One Simple Question You Should Ask Everyone You Meet


“It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.”

—The Invitation by Oriah

I want to know what your story is…

7 Billion Stories in the World

I don’t care what you do or what you own.  I just want to know who you are.  I want to know your uniqueness, the experiences you’ve had and the lessons you’ve learned.  I want to know your story.

What is your story?  Everyone has one.  And no two stories are exactly the same.

There are over seven billion people in this world and none are like you.  You are unique.  Your entire life journey including your upbringing, challenges, your hard learned lessons, your experiences, achievements and gifts, are all a series of footprints that have brought you to this very moment in time as you read these words.

Every person you walk or drive past on the street has their own story.  Every person in front of you in line at the grocery store has their own story.  Every friend and work colleague in your life has their own story.

The old man who lives alone up the street from me and wanders past my house each day, he has his own story.  The girl on the train sitting opposite me right now who has small tears welling up in her eyes, she has her own story.  The boy in the library who never stops laughing, even when his mother constantly asks him to be quiet, he has his own story too.

Think about the millions of moments, the series of events that leads each person to cross your path.  Who are they really underneath that exterior?  Where did they come from?  What do they long for?  What makes them tick?

Will you ask?

Life is a tapestry of people weaving in and out of your life.  These people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  Every one of them has something to offer and share with you.  Imagine treating every person you encounter, no matter how fleeting, as an intriguing story waiting to be told.  But the story can only be told if someone asks to hear it.  Will you ask?  That person you see standing before you, no matter who they are, young or old, rich or poor, rude or kind, is like a blockbuster movie ready to enthrall you.  But, first you have to buy a ticket.

Small Talk at Cocktail Parties

As I stood in a room full of people at a cocktail party once, I realized that every opening conversation was dominated by this question, “What do you do?”

We seek to understand and define people by their doing in the world.  Yes, literally, and for some reason, we default to categorizing and ranking the entire worth of the people we meet based on what they “do.”  And I think that seriously dehumanizes us!

Does what you do matter more than who you are?  Absolutely not!  What you do is only a small fraction of who you are as a human being.

Do we care about each other enough, and are we interested enough in what we can learn from each other, to stop asking “What do you do?” and start asking “Who are you?  What is your story?”

So, I’d love to ask you something, and I’m not asking a rhetorical question.  I really want to know…

What is your story?

  • Where were you born?
  • Where do you live now?
  • What is the most important life lesson you’ve learned thus far?
  • What makes you smile on an average day?
  • What is your deepest and most persistent fear?
  • What is your greatest dream for your life?
  • Who are you?

Normalizing the Question

There’s only one way to normalize this “What is your story?” question in our society.  And that’s by starting to ask it, and by each of us individually being willing to answer it wholeheartedly, knowing that the person asking genuinely wants to know.

Superficial chit chat about what we “do” and what we “own” doesn’t have to dominate our interactions with those closest to us or with complete strangers.

I probably don’t know you at all.  You’re a complete stranger to me.  But I genuinely want to know your answers.

I’ll go first…

Here’s my story .  I invite you to respond with your answers, supporting a movement to normalize caring more about who people are, than what they do and own.

  • I was born in Miami, Florida.
  • After traveling all over the world (Japan, Australia, etc.) and living all around the country (San Diego, Austin, etc.) alongside my wife, Angel, we decided to settle down in Jupiter, Florida to raise our son reasonably close to his grandparents and our extended family.
  • Early on in our marriage (well over a decade ago), Angel and I were knocked down hard and stuck in a rut after simultaneously losing two loved ones to suicide and illness.  These losses, along with the grief we felt, impacted both our marriage and our individual emotional wellness for a long time.  This tragic season of our lives taught us so much, but the most important lesson we learned—which is perhaps the most important lesson of our lives thus far—is that we as human beings are capable of healing and growing stronger through life’s most painful changes.  (Note: Our journey through this season of our lives is discussed in detail in our New York Times bestselling book.)
  • My son, Mac, playing loudly with his toys and laughing his little heart out is what makes me smile the most, even after I’ve had a long day.
  • One of my deepest and most persistent fears (which is actually somewhat common among the people I’ve coached over the years) is the fear of taking risks to follow a dream and then failing miserably in the process.  In other words, failure, which I intellectually know is good for my personal growth, still gives me plenty of anxiety.
  • My greatest dream is to move gracefully forward each day with an open and present mindset, alongside people I love and respect, listening, learning, exploring, questioning and discovering as much about the human condition and life as I can.  And continuing to write booksemail newsletters and blog posts to share my lessons learned with YOU.
  • I’m a little spark of divinity, out here having a life experience, as I believe we all are.

Your turn…

Please leave a comment below with your answers—tell me something true about YOU.

What is YOUR story?

Article originally published by Marc Chernoff on Marc and Angel Hack Life. Read the original article here.