Laura Atchison seemed to have it all—a great career, ambitious goals, and a loving family—when she realized that she was off course. By digging deeper, she discovered she hadn’t been asking herself the right questions, and as a result, had been living the wrong answers.
By revealing her riveting and candid story—including mistakes she made along the way—Atchison provides practical lessons on how to be a wiser and more fulfilled woman by asking the right key questions—about career, family, relationships, spiritual life, finances, and more.
“Shows you how to ask the right questions at every turn to create the path of your dreams.” —Melissa Tosetti, author of Living the Savvy Life
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About the Author
Previously, Laura used her 29+ year experience in both Fortune 100 and small businesses to launch and sell her own highly-competitive IT company—garnering her recognition and coverage from national industry publications and associations as a leading provider of managed technology services.
Besides holding numerous technical degrees and serving on multiple charity and corporate boards, Laura holds a masters degree in management and organizational behavior. Her business and life philosophy gleaned from her diverse experience and lessons learned in the trenches is simple: Treat everyone better than they expect to be treated—while collecting and dispensing wit and wisdom to grow along the way. And always ask the right questions.
Learn more or connect at LauraAtchison.com.
Read an Excerpt
How Do I Know If I Am Asking the Right Questions?
"You can't solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created the problem."
— Albert Einstein
The Allure and Danger of Autopilot
I don't know about you, but throughout my life I have found myself on autopilot way too often. It just seems so much easier to get stuff done when things remain consistent.
While I've worked hard to become more conscious and aware about what I am doing and why, I still find it so much easier to slip back into autopilot. That is the lure of autopilot: you only slip into it when you already know the route you need to take to your destination.
The problem, however, is that autopilot doesn't work very well because when you are in this state of cruise control, you are watching but not always thinking. Instead of being present to what you are doing and having conscious thought about your action and place, when you are in autopilot you are simply going through the motions unaware — somewhat like a machine.
When you introduce conscious thought (versus just watching your life happen around and to you), positive change begins to seep into your life. Why do productive changes happen when you are more present? Because when you start thinking in a more aware manner, you often find that what you are doing doesn't make sense or isn't taking you where you need to be anymore. Autopilot doesn't work effectively once you realize the direction you are going isn't the one you want to go in anymore.
Be warned though that when you embrace the conscious realization that your current direction is holding you captive and will never lead you to go where you are meant to be, you are setting the stage for positive and lifelong change.
The reality is that the feeling of ease that comes with being on autopilot is a lie in the long run. It is only a temporary delay of the inevitable pain of growth that will eventually occur. Yes, it is easier to go along with the status quo; but, as time goes by, your ride will become bumpy and, in many cases, you will arrive at your destination not only with extra baggage, but also with a one-hundred dollar baggage fee.
You may begin to realize you are not fulfilled, you are more unhappy than you are happy, you don't know what your purpose is, and you are not satisfied with your life and what you have. How did I even get here? might already be running through your mind.
How to Know When You Are Ready to Change
How do you know if you are near this point of change? Pay attention to your reactions. When you get closer to consciously engaging in a big change, you will notice a level of discomfort that wasn't there previously. Consider these examples:
Have you noticed you seem more irritable lately when you get up to go to work, or perhaps when your colleague or boss responds negatively to your ideas? This may be a sign that you are craving a change.
How about when you reach for that last piece of chocolate cake in the refrigerator instead of the leftover grilled chicken? What thoughts are going through your head? Are there any thoughts? Or are you just going for the quick emotional fix — the chocolate cake, my personal favorite — rather than making a choice that gets you to the healthy you? If it's easy for you to grab the cake without thinking twice, you may not be at the conscious level wherein change is at your doorstep.
In 2009 when I decided to sell my technology services company, the tipping point came about because I could no longer ignore a feeling in my gut. My autopilot had steered me into a norm of sleepless nights and a lack of heartfelt joy during my days. My temper grew shorter with each passing day.
At first, however, I avoided dealing with these pressing problems, because I knew facing them head on would require radical course corrections I was unwilling to make. Instead, my dissatisfaction with my business remained a giant pink elephant in the room.
For more than a year, friends and peers would point out the problems in my business and my seeming unwillingness to see what was so obvious to them. They would even question my sense of direction. They would ask, "What is going on with you? Where has your joy gone? You used to love this business. If you are unhappy, why don't you make a change? What do you want?" My autopilot would respond with anger that its course was being threatened.
I remember the day when the questions from both inside my head and outside sources became too loud for my autopilot to override. I realized I was angry at myself, not at the questions people were asking me. You see, I had allowed my auto-self to continue to chart a course without my consent.
