Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan is the short book based on the commencement address that Dr. Ryan gave at Harvard in 2016 which went viral.  Dr. Ryan, currently the Dean of Education at Harvard who was recently named the next president at the University of Virginia, poses six essential questions for good living.

This sounds like a self-help book!  It’s not.  It’s more a series of reflections on a life well-lived.  The questions:

  1. “Wait, What? Is designed for clarification.
  2. “I Wonder…” is a question designed to spur creative thinking
  3. “Couldn’t We at Least…?” is a question aimed to examine new possibilities.
  4. “How Can I Help?” builds collaboration and confidence.
  5. “What Truly Matters?” helps the questioner examine what his/her life is really all about.
  6. The bonus question was added after one of Ryan’s friends passed away. “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?” was a quotation from Raymond Carver which appeared at his friend’s memorial service.

The questions are great but the stories surrounding each query are fantastic.  Who searches for (and finds!) their biological mother in middle age?  Ryan does.  And the stories are wonderful.

It’s a short, powerful book that will knock you off kilter and cause you to reexamine your life.  Here’s a video of Ryan’s commencement address.