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Episode 42: Hannah Lamberth - Ask a Better Question!

Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted podcast.


This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity and purpose.


I'm your host, Catherine Cowell.


[Music] C: So today I am with Hannah Lambert.  Rather excitingly we are in your garden studio.


H:Yes, we are.


C: I have never recorded a podcast episode in a studio before.


H: Well, nor have I. Yeah, this is uncharted territory for me.


H:  It's my husband's studio, he's a sound engineer and this is very much a man cave.


I mean it sounds fancier than it is but it's full of sort of bits and bobs of equipment and wires 


C: and carpet on the walls and stuff


H: and carpet tiles.


Yes, and yeah, whatever these are.


Insulation foam.


C: Foamy things with ridges in.


H: Foamy whatnots.


C: So you can tell that we are really professional.


There's like foamy egg boxy stuff on the ceiling.


H: Yeah, it's all to make it not noisy.


Sounds fancy though, doesn't it?


C: It does sound fancy.


C: So we are in Manchester.


That also sounds quite fancy if you're from Stoke.


We're in Manchester in a studio.


H: How cosmopolitan.


C: I know, it's very cosmopolitan coming up to yours.


I was just a couple of roads away and realised that you are in a posh place.


H: Well, yeah, not by a...


We live with my father-in-law.


C: Yep.


So we were not in a posh place at all and feel really not like we fit in.


Although we've been here for a decade now so it's fine.


They've got used to us.


But yeah, no, not by anything we've done.


C: I knew it was posh when I was kind of coming up the high street and the names of the shops.


H: Oh.


C: So you don't have a butchers, you have La Charcuterie.


H: Do you know how many times I've been into La Charcuterie?


C: Oh I would think at least twice a week.


C: I think I've been in there once.


C: They sell venison, and pate, and...  I only know that from having driven past it.


And then having seen La Charcouterie and thought I am somewhere posh, I then passed The Epicurean.


Yeah, that's like craft beer or yeah, they sell fancy drinks at high prices.


Yeah, it's nice.


It used to be just a bog standard offie back in the day.


C: Oh but it's not anymore.


H: It's not anymore.


C: It's probably because since you moved here.


Actually I do think we've somewhat gentrified the area.


C: You have, all by yourselves.


H: All by ourselves.


Because we're very posh, Dave and I.


C: Yeah I can tell.


We're quite fancy really.


C: When we spoke a little while ago, you were doing some decorating and you had a bathroom office for a while so I was a little bit disappointed never having been to your house before that I've done this in the wrong time slot to have witnessed the bathroom office.


H: We did, I forgot about the bathroom office.


Yeah that was fun.


Sitting on the edge of the bath trying to do work.


But yeah, no now it's just a regular bathroom.


C: It is a very nice regular bathroom.


Yeah, but just less officey.


Never mind.


I mean we can make it happen next time you're here.


If you want me to sort of move a desk in there and a filing cabinet then I'll see what I can do.


C: Anyway, it's really really lovely to be here with you and I believe you've got some words to start us off with a conversation.


H: I have yeah, very much a conversation starter.


So I shall begin.


What do you do?


Says the man on the bus and the woman in the queue and the people I've just met at the party.


What do you do?


Says the teacher and the doctor and the couple I got chatting to at the pub on Tuesday evening.


What do you do?


Asked the guy in the cafe who was stuck on his crossword and asked me for help.


Three across, six letters.


The answer was career.


What do you do?


Says the registrar and the vicar at the wedding and the funeral director.


What do you do?


I ask again and again and again.


C: So what brought that strain of thought to mind today?


H: So Catherine and I have just had lunch and just been chatting around this need for a specific task and a job title and specifically in Christian circles that almost feels like an innate need to have a task that we do and a thing that we do.


And I think you know I'm a raging extrovert and spend a lot of time chatting to people and I'll talk to anybody wherever I am and I think in almost all situations a conversation starter is, "Oh so what do you do?"