I had learned to rely on my autopilot to make the necessary corrections to reach my destination, while not realizing that my course should have been characterized by a conscious journey that held my full and constant engagement.
Another problem with autopilot is that it often self corrects without considering the desires of the captain or the detours that open new doors to opportunity along the original charted course. Rather than plotting my own course after feedback, questions from others, or new information that appeared, I had simply allowed autopilot to readjust me — veering me off course and away from the plans I had for myself and my business.
In reality, what I wanted had changed, but I didn't want to acknowledge that truth because I felt doing so would invalidate all of my accomplishments. It felt like I would be admitting failure if I were to radically change course or just simply accept I did not want the business anymore. (I will go into the entire lead-up to selling the company in Chapter 5.)
The ultimate result of the story I just briefly shared about selling my business is this: I love how aware I have become of how much being on autopilot limited my possibilities. I made a commitment to myself to get off autopilot and stay there.
As a result, rapid-fire questions form in my mind today about how things can change — how I can move and adjust my path in a more positive direction than one that is programmed into my autopilot. I now think about what I want, rather than merely engaging in a perverse and unconscious loyalty to the momentum of my autopilot.
This doesn't mean I always have clarity or know I'm one-hundred percent on track. There are some lingering, "What have I been doing with my life?" moments. I am human after all, and we humans have doubts and fears and seem to enjoy a little bit of self-flagellation. But, as I've learned to challenge the autopilot more, those weaker moments have far less of an impact on my life and happiness.
How Do I Get Off Autopilot?
Steve Jobs was an incredible example of someone who knew the course he wanted to be on. He was determined to let go of everything that did not meet the end result he envisioned. It simply did not matter that the iPad, iPod, iTunes, or iPhone had never been created before. He was determined to avoid life's persistent autopilot and keep making innovative Apple products which no one had seen before. He wanted to wake up the world to what could be.
How can we learn from his example? To get off autopilot, it helps to understand how we manage information and stimuli. Our brains process millions of bits of data each and every moment we are alive. We discard a lot of information without ever having conscious recognition of what the information means. But the data that remains affects the choices we make throughout the day. Those remaining bits of data move into our conscious minds and do their work. They start as mere facts until we begin to process and assign context and meaning to them.
Working From the "Spock Point"
Before adding our emotions and creating context and meaning to the data, we may end up making choices that are merely "clinical." Essentially, we have no emotional involvement in the outcome at this point and are merely coming to conclusions based on the data available at the time.
If you follow Star Trek or even have heard of the TV show or movies and their main characters, you might call this the Spock Point. This is not a reference to his pointy ears!
For those of you who are not up on TV trivia, Spock comes from the planet Vulcan and is part of the bridge crew of an Earth starship called the Enterprise. His planet long ago suppressed all emotion, and therefore values logic and reason above all else. Emotion does not play any part in the choices Vulcan's make. Pure reasoning, logical deduction, and statistics determine the course of actions they take.
In the series, human emotion as demonstrated by Captain Kirk and the rest of the crew, when added to the data Spock gives, more often wins the day for the crew — versus just the choices available when using only logic. Basically, the crew adds their gut instincts to the data provided by Spock to win the day.
Working from the "Experience Point"
Once we gain awareness that more exists beyond just receiving data, we can begin to apply our past experiences, knowledge, learning, and emotions. It is from this point that we make better choices to direct our lives. I call this the Experience Point. The Experience Point adds feelings, emotions, and past experiences to facts. This creates a human element that then controls our actions and choices.
The addition of the human element is not bad. On the contrary, the human element can prevent us from harming ourselves or others by making us realize that just because the odds are in our favor for something to work doesn't mean it is the best thing to do. I have seen that making choices only from the Experience Point or the Spock Point can lead to a bumpier path and sometimes one that is a dead end.
"The Reality Point": Tying It All Together
What if you could learn how to make choices from the Spock Point and the Experience Point? What if all the choices you made took into account not only the wisdom you have learned over the course of your life, but also a reanalysis of facts and new knowledge outside your experiences and wisdom — so that options and possibilities beyond what you originally envisioned are present?
This is the Reality Point — that ideal mode of daily thinking that occurs when you are looking at your choices with clarity and consciousness and choosing how to proceed with the best information available. (Chapter 2 will go over this concept in more detail.)
Let's look at an example of how this might work. I like to use the analogy of a basketball game because most people have seen a game or have watched some form of sporting event. When you are watching a basketball game, this is what you see from the Spock Point: a bunch of people in different uniforms running back and forth on a hardwood floor towards raised round hoops with netting at their base.
You see the players using a round orange ball with black stripes and notice they are trying to get the ball into the hoops — and the ones who don't have the ball are trying to stop that from happening. You also notice they get points based on how far away from the hoop they are when they throw the ball and get it in the hoop.
