The Questions That Started It All

by PJ McClure on February 22, 2013

The previous five hours left me drained and exhilarated, all at the same time.

The office I worked in held training on Saturday mornings for all of the personal financial advisers in our area. They covered new products, prospecting and sales techniques, and personal growth strategies.

When you were on top of your game and producing big numbers, you were asked to conduct a training topic.

My recent numbers were enough to get some attention, so on a whim; I asked the regional vice president if I could have a separate training afterward to share some things I had learned about success.

“I’ll only need an hour,” I assured him.

He put it up for vote and all of the officers agreed to let me.

During the past year, I had begun to develop a reputation for the passion and insight I brought to my speaking opportunities. It was no secret that I had buried myself in studying successful people and I think they were curious to see what I had to say. Besides, it wasn’t likely that anyone would stick around that long on a Saturday afternoon anyway.

My division manager and good friend Casey helped me pull my resources together. By the time we outlined everything I wanted to cover, there was over three hours of material. Seeing no way to cut it down and still have the desired effect, Casey offered the kind of sage advice I had come to expect.

“Screw it. The worst that can happen is they’ll leave.”

On that Thursday I pulled together all of my notes on what I had come to understand about the first element of personal choice, purpose. I built a workbook, practiced my presentation, and slept for maybe two hours during the next two days. This training was more than a chance to share some findings.

For the previous six months, I had spent more time counseling my peers on matters of personal growth than on building financial portfolios. Product sales were leaving me cold, but the rush of helping someone through a tough spot was nothing I had ever experienced.

No one, including me, thought that I had all of the answers. I knew that I had way more questions than answers. But people still repeatedly sought me out to coach them along.

I had to find out if I could bring value to a group and hold my own in front of a room. Could I build a life helping others get better while I did the same thing?

Word had gotten around that I was offering a special session after the normal training and reps that didn’t normally come on Saturday mornings rolled in to see what was going on. On an average morning, we would have 20-25 people attend. When we dismissed at noon that day, there were 60.

The VP asked how many were staying for the additional training and everyone raised his or her hand. Four of them asked if it would be okay if their spouses joined us. When the group broke for a 30-minute lunch, Casey and I sprinted for the copy shop up the street to make 44 more workbooks.

Nervous as I had ever been, we passed out workbooks at 12:40; I put my watch in my pocket and started.

I truthfully do not remember everything about that afternoon. There are patches of total lucidity and blurs that seemed like a trance. I made conscious eye contact with every person in that room at one point or another.

They responded to every point and nodded with understanding when I revealed a hard truth. They stopped me and asked questions for which I didn’t always have an answer. That seemed to be okay with everyone.

No one left and a few of them cried. I think there was a bathroom break in there as well, but I couldn’t swear to it.

When I turned the last page of my workbook and realized that I was done, it was 5:26. I asked them all to fill out the little survey in their workbook, smiled, and thanked them all for staying and making this a great day for me. It was my first and still the most special standing ovation.

When I finally had the guts to look at the survey cards a few hours later, I only read the first few to start.

“Wow PJ! I feel like I’m better prepared for success than I’ve ever been before.”

“I’ve struggled with finding meaning for years. Your presentation broke it all down to a level that really made sense to me. Thanks.”

62 of the 64 cards had responses that ranged from glowing praise to mentions of being anointed. The other two hated me and expressed that I was entirely too personal and made them uncomfortable. I couldn’t have been happier.

There was absolutely no middle ground in the way people responded and that was all the validation I needed to know that I was on to something.

While it’s true that I read the remarks over-and-over that night, the cards had something that was much more valuable in the long run. In the moment of wrapping up the presentation and explaining about the response cards, I asked everyone to do something I hadn’t planned on.

“If there are any questions that are troubling you right now, write them down on the back.”

I didn’t know if it would be helpful for anyone, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. 58 people took me up on the offer and spelled out what was keeping them awake at night. Even one of the two that thought I stunk wrote a heartfelt question on the back.

The responses were anonymous, but as I read them, I got a picture of each person and their struggle. It was easy because I had all of the same questions.

Taken as a group, the 58 questions could be boiled down to 13. More than 15 years later, my coaching clients and colleagues that I’ve worked with have had the same questions. Maybe you’ve got some of them too.

