The why don’t you?
Why don’t you set out a fleece?
Becky was at a critical junction in her life. In front of her were two good choices. One was to be a stay-at-home mom and raise her children in an era when this was the cultural norm. Her other option was to pursue a career as a CPA. She was good with numbers, her father was a college professor and education was promoted in the family.
This was the 1970ies and women in coming into the workforce. Her mom had been a trail blazer out of necessity, working overnight shifts as a nurse since her father’s job at a local bible school paid very little. She knew that women could work and still raise a family if they were willing to make sacrifices but few were present in professional services like accounting. She also knew that being a stay-at-home mom was a good option. And her husband being a farmer, the extra hands at home would be useful. What should she chose?
Becky had good people in her life and wise counselors. But these counselors were offering her drastically different advice with equal levels of conviction. “Be a stay-at-home mom. Your kids will need you.” “Be an accountant, you are good with numbers.”
How could she chose? How should she chose?
Her father’s question helped her cut through the noise.
“Why don’t you set out a fleece?”
Now, if you don’t know ancient Jewish history, the idea of a fleece might be foreign to you. The story goes that a man named Gideon lived during a time of oppression from marauding nomads who would come into the land during the harvest time and plundered. Gideon is told by God to raise up an army to fight these oppressors and he is uncertain that God is with him. He prays and asks God for a miracle that would guide his decision. He set out a wool fleece and asks God to let the dew be on everything but the fleece. This happens. Then the next night, he requests the opposite of God, a wet fleece and dry ground. Again, the miraculous happens. Thus was born the idea of a fleece, a “if this, then that” way of discerning directions.
Dr. Phillips asks his daughter why would she not consider a fleece? A simple fleece. If she passed the incredibly difficult exam, this would be her sign. If she didn’t, she could see this as a sign from God that she wasn’t to continue down this path. “But you gotta do the work of preparation” advised her father and another friend.
Among the 47 thousand papers that were written that year, Becky not only passed, but had one of the 40 best in the nation. She received the prestigious “Elijah Watts Sells” award. Not only was she able to pass the test, she had found her calling. She began a long and successful career, ending up making partner at her CPA firm. And her kids turned out fine.
One Question can help narrow down options. In a world that loves customization and endless options, research by Dr. Barry Schwartz and his colleagues suggest that too many options makes decision making more difficult. When everything is an option and we have to keep our options open, anxiety is the outcome. Limiting choices is a healthy way to use questions. “If this, then that” is a simple technique that can limit choices.
When faced with two or more equally good options, it is often useful to narrow down options through forced choice. The idea of a fleece, a “if this, then that” One question can help us in ways that more open questions don’t.