“Red” can be interpreted differently depending on your life’s perspective or experience. For some, it suggests STOP.  For others, fire, anger, or even good fortune might come to mind. Red can also evoke passion, energy, war, pride, or strength. For me, it translates into, Why Not?

A Man to Remember. Several years ago, I attended the Celebration of Life for a friend who I often described as the Modern Renaissance Man. He was a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam fighter pilot. After his Marine Corps experience, he worked in the insurance business, was owner/broker of a real estate company.  Later, he graduated from law school, worked in private practice, served as a district attorney, and then became a County Court Magistrate. Later in life, he studied in France, which led to a career as an accomplished sculptor. He was also a dedicated husband and father.

Words Can Create Lessons to be Learned. I met Dick through our wine club. We had recently moved from Chicago to Surprise, Arizona. One night, I was complaining that the traditional dining room furniture we just dragged 2,000 miles from Chicago did not match the vibe of our Spanish adobe Arizona home. After he patiently listened to my tale of woe, he looked at me with his signature crooked smile and sparkling eyes and asked, “Why not paint the chairs red?” Why Not? What a great question! He reminded me there were no boundaries, and with the word red, he opened me to another perspective and gave a gentle boot to my black and white thinking. Hey, I could paint the table and chairs red.  I remember how one moment, one man and one question changed my definition of red and encouraged me to continue a life of curiosity and risk.

End of Story? I didn’t paint any of the chairs red. We sent all the furniture back to the Midwest, so my daughter could use them in her home. I did buy a red console table that reminds me every day of Dick’s wise counsel. With one question, he showed me why he had been so successful in his life and career. Dick was never afraid to ask, Why Not…? To this day, when I am dealing with an idea, a decision, or a person that leaves me stuck or overwhelmed, I find myself going back to Why Not? Red is, and for the remainder of my life, a lesson learned and remembered, especially when I find myself clinging to the comfort zone.  It is also a question I frequently use with my clients when they are reluctant to let go, test boundaries, and trust that there is always a way forward.

Try it. Look around. In what areas of your life or career could you use a word or a memory to spark new thinking and inspire you to embrace a new and different path? As a leader, how can you impact others by giving them a “red chair” at your table with an offering of “Why Not?”