Success requires knowing who you are, what you want

Most adults wonder what they’ll be when they grow up. Formally educated and highly experienced professionals are no different. During various seasons of life, they find two questions nearly impossible to answer on their own: Who am I at this point? And what do I really want to do?

A woman recently asked if she could hire me to use my rubber mallet questioning method on her.

Within four minutes of our meeting, I was able to deliver news she didn’t want to hear — that she was unprepared for the business move she was about to make.

“Maybe you just need to let me talk some more,” she said.

I told her I had already listened for four minutes and that she said everything she and I needed to hear.

She was set to start a $9 million endeavor that was doomed from the start. The rest of my time with her was spent showing why she needed to cool her jets and how to take the next, foundational steps.

The first minutes were the first step, which most people don’t take time for. We were actually answering the question, who am I at this point in life?

She had overestimated both herself and the task she was undertaking.

She thought I was going to tell her how to move full-speed ahead, but her willingness to listen saved her serious headaches.

Here’s what I was doing: listening, interrupting and asking simple questions that seem too simple to bother with.

Drawing information out of businesspeople is mind-bending and exacting for them. Sometimes, the two questions can be answered in a single sitting, whereas people with untapped depth may require several months.

Business owners or managers who avoid the process (or one similar to it) will probably never arrive at the right answers, and their organizations and employees will pay for it.

The head of a large organization referred the CEO of a nationwide initiative to me. The CEO wanted me to help him with what was really a very low level of my involvement.

I interrupted and explained concretely and exactly why he needed to rethink what the company was doing.

There was no alternative if he were to succeed. He had miscalculated his market. His highly touted product would never scratch where the market itched.

The CEO was not who he thought he was, and neither were the people he hoped would use his company’s product who he thought they were.

He was working out of total ignorance — not partial, but total — and he wasn’t willing to reconsider the facts.

The company crumbled within two years. What a terrible waste of money and effort, all because he didn’t want to lay the proper groundwork to identify his own identity and desires.

Most of the answers in his case could be identified in several consultations.

Why are the two questions so hard for people to answer, and why do people so often avoid the process that answers them?

One reason is that they are chomping at the bit to begin. Another reason is that the discovery process can be so tiring.

A financial advisor sought my help in discovering his answers. We agreed that, according to my questioning method, I had his permission to interrupt him as needed.

After an hour and a half, the man was exhausted and frustrated beyond repair. He wanted a less rigorous, faster avenue to answers that we were in fact moving toward.

He will never find them on his own if he can’t survive a mere 90 minutes of discovery.

What could he have done? He could have continued participating in the process and believing that great answers were around the bend. I was able to see them instantly, but getting him to see them was a matter of following a tight sequence of revelations coming out of his own mouth.

That’s where the treasure was — between his ears. Whether you’re looking for clarity in business or in personal matters, there are smart tips for getting to some of the gold on your own.

I’ll continue this topic in my next column.

Max T. Russell is owner of Max and Max Communications and formerly taught Spanish in Southern Hancock schools. You can contact him via his website,