I am obsessed with a certain question. I think you should be too.
The question is: What am I missing?
I started thinking this way when I was a newspaper reporter in my twenties. It was literally my job: to respond to a situation, or to investigate something, and to be constantly alert to what was important but overlooked.
Eventually, however, it began to shape other parts of my life. Some of this was positive: if a friend ghosted me, for example, I wouldn’t immediately think they’re a jerk. i would ask, What am I missing? and think about what else is going on in their lives. If someone made a claim that seemed strange but credible, say some political thing, I would ask myself: What am I missing?and get to know the context behind it.
The question became my “dominant question” – a phrase I learned from famed brain coach Jim Kwik.
We all have a dominant demand; it is the filtering mechanism we use for our lives. Jim advises that we be aware of this, and also be aware of how it benefits us and holds us back. For example, when I told Jim about mine, he said it can help me be more thorough and analytical, but can also lead me to a lot of FOMO. That’s also true: I drive my wife crazy because when we’re somewhere and she’s tired, I really don’t want to go back home. What if there is more to experience? What am I missing!??
(For more on this, by the way get my book: I’m dedicating a chapter to this topic.)
Recently I came across another powerful use of my question. And it all started with a big, ugly mess on Twitter.
Here’s a tweet that went viral:
my sister got married yesterday and the groom started his vows with “kate you’re a bully” then gave like 50 examples of how she’s bullied him for the last 10 years then he said “but you’re MY bully, and I love you for it” and I started to roar. love is real
— jasminericegirl (@jasminericegirl) December 13, 2022
Cute right? What a nice couple! Really, my favorite part of weddings is when the couple brings their full, funny, playful life into their vows.
But when people on Twitter read this, they went crazy.
The number of utterly deranged responses from accusing strangers [her] sister of being abusive is amazing,” Ryan Broderick wrote on his Garbage Day newsletter, which I first heard about here. He highlighted one: a wellness author tweeted that “no matter how much they love each other, these communication styles indicate a short marriage.” To which Rosie Nguyen, the tweet’s author, replied, “You weren’t at the wedding and you don’t know these people.”
What is happening here? Why do so many people see something, take it wildly out of context, and then make very big assumptions about other people’s lives and intentions? It’s an important question because, of course, this isn’t an isolated event on the internet. It happens all the time.
Ryan has an interesting statement:
I think there are two things happening here that have become so prevalent online that we don’t even realize how weird they are anymore: first, we assume that everything we see in a piece of content is somehow representative of the whole situation. And secondly, oddly enough, we also think there must be more to the story than how it’s portrayed and that if we dig deeper into the piece of content, we can reveal that truth.
It’s a compelling point and you can see how it fuels conspiracy theories, internet pileups, hate mail and more. People assume that they have all the information they need, and that there is also something hidden that needs to be revealed.
And now imagine how much of this could be a shortcut if people asked one simple question every time they saw something curious or confusing.
Imagine if people – yes, you guessed it – asked the question: What am I missing?
Does a tweet about some wedding vows confuse you? We will, what do you miss? Here are some things to get you started: You literally know nothing else about these people’s lives. You don’t even know what else they said during their vows. You don’t know if humor is an important part of their relationship. If they like to make each other laugh. If their family and friends know about them, in a way you don’t. Start by listing everything you don’t know – everything you are missing – and you begin to see how impossibly foolish it is for you to pass judgment.
That all means: the question What am I missing? leads to more mutual understanding. It gives us a moment to pause. Consider.
Now imagine applying it to your work.
Sales have dropped – what are you missing from your customers?
Someone on your team is suddenly underperforming – what are you missing from their work, or life, or your own leadership?
You feel stuck in your role – what are you missing from the opportunities around you, both inside and outside your job?
Of course, this question is not perfect. It also comes with drawbacks. You can spend your life searching for what’s missing, instead of appreciating what’s not there. But overall I think it’s a good dominant question. It has served me well. And if there’s something missing from your mindset, this question might just be it.
This essay is from Jason Feifer’s newsletter, which helps you think smarter and act bolder. Want more? Register here for free.