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William S. Cottringer

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Five Questions Everyone Has
By William S. Cottringer
Last edited: Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Posted: Monday, January 29, 2007

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William S. Cottringer

• 20 Writing Tips for Better Results
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• The Cllenge For Returning Veterans
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Here are five fundamental questions that keep popping up in life situations; our answers influence the degree of success we have in life.


By Bill Cottringer

I think many of us play Jeopardy in providing the life questions to which our pre-arranged answers apply rather than vice versa. At any rate, we all have five very serious, fundamental questions in life to find the answers to. These questions serve as a plan for individuals, relationships, companies and sports teams to resolve and carry out in order to be successful. Here are these five basic questions, with some explanations following.

1. Why am I here?
2. What am I supposed to be doing?
3. How will I know if I am doing it right?
4. What’s in it for me?
5. Where do I go for help when I get into trouble?

Now the nice thing about this “system” of five questions is that it fits into both ends of the spectrum. Global, abstract, and big picture people can apply the questions to life in general to develop a sound, integrated philosophy of life; and personable, detail-oriented, and practical people can apply the questions to resolve problems in any here-and-now realities at work or in personal situations. Global or local, it doesn’t matter, it still works. Sooner or later these same five questions seem to pop up in any situation.


Globally this question has to do with discovering your fundamental purpose or mission in this life, or more “locally,” to know what your main goals are in a particular situation at work or home. We are all here to make a unique contribution in fitting into life’s big game plan and all the littler situations and choices that make up that game plan . Many of us don’t give this question the thought it deserves and many wonder and wander around trying out all sorts of answers, not ever discovering the correct one.

The trouble with searching for our overall purpose or even our purpose in a given situation is it is so close to us, that it is difficult to see clearly. Never-the-less we need to keep looking because our measure of success and contentment is directly tied to answering this important question and the answer is very relevant to the other four questions.

This unique purpose you are here to accomplish in order to fill in some details or help paint the big picture, has to do with an agreement you made in return for this life opportunity you have been given or the situation your choices helped bring about. This is something only you can find out, but if you are currently experiencing too much difficulty, then by all means you can skip ahead to the last question, which in this case, is an answer to this first question. Your purpose is often more obvious to others because they can stand back and see where your feet have been taking you all the time you have been too busy walking to notice, sometimes from a few short months to several decades.

Another resource for finding out the answer to this first question is looking inside and seeing what you seem to be having the most fun doing, what you seem to be doing well, what you do most, and the defining moments of a painful experience during the dark times, which may reveal a unique ability not had by many. This can apply to either your life mission or resolving a work or relationship conflict.


The first part of the answer to this second question is in answering the first question; the second part is to develop and apply the natural talents and skills you have to live out your unique purpose to help yourself and others be successful and happy, again generally speaking or in a particular situation before you. Here is one useful clue—when you know exactly what you want from life, work, game, or relationship, you will be on the path to knowing what you are supposed to be doing. And then how you define this thing you want, will help determine how much or how little of it you actually have. From there you learn to separate your smaller personal wants (the 95% nonsensical chaos) from your larger, true r needs (the remaining sensible 5% order).

It seems that the treasure chest we are all searching for in this land of plenty has to do with how we define the following pool of things: Happiness, success, peace, contentment, respect, meaning, wholeness, joy, power, wealth, influence, making a difference, achieving worthwhile goals, serving others, or living a good life. How do you define these things? Are you doing what you need to be doing to get them? Often, success and happiness are what you do to feel the satisfaction from doing them. That is called intrinsic motivation—doing something just because it feels good and right to do in and by itself, and not for some other ulterior motive, now or later. Intrinsic motivation is stronger and lasts longer that “carrot” motivation.


The key here is in the word right and how you define it. When you learn to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons, you will get the right results, no matter how big the issue or problem is. Then you know you are on the right path. But if this success formula is too abstract or overly simple-minded, then try understanding life’s even simpler behavior modification program aimed at helping you know the answer to this particular question, without any doubt—keeping you on the right path to success (or helping you to remember where it is).

Sometimes we tend to make things much more complex than they need to be. Such is the case with emotions. There are really only two types of emotions we get in reaction to things that happen and what we think about those things—positive and negative feelings. And we always know which is which, without too much thinking or debating. Positive emotions serve the purpose of letting us know things are right, whereas negative feelings serve the purpose of letting us know things are not right. Pretty simple when you think about it. If you want to feel good, the choice is easy.

It seems to me that the biggest challenge in life is in making the choices to do this or that in reaction to this or that. Too often we have the wrong conversation in our heads—making the wrong interpretation of a negative event and then making all the wrong choices from then on, based on this single wrong interpretation and lack of understanding. The result is that our heads are too full of crap and our hearts too full of hurt and fear. Maybe our country is stuck in the Iraq dilemma because of a similar process. When you stop and think about it, it really is easy to do the right thing in the wrong way, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons; or oddly, even doing the wrong thing in the right way can be a bad habit.


The trick here is to learn how to be a little more sensitive to becoming aware of when you are getting knee deep in alligators before they start biting you. This is known as catching yourself getting near the point of no return before it comes and goes. At that point it is helpful to know how to ask for help when it can still do some good before things get too bad. And this is a skill you want to begin practicing in everyday situations, rather than waiting for a major event in your life.

With work problems, this is where you go to your supervisor for clarification and assistance. But be prepared to take some possible solutions with you, so that you are not seen as part of the problem. With some personal problems, you can ask the experts for their professional guidance based on their experience at successfully solving the problem themselves. This is where reading, listening, watching TV or movies, attending classes, having intelligent discussions and participating in training seminars come into play.

With other problems that tend to be flavored with negative emotionality, it is helpful to get a second opinion (and the desired compassion) from friends or family or even marriage counselors, teachers and mental health professionals. And with profound spiritual or existential questions, this is where God, praying, communing in nature, meditation, churches, or spiritual groups are your empathetic resource. In any case, help is always just around the corner for the asking. Just know how and when to do the asking. And be patient and open-minded with the results.


It could be that we get ahead of ourselves with our answers to this question, which throws us off the right track for answering the first four questions. In both jobs and relationships, problems begin when we feel we are not getting what we want from them. That is at least until we see the wisdom of making some important transformations, whether they are voluntary or forced. Three very important personal transformations are moving from one perspective to its opposite: (a) shifting from ephemeral external motivation to more substantial and enduring internal motivation (b) exchanging the selfish habit of taking for the unselfish one of giving, and (c) seeing the benefit of forgoing short-term pains for longer-term gains. Of course this is usually by trial and error and a journey full of bruises, broken bones and bleeding.

The treasure chest we are all seeking in the land of plenty has to do with the common wisdom we discover in answering all five of these basic life questions together, to either solve smaller problems and obstacles in our immediate way or in our general approach to getting the most out of life. These questions are all inter-related and they all come from the same source as do their answers; and sometimes just asking the questions is already living the answers.

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security, Business Success Coach, Sport Psychologist, Writer and Photographer from Issaquah, WA. He is author of Passwords To The Prosperity Zone, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, and The Bow-Wow Secrets. Bill can be reached for comments and questions at (425) 454-5011 or

Web Site The Prosperity Zone

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