Ryan’s 5 Essential Questions In Life: Inspiring Words in a Graduation Speech Become a Best Seller

A simple title with a big message

If I asked you to think about the most important questions to ask in life, both at home and work, what would you say?  This answer is not always easy and all of us would come up with different answers.

Standing in line at FedEx I found a little book: Wait What?  And Life’s Other Essential Questions.

I started reading the intro, and I was hooked, with humor and logic and headed to the parking lot where  I watched the inspiring six-minute excerpt of the speech with a message advising us to spend more time thinking about good questions.

First a speech then The New York Times Best Seller

Dean James Ryan gave the 2016 commencement speech for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His colleagues posted a video excerpt of the speech which went viral and then HarperCollins asked Ryan to turn the speech into a book. The rest is history.

I have watched the speech several times, alone, and with my wife and kiddos. Every time I watch the video, I think about the words even more deeply. The book is a fabulous quick read filled with Ryan’s humor, just like the speech.

Ryan reminds me of how important it is to remain curious and spend more time thinking about why good questions are so very important.

My favorite question, “What truly matters?”

I intentionally did not make a bullet list all the questions in the book because I think you will be far more inspired and entertained if you watch Dean Ryan.

I have used some version of the 5 Essential Questions at work when I discuss or think about many topics, both at home and at work when I am taking care of patients, reflecting on physician burnout, or thinking about a project using ‘Lean Thinking’ (what is the gap in process that REALLY matters?).

My recently minted college grad children who are navigating life in their twenties are learning how hard it is to find work-life balance need to this question.

Question number five: “What truly matters? This is the most important question I have to ask in my personal life and work life. The question helps me slow down and really think about what I am doing and why I am doing it.

I am asking this question now as I help care for my eighty-seven-year-old wonderful dad struggling at the end of his life. What is that really matters to him and my mother in these days?

I ask this question at home when our family is struggling with decisions that tug as in different directions.

And I ask this question when I am at work trying to define a priority in a patient’s care journey.

Enjoy the video and the book as you explore the other questions James Ryan offers you to ponder.

Thanks for visiting.


The Speech: 6 Minutes


The Book: read a sample

Harper-Collins the publisher has a sample you can read, or you can head over to Amazon.




Posted in Books, Speeches.

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