And I think as somebody who's not necessarily been able to work for a number of reasons over the last 14 years or so it's an agonising question to be asked when in reality you do so much, we all do so much, we're all hugely contributing to the world and impacting people's lives and it doesn't matter what level you're doing it on.


So Catherine your background is in speech therapy and the and then coaching and looking after your boys and in all different capacities that you are existing you are doing something and contributing to something even if it's keeping yourself alive by feeding yourself or being looked after.


So I just, it's a question that I've hated for so long because I just think, "Oh it's so narrow it doesn't really tell you enough about me or inform you of really who I am or what I'm passionate about."


But it's a question that I just fall back to all the time and I think, "Stop it!"


And I ask it you know and I said, "What do you do?"


I ask again and again and again and I think, "Ask a better question Hannah.


Ask a question that tells you more about a person than what they do."


And that stuff's important but it's not the only thing especially in our relationship with God.


It's not about what we do it's about who we belong to and whose we are.


So yeah just pondering that why do we revert back to asking that question all the time and what are better questions that we could ask.


C: That's really interesting.


There were quite a lot of thoughts going through my head as we were having lunch because you were talking about listening to someone who was talking about the fact that Christians have an innate need to know what their special thing to do is from God which is interesting.


So quite a number of times I've heard people say, "What is it that you're called to do?"


Which is challenging to me because I've spent quite a lot of time helping people to think about what is the thing that I am called to do.


And so I've spent a bit of time recently sort of thinking, "What do I think about that question these days?"


And there's a number of different ways to kind of head off and it brings me back I think partly to what was it that drew myself and my colleague Sean Kennedy to write Loved Called Gifted which is about how do you find your life purpose and to write courses and things that are kind of designed to give people some reflective space to think about that stuff.


And I think part of what drew us to that actually was a desire not simply to help people to think about, "Well what am I called to do?"


But more who am I and how do I make sure that I don't end up doing stuff that doesn't fit with who I am?


So in terms of the validity of that question I think we can come back to what might better questions be because I think that's interesting.


But I think there are two ends to that dilemma around is it important to know what my purpose in life is and what I'm called to do and the sort of, "Well actually we're all called to love people and to love God."


I mean that's it isn't it?


So when we were doing the Loved Called Gifted stuff what we were saying to people was actually your primary calling is not doing at all it's about being.


So your primary calling is to know that you are loved by God.


That's it.


And it's out of that sense that you are precious as you are in who you are in all your uniqueness that you can then begin to work out what it is that you might like to do with your life.


And we spent quite a lot of time thinking about how do we help people to consider what it is that they want to do coming from a basis of this is about who I am.


I am uniquely formed and that means that I have got stuff that I can uniquely offer the world that other people can't.


And a lot of that was about rescuing people from other people's dreams and visions because the toxic end of you don't have to worry about what you're calling is is actually a subtext of 'because I'm in charge and if you just follow along and volunteer for the stuff that I'm doing then you will be loving people and loving God and so you don't need to know what you're calling is.'


So some of it was about rescuing people from that.


But I do think that when people are saying actually to some extent you don't need to know what you're calling is I do think that there is an element to which that's right.


So it's been interesting because it's kind of not only in our conversation over lunch but at other times as well it sent my head kind of on a bit of exploring of well was I wasting my time all those years.


I don't think so.


But there was a good challenge.


H: I know people who felt very called to do something.


I've got a couple of friends, there's sort of three of us that knock around together as my nan would say.


You know two of them just super super focused driven and really feel like for such a time as this they are called to do what it is that they are doing.


And so that's been interesting navigating a friendship with two fiercely successful and driven women.


And I am fierce but probably not fiercely successful in the same way.


So I think that it's been something that I have pondered and considered quite a lot because of my relationship with them.


And I think you're absolutely right.


It's that you don't want people 1) to be abused because they just don't know what they're good at and so somebody else decides for them.


