
Told your story?
Listened to someone else’s story?
About five years ago, I made a resolution on New Year’s Eve that I wanted to celebrate all the midnights in my life. Fortunately for all future roommates, I didn’t vow to bang pots and pans and scream through noise makers every midnight of the year, but I made a silent vow to myself that if I was awake at midnight, I would dance into the new day.
For a while I did, taking a fifteen second break from whatever kept me up until midnight to spin and flail as if I had any sense of rhythm. After a while this faded away as a silly exercise. Reflecting on these four questions now, I wonder if there might be some joy to be found in the jubilance of dance – regardless of time of day.
I’m the first to admit I’m not a singer. Despite growing up in a family of musicians, I was never one to really “sing.” That said, every drive to and from my high school restaurant job was punctuated by choruses of whatever the oldies station was playing that evening. I hardly drive anymore – unless I am visiting my parents in Pennsylvania, but I am convinced there may still be good reason to incorporate some shower singing into my life.
Tell your story:
This one seemed the most obvious and natural to me. Perhaps the thing that comes easiest to me is talking and The Smile Project blog, in and of itself, is the perfect example of embracing vulnerability and honesty to share my stories of triumphs and tragedies. That said, I am fully aware that when push comes to shove, I can be the kind of person to shut down and shut out and it is moments where I most need someone to listen that I lose my voice. It’s easy to talk about the bad when you’ve made it to the other side, but maybe we all need to grow comfortable talking about struggle as we’re experiencing it.
Listen to someone else’s story:
When I first read the four questions, I was feeling pretty good about my answers. Then I read the last, and arguably most important one, listen. I’ve written before about how I often worry about my ability to listen. An extroverted talker by nature, I am constantly conscious of my efforts to listen as much as I speak (ideally, to listen more than I speak). It is this question, that I remind myself of every day.
There are countless articles about morning routines or things to write in a journal before bed and, as a blogger for The Smile Project, I am part of that endless conversation. The four questions aren’t meant to heal all wounds or radically upend your life – at least I don’t view them as such. Perhaps they are more tiny reminders you can ask yourself on days when you feel you’ve strayed from yourself. Perhaps they are written in the stars, guiding you home in the moments where you’ve lost your way.