I’m fairly new to the professional coaching discipline, although I’ve facilitated multi-stakeholder processes in my career as a scientist in the mining industry. What has struck me about most of the advertising I see regarding coaching is that it’s all about How to Get What You Want, Happiness in Seven Easy Stages, Getting to the Top in Ten Steps, Achieve What You Want – NOW!
Such a positive psychology approach really does have its advantages: we have a tendency to focus almost exclusively on our failings and our shortcomings, and our problems. These inspirational and rousing phrases – and no doubt presentations and workshops – can really serve to break negative thought patterns. We create our reality with our worldview, so if we can shift perspective to see and nurture our strengths, what we feed will grow.
Nonetheless, what I’ve seen too many times in my life, not least in my corporate roles, is people “getting what they want”, only to discover that it isn’t. The position, the role, the title, the money, the house, the car, the status, the job, the right neighbourhood, the good school, the A-circle, the new partner, the recognition….yet the loneliness persists, the sense that something still isn’t quite right. There’s a void inside, no matter how full our lives appear from the outside. Irrespective of how successful we are by contemporary standards, we can’t escape the mild sense of discomforting futility or emptiness.
That’s the space where I love to work. It’s not about coaching someone – or indeed a company – to ‘get what they want’, until they’ve checked out whether what they think they want will actually fulfil their need for happiness. There is a Buddhist perspective that everyone does everything they do in the belief that it will make them happy; the corporate raider, the hijacker, the lover, the hard worker, the tennis star, the soccer mum…
Discerning the difference between what we (think we) want, and what we genuinely need to make us happy completely shifts our lives. Happiness is a by-product of a meaningful and meaning-filled life, not a purpose in and of itself! We all need money to survive in today’s economic system, but when does more equal enough? Our position or role does not dictate who we are: we bring our unique selves to our roles and positions, irrespective of what they are. That uniqueness is often constrained, constricted and largely swallowed by social expectations, family demands, the need to fit in, and our own (often implanted) limiting beliefs. Bluntly put, the excessive need for affirmation from outside stifles what is spectacularly us, on the inside. In a dreadful negative spiral, the less we recognise our internal self (in other words, what will truly make us happy), the more we need the external kudos, and the more our internal uniqueness is smothered. So we chase what we’re supposed to, rather than what is momentous for us. In a bizarre twist, the more we ignore our deep self, the more selfish we become, because the void grows.
Understanding what we want and why, at our deepest levels of self; recognising what the true consequences of pursuing that will be; and only then going after it with everything we have, liberates us, and everyone around us. We change our worlds.