But also to miss out on opportunities because they just kind of feel like oh well it doesn't really matter what I do and actually if there's no driving force in trying to do something.


But it's complex isn't it?


I was sort of sat there thinking is it the most asked question?


I don't know.


In my house Can you get your shoes on? is probably the most asked question.


But you know just in terms of superficial when you meet people for the first time.


So if you meet them at the party, if you pop into the doctor's, if you know you meet your child's school teacher it is that I don't know if it still is but it used to be on birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates.


You know what's your name, what day were you born, what's your occupation?


And I think it's an important question to ask.


But I think the thing that bothers me about the question at that superficial level we're inviting people to make a judgment on the stuff that fills our week or we are making a judgment on others.


And maybe I'm overthinking that and I probably am and there's probably that is true and it's also not true all the time.


But I think it's more a question of how could we ask something better at that more superficial level to get an insight into who somebody is.


What's important to you?


What brings you joy?


What are you a part of?


It's those sort of questions I think.


I'm challenging myself to ask people that I meet for the first time rather than just jumping to what's your occupation.


C: Yeah culturally it's really deeply embedded isn't it as you were talking I was thinking about the fact that actually even quite a lot of surnames are based around what people did.


H: Oh really?


C: Well yes like Smith, Blacksmiths.


H: No!


I did not, this is news to me.


C: Seriously?


H: No I knew it's like because a lot of our surnames are places.


So places you're from so Tillsley, Shaw, you know things like that.


But Smith I did not realise that was an occupational surname.


C: Yes. Wright W-R-I-G-H-T is about wheel rights.


Somebody who made wheels.


H: If there was a video in here people could see my shocked face.


Every day's a school day.


C: Yeah that gives you a bit of an idea and there was very much the sense that what you did would be something that you would do for the rest of your life and you probably would have done it because your father did it before you.


So you continue, you will be the bloke and obviously if you're the woman it's slightly different.


So it's pretty deeply ingrained and as you say at all those significant moments of life somebody will be filling in a piece of paper that includes what their occupation is.


We got married recently and that did involve saying who our parents were and what their occupations were and who we are and what our occupations are.


In fact I think I didn't have to put my mum's occupation down but I chose to because I thought that's not fair if my dad's occupation gets listed and hers doesn't.


H: Even now?


C: Even now.


H: I'm really surprised at that.


C: Yeah really shocking really shocking.


So it's quite deeply ingrained.


I often think when I'm watching a bit of daytime telly you'll watch the quiz and everybody introduces themselves as this is who I am and this is what I do.


H: I'm watching Traitors at the minute.


Do you watch the Traitors?


C: I've never watched Traitors.


H: Oh you are missing out.


C: Am I?


H: For anyone listening to this podcast I can't recommend anything highly enough.


It's back on today and I'm delighted.


Yeah it's a real family favourite is the Traitors.


But yeah same thing it's so and so.


Name, age, occupation.


Come on Claudia Winkelman ask a better question.


C: I've not had an occupation I can easily list for quite a long time and I've had different ways of describing what I do so for quite a number of years I was a speech and language therapist and that's easy then if you have got an occupation it's easy, but now I do a whole mixture of stuff so I do a bit of podcasting a bit of writing a lot of parenting a bit of mentoring of other parents I do some spiritual direction I do some coaching I sometimes facilitate stuff I sometimes help people with conflict resolution so I do a mixture of things but none of them are things that it's easy to say this is what I do.


H: All I'm thinking is of you being on the quiz right now and them listing you know this yellow strip for everyone else it's this thin yellow strip at the bottom for Catherine's it's just your head poking over the top of it.


C: Stuff I think I would say I do stuff.


H: This and that yeah.


C: Yeah but one of the things that's been really helpful to me -  at various points I've had various ways of describing whatI do - what  I have a sense of calling to and it's something about helping people to make connections between themselves and themselves, between themselves and God, between themselves and other people that are all about saying 'who you are is valued and worth knowing about'.


