It’s a really interesting question to ask people, although I wouldn’t advise making it the first query you kick off with on a Tinder date or job interview – in those scenarios it comes off as insincere; an attempt to make yourself look deep when really you’re just waiting for them to finish their answer so you can bring up that novel you’ve been chipping away at since 2012.
There are some massive multinationals who offer this kind of thing to their more Tony Stark-esque employees, who work better when given free rein to explore their obsessions and occasionally come up with a game-changing moonshot. On other occasions, they come up with Google Wave, so there are risks in every roll of the dice.
But it doesn’t have to be an Avengers-level project to give this question meaning.
Learning that someone would devote this spare set of 12 to mastering the art of flower arranging or set up a CBD lunch-delivery service with an alt-rock edge is equally revealing… if less exciting than a full-body technosuit made from nanoparticles that lets you shoot beams of energy at baddies.
Revealing how? For starters, it can show usually hidden dimensions to people you’ve mentally placed in a specific pigeonhole. But it’s also interesting to see the limitations (or lack thereof) people put on themselves.
Remember, your expenses are covered for a full year, and you have to ‘work’ on a single project. Some respondents immediately start asking for more rules or boundaries in this entirely imaginary thought experiment. Others think about the impact their choice would have on colleagues, friends or family.
Honestly, sometimes you’ll get a really interesting left-field response, and other times you’ll be forced to conclude that some people don’t deserve to find a genie in the lamp if their wishes are going to be this bloody boring. (If they mention their mortgage as any part of this Q&A, feel free to walk away. There’s nothing for you here.)
And, of course, it’s a very interesting question to interrogate yourself with. Imagine you were given a year of gardening leave from your current work, all expenses paid and nothing else to distract you. What would you do with it?
Aside from gardening, I mean.
Would you use the opportunity to develop skills that align with the industry you’re already in? Future-proof yourself with a suite of courses to help you speak intelligently on emerging trends? Really go to town on a personal project of no extrinsic value, for the sheer joy of it? Start a band? Master those wonky clouds that mar the landscapes you secretly paint in your garage when the hollowness of your day-to-day existence threatens to overwhelm you? Fly to Italy and apprentice yourself to a legendary chef? Start a podcast about anime?