  • Isn’t desire enough?
  • Why doesn’t goal setting work for everyone?
  • Can I really “fake it till I make it?”
  • Can personal and financial success exist together?
  • Why do similar people get such different results?
  • Why do I fall back after making such progress?
  • How do I know what I’m afraid of and make it go away?
  • Why does my self-confidence fluctuate so much?
  • I’ve failed before, why won’t it happen again?
  • Why can’t I get rid of negative thoughts?
  • How do I find my life’s purpose?
  • Why do I procrastinate?
  •  Is it really possible for anyone to be successful?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of every question I’ve ever been asked, but these represent the most common and recurring. They are the ones I’ve built an entire business answering. And were the basis for my first book, Flip the SWITCH.

Do any of these questions belong to you? Which ones? If not, what is the question plaguing you right now to which you’d love to have an answer. Come over to my Facebook Page and let me know. I’ll be waiting to hear from you!

Be your best,

Laurence Hansen April 7, 2011 at 11:39 am

I suspect one of the most common roadblocks to people achieving success is associated with the fourth question on your list: “Can personal and financial success exist together?” Many people don’t even realize the question is tugging at them and holding them back. Underlying this question are the mistaken teachings, coming in many forms, all based on the idea that money is evil.
For many, I think it is such a deeply-rooted belief, they don’t even realize it’s a question they should address and work on in their subconscious thinking so they really can focus on the questions that will lead to positive action.

Once the sub-conscious fear and loathing about money is out of the way people are then able to address the fundamental questions that are right next to action such as “How do I find my life’s purpose.” Then they are really onto something!

Sharon A April 7, 2011 at 7:08 am

My biggest question right now is, How can I strike a balance between making a living and taking care of my health? At this moment the two seem to be mutually exclusive.

I am a self-employed landscaper. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness last November—my clients are unaware of this. At some point I will no longer be able to work on demand, but don’t want to give up thew work I’m so passionate about. What can I do? Thanks!

Debbie April 7, 2011 at 6:41 am

Would you share your presentation with us and answer the 13 questions posed.
Awesome writings, they inspire me but also leave me with a lot of questions….
Be blessed

Marvin April 7, 2011 at 5:42 am

I’ve spent tons of money over the last few years trying to start a business writing about leadership principles applied to family life. I get up at 4 am every morning to center myself and pray and read — Why after all this time am I not making any money at this? People say that they like what I write but I keep bumping up against an invisible hurdle. I can imagine the resources heading my way but they don’t seem to ever get here. What am I missing?

AEDBAYO DARAMOLA April 7, 2011 at 5:32 am

All these inpirational views are good but how can they work in developing country like mine where it is very difficult to make both ends meet. A country that dont support ordinary man financially in terms soft loan and others. Nonetheless, i will try my best possible to act according to the enumerated questions.

Linda Williams April 7, 2011 at 2:09 am

so I am not the only one who has been asking the same questions of myself as well. My biggest question – draw back – is actually me. to take a leap of faith and not only that realising that there are other like minded people who are going through the same thinds. Mine is a barrier i have put up in relation to my web page, or at this moment my non existing web page, it is not that difficult, so why am I making it so.
the question would be ‘why do I procrastinate?’
Love the articals, keep up the good work.

Carol Perdue April 7, 2011 at 12:02 am

I could relate to your article and feelings, for I spent ten years in Corporate America, high pressure sales, and after loosing that job, I probably asked every question on your list. A year after leaving, I was diagnosed with LUPUS. At 33, I almost died. When you come close to death, you really start trying to figure out what you are meant to do. It’s been 7 years since then and I’ve learned that I am here to serve. I know I have a testimony, and I know I was given certain talents, however, I am still trying to figure out just what value that I can offer. Is it how to Over Come disease and that being put on disability is not the end of the world? If you believe in a higher power, then you know that you are here to serve, to God first and then to his fellow man. And we shall be rewarded. I think everyone wonders these same questions. I am still searching for answers. We may till we die. Just don’t let anyone steal your joy through the process. I think when someone finds their passion, and do it with a servants heart, they will be happy and satisfied with Life.
Does this make any sense?
And I am so sorry to hear about your Loss! My prayers are with you and your family!

Mitchell April 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Sorry to hear of your loss.

My question would be, why don’t I do what I know I should?

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