From the Spock Point, you can see there are lots of other rules, but this is the basic idea. You also may be aware of the statistics or odds of getting the ball in the hoop and beating the other team.
From the Experience Point, you may have played basketball or know someone who has — so you begin to add emotion into the equation. Perhaps you have a favorite team who you root for and are willing to overlook mistakes or penalties its members experience.
In the Experience Point, you really only see one team on the court and you assume they are going to win. Or, maybe you have learned that one of the teams never wins against the other team, so you go in with the Spock Point fact that the team will not win this time either and then you ignore it hoping this time will be different.
From the Reality Point, you see all of those things but you decide to watch the game for what it is with no judgments because you know that in sporting events, anything is possible; in fact, sometimes the underdog wins in spite of long odds against them. You enjoy the game as it is played. Even though you have a favorite team, you can recognize a good game from both sides of the field of play.
Die-hard fans much prefer to stay in the Experience Point and cheer their team on to the victory they hope for. Gamblers like to dwell a bit longer in the Spock Point so they can understand the odds but will slip into the Experience Point quite often when they actually place their bets.
Watching a game from the Reality Point is much more fun for me because I actually see all that is happening on the field and can appreciate the skill it takes to do what the athletes do every day. I no longer have favorite teams, but I do have favorite players. They are favorites because they demonstrate skills on and off the field, as well as grace, caring, and excellence.
How do you get to this level where you operate on a deeper plane in the decisions you make — where you are not merely reacting to what happens around you, but you are consciously choosing the best path for yourself? To fully optimize the choices you make, you need to take the first step: begin questioning your questions and the answers you are getting.
* * *
Questions to Ask Along the Way
In regards to where you are, ask yourself:
Am I on autopilot?
Am I responding from the Spock, Experience, or Reality Point?
Am I ignoring signs I need to change direction?CHAPTER 2
How do I Question My Questions?
"Knowledge is learning something new every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day."
— Zen Proverb
Awareness Moments, Pause Moments, and Questioning Moments
So how do you question your questions? How do you even know that you need to question them? The fact that you are reading this book tells me you are not moving forward in the way you would like, and you cannot figure out why. Awesome! You have already taken the first step: gaining awareness.
You have become aware there has to be something more. You aren't sure how to move to the next step in your progress, but at least now you realize there is a next step, and you know you are no longer willing to stay where you are now. These are your awareness moments.
After awareness, the second step is to pause. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But sitting in silence, or simply exercising patience, is not always second nature. Many of us are inclined to react — to do something or anything just to not be stagnant. Don't. I have found over and over again that taking action prematurely can be fatal to true progress. Instead of doing something, just stop and take no action until you know what to do that will move you forward. These are your pause moments.
So how do you move forward? That is the third step. Rob Lowe, in his book, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, says, "All of us on a daily basis have the opportunity to move forward or backward or stay put. Today I know to move forward" (St. Martin's Press, 2011, p. 303).
How do you begin? This is what I call the questioning moment. Progress starts by learning to ask yourself these key questions:
What questions am I asking myself that got me to this place?
Where did the questions come from?
Do they still serve me?
Are the answers I get moving the dial forward towards my goals, and does my questioning put me outside my comfort zone?
I have lots of awareness moments, pause moments, and questioning moments each week and month. Having even more would be better, because I would then be making more conscious decisions; but sometimes I still react because there doesn't seem to be enough time to run through the options.
I am getting closer to being able to pause first before choosing; but it is okay that I'm not fully there yet. I've begun treasuring each and every one of the moments I do have, because they mean I have reached a new level of understanding about myself and what I am doing.
Awareness moments occur when I see what is really happening in a situation versus what I want/expect to have happen. Pause moments need to follow awareness moments and are my favorite because they give me time to breathe and think.
When I experience these, I get a sensation of time standing still. In this suspended, paused moment, I have all the time I need to determine a course of action based on my new awareness. Questioning moments often seem to happen simultaneously with pause moments — or at least so close to them that they seem simultaneous.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What Would a Wise Woman Do?"
Copyright © 2013 Laura Steward Atchison.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: What Am I Asking Myself?,
Chapter 1 How Do I Know if I Am Asking the Right Questions?,
Chapter 2 How Do I Question My Questions?,
Chapter 3 Am I Happy with My Choices?,
Chapter 4 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Chapter 5 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Chapter 6 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Chapter 7 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Chapter 8 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Chapter 9 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Chapter 10 What Would a Wise Woman Do?,
Index: What Are the Questions?,
Appendix 1: What Does a Wise Woman Read?,
About the Author,