When I was around five or six years old, I figured out that I had a real opportunity in adults. I discovered that if I asked adults questions about their experiences in life, they had all the time in the world to talk about it. Adults will take a lot of time to explain things to a child, and I developed a tremendous ability very early in life to ask great questions that got people thinking and talking.
This seemingly natural talent would much later become the entire basis for my life as an entrepreneur.
I grew up right after the Second World War on a farm near Cleveland, Ohio, where my father grew produce for market. I was the fifth child out of seven, with a big age gap between me and both my older and younger siblings. Essentially, I was an only child in a big family. Living a bit of a distance from town with no other children my age on neighboring farms was also fairly isolating. That meant I spent a great deal of time with adults or on my own.
“Questions are far superior to having the answers.” Dan Sullivan
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Fascinated and motivated for life.
It was the late 1940s and early 1950s, so the adults I was talking with at the time had quite recently experienced two life-changing historical events. One was the Second World War, which had just ended, and the other was the Great Depression in the 1930s. Their answers to the questions I asked were fuel for my imagination, and to this day, I have a deep passion for world history — along with a belief that the right questions are far superior to answers.
One person from this period in my life who really stands out in my mind is Mrs. Wetzel, who was our next-door neighbor and born in the 1870s. I’d spend hours with her in her parlor having milk and cookies, and asking her question after question about her life. Because we lived on a farm, I was fascinated by her stories about what it was like to grow up on a farm when she was young, where you didn’t have electricity or tractors or even trucks.
She was born before there were radios, long before there were movies or television, and long before many of the things we take for granted in modern life had been invented. I could picture life when she was a young girl my age.
A whole new world opened up for me.
At a very young age, I had acquired this amazing world of almost endless knowledge, lessons, and experience. With all of this new learning, I certainly didn’t see myself living my entire life on the farm.
None of the other children at school had ever taken advantage of the experiences of the adults in their lives, which made it very difficult for me to be interested in them. They hadn’t had any interesting experiences!
One day when I was in my twenties, I was talking to my mother when she asked, “Do you remember how you used to go over and visit with Mrs. Wetzel?” Of course I remembered. Then my mother said, “What you didn’t know is that she would phone me after you were there and say, ‘Danny was over again today. You know, we just talk and talk. And I don’t know what it is, but after our visit, I always feel better. And I remember things I’d never remembered before.’”
This tells me that if you can ask people questions they’ve never thought about before, they discover new things about themselves, which, again, is something that’s necessary for growth.
When I look back over the years since then, I think that a curious mind eager to hear about people’s experiences gave me the foundation I needed to be able to ask really great questions of the entrepreneurs who come to Strategic Coach to learn and to experience growth in their personal lives and as business owners.
Look to your childhood for clues.
People often ask me how to start a business. From my own experience, I’d say that as an aspiring entrepreneur, look to your childhood for clues to things you were passionate about and that came easily to you — your natural talents.
In my case, my ability to ask great questions led me in my thirties to create Strategic Coach, a company where we’re dedicated to entrepreneurial growth, and our rallying cry is, “Always be growing.” This is essentially the same skill I was passionate about when I was six years old — except now I charge for it!
About the Author
Dan Sullivan is the world’s foremost expert on entrepreneurship in action. He is the founder of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of The Strategic Coach® Program. Visionary, creative, wise, playful, and generous, he is a true champion of entrepreneurs worldwide.Follow on Twitter More Content by Dan Sullivan