So that's it for me at the moment.


H: And when do you think you could articulate that?


Do you think it's always been something that you felt?


C: I think it kind of gets refined. I suspect that that's what happens to most of us actually that our sense of who we are and what we're here to do in the world becomes more refined and it becomes easier to say well actually that thing is not for me so you were explaining earlier that admin is not for you.


H: Yeah it's quite a recent revelation and I honestly feel liberated.


C: Yeah.


H: Which is mad isn't it you know loads of people go well of course it's okay to not have that but I think because I'm okay at it yeah and that's the challenge is that often we're okay at the stuff that we are doing but it's not life-giving.


C: No 


H: at all 


C: no.


Quite often what happens for me is that now and then I will have a moment where through pondering and prayer often I sort of arrive at a slightly different slant or a slightly different way or a slightly more nuanced way of understanding who I am and what it is that I'm doing.


So a little while ago now it was the concept of thou-ness.


H: Okay.


C: There are some languages which have a formal way of saying you and a more intimate informal way of saying you and thou is the old English informal you so it's sort of saying you're not a thing but we can relate to one another at a thou level.


I want you to understand your thou-ness.


H: Okay.


C: That you as a person are valuable.


For me it's kind of around that and actually I want people to feel content with who they are that sense of self-acceptance of God accepting you of it being okay to love the things that you love to think the things that you think and if you're in the middle of questioning everything that you believe for example that's still okay.


here's something about self-acceptance.


H: Yeah.


C: That feels really important to me and creating spaces where people can have conversations where there isn't judgment.


That for me is really important so that's one of the ways that I would frame that but what that means is that that doesn't have a task list assigned to it.


So whatever I do,  whether I'm having coffee with somebody or whether I'm creating a podcast that tells somebody's story or I'm writing something that I hope will be helpful to someone, that is the thread that kind of weaves through all of it but that also won't fit on a name badge.


H: No no they'd struggle on the traitors to put that on the who someone is thing wouldn't they?


C: Yeah.


Going back to the question what do you do I was remembering some of the occasions I've done things like the retreat that we met on actually and facilitating that and we did start off with questions that were not about what people did.


H: Yeah.


C: So our first gathering together was about asking people well what's brought you to this retreat and what are you hoping to get out of it which entailed people talking about their spiritual lives actually and their faith lives quite a bit and it was fascinating to me to be listening to people talking and there was a real sense of equality because everybody is talking at the same sort of level about that kind of thing.


H: Yeah.


C: And then during the few days that we were together gradually discovering what people did and that was a really interesting way around to do it.


H: Yeah.


C: And at that point the understanding what people did and what experiences they'd had rather than putting them in a box for me kind of opened up all sorts of interesting thoughts about how this person in front of me had a much broader life than I had imagined that they'd got experiences and talents and things that hadn't occurred to me and that was a really interesting way around to do it because if you started off by knowing that somebody was a doctor or a lecturer then you start creating a picture but when what you've discovered is that this person has got the dream of imaginatively dancing freely with Jesus and isn't very good at silence and likes croissants for breakfast.


You know that could be anybody.


H: Yeah.


C: And then to discover they've been a GP for years.


H: Absolutely.


C: Yeah or they've been a missionary somewhere or they used to own their own papermaking business I mean you know all of those things all sorts of random stuff that kind of gives you a different view so it would be interesting to start the other way around.


