One Question


Michael was by all measure the best student in my oldest son’s kindergarten. Thanks to some aggressive preschool tutoring, by age five he was already doing long division. By first grade, he had a wall of chess trophies in his bedroom. As my son explained to me one day, “Michael knows all the answers.”

All, it turns, except one.

I volunteered to be his class’s computer docent, which meant I was to help the kids learn how to use the computer they all appeared to have been born knowing how to use. So I decided to have them write a story together instead. I summoned the students one-by-one to the computer. The first student began the story (There’s a unicorn named Cherry and she’s at a park). I typed this up and then read it to the next student and asked, “What should happen next?” (Cherry climbs a tree and makes friends with a squirrel.) And so on. Student after student after student listened to the story and then told me what would happen next.

And then came Michael. I read him our story thus far, and asked, “So what should happen next?”

Michael looked back at me blankly. “I don’t know.”

Somehow I recognized the look in Michael’s eyes. He was fantastic at giving correct answers. He was also as sweet as you could want a boy to be. He wanted to do everything asked of him by adults as well as he could.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It can be anything at all. What do you want to have happen next?”

Michael just shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Michael would soon enter a school for gifted children, where I assume he thrived. But I will never forget that look in his young face. Life, it turns out, is not a game of Jeopardy! There remains no right answer to the question, “What I do want?” There are also no questions more important.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.