I don’t know about you, but if I’m having a bad moment as I think about COVID-19, I feel overwhelmed when people call or text and ask, “How are you doing?” Of course, that’s how I personally lead off in conversation, but something doesn’t feel right about it lately. I began to wonder if there’s a better question. Yesterday, as I walked along the creek, a professor asked me this:
What challenged you today? What did you do about it?
It felt like a breath of fresh air! It was a focused, loving question that helped me process something small but important about my day. And I found that the question opened up my heart and mind. It didn’t overwhelm me or make me assess my own well-being. It didn’t scare me. It didn’t invite me to wallow, either. Instead, asking me to identify a challenge and my process through it felt empowering.
Some people don’t want to talk about their state of being. Again, the weak verb (!) in a sentence like “How are you doing?” invites existential investigation. It can feel exhausting. But the precision of “What challenged you?” invites a clear picture: I can revisit what happened socially, professionally, financially, or even nutritionally. I can really go into specifics. If I want to talk about my emotional state, I can. But I don’t have to.
I bounced the question back to the professor. And for the next hour, we talked in productive, joyful, and meaningful ways.