H: It would absolutely and I think as you're talking I was thinking specifically about the two friends I referenced earlier and one is a doctor and had quite a remarkable career but I have the privilege of seeing that in the context of her greatest highs and her lowest lows and her hobbies and her family and so you see her as more of a complete picture and that comes with a depth of relationship and talking and doing life together and having those phone calls of ‘you'll never guess what this amazing things just happened’ and 'help me I'm at the depths of despair can you come over’ while I'm delighted that she is a doctor and doing so well in that field it bears little impact on my life especially because she's a baby doctor and that book is closed well and truly for me so you deliver all the babies you want I'll meet you for a coffee afterward.  but yeah so I think it's just it is really on this kind of one quite superficial level of when you're just meeting someone in your what's your name where do you come from what do you do it's how we can better meet people on that level I'm probably overthinking it and it's an age-old question isn't it it's just an easy thing to ask people and you ask it but I am thinking if I meet somebody in a cafe and we just get talking or you know I'm chatting to a lady in a shop then how can I ask a better question that says I see that you're more than a job title.

C:  what has brought you joy this week?


H: what has brought you joy!  I love the joy question!


C: yeah 


H: yeah 


C: there will be lots of interesting questions you could ask.  one of the good things about that is that it means that if somebody isn't doing something at the moment they're not immediately put on the back foot because you've asked a question to which they don't have what they feel is a good answer.


H: yeah 


C: somebody recently I heard on a different podcast -  it was the mid-faith crisis podcast actually -  but they were talking about this calling thing and saying that actually our most important callings are often our relationships. who are you called to be friends with? 


H; yeah 


C: that’s a very cool way of looking at stuff and in the end that's often the most important thing.


H:  fascinating yeah I've been listening to Stephen Bartlett do you know Stephen Bartlett he's the diary of a CEO 


C: okay 


H: he was a dragon on the Dragons then just out of a bit of research I've been listening to his really early podcast and he said part of the sacrifice of being a successful CEO of a multinational company is you basically have to have no relationships with people and it was just heartbreaking and I think he was 25 when he recorded this first podcast and was obviously not in a good place and I think he's been on a sort of well publicized journey of how do you actually have relationship because that's the most important thing 


C: yeah I'm sat here thinking who told him that because that's blatantly rubbish 

H; oh no absolute rubbish and he sort of acknowledged,  he acknowledged that they were absolutely essential but to be that successful in business pretty much impossible to maintain and so put Catherine's face if you could she's going what!  but but I think he was sort of navigating this time of his company had exploded at this point and you could just hear the deep longing in his voice for meaningful relationship and I think we spoke earlier about as a Christian your call is to love God love people and partner with God to bring the gold out in them and that's all to do with relationship and it's so important to to be in relationship and to invest in those relationships so yeah maybe that's a question. who you're in a relationship with?


C:  that will sound like a chat up line that will go wrong. yeah don't ask people that.  just don't it's not really a good idea 


H: no but ask them questions around those you know things like you know what's made you smile this week who's made you smile this week 


C: what has been fun 


H: what has been fun. What  interesting conversations have you had 


C: yeah what are you thinking about?  do you come to this Chinese takeaway often?


H: how often are you on the 192 to Manchester?  again all sound like chat up lines these really important sort of starter questions.


C:  there is a podcast called where are you going which I love and this woman just goes and interrupts people on their daily travels and says I do a podcast where I ask people where they are going and she has all sorts of interesting conversations with people about where they're going 


H: I’m gonna write that down 


C: it’s really good it's about 10 minutes of time 


H: that sounds right on my street 


C: yeah she could be you Hannah.  anyway I'm aware that you need to go and collect a child 

H: I have small human to collect from school yeah 


C: thank you ever so much for that conversation some really interesting thoughts 


H: it’s good to chat isn't it and I think just I feel like even today when I go into the playground in less minutes than I should have left to get to the playground to ask a more interesting question.


C: yes where have you been? where are you going? what are you carrying? what was fun today?


H: what brought you joy?


C: what is your favorite cheese and why? 


H:  on that note 


C: thank you very much Hannah 


Outro: hope you enjoyed this episode of the loved called gifted podcast if you'd like to get in touch you can email loved called gifted at you can find a transcript of this podcast at loved called and that's also the place to go if you're interested in the loved called gifted course or if you'd like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching thank you for listening [Music] [BLANK_AUDIO]

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