A Research Paper By Maria Stefansdottir, Executive Coach, ICELAND
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? Find the Answer With the Support of Coaching
What do you want to be when you grow up? Who hasn’t been asked this question a million times as a kid? My daughter got so tired of it already by the age of 6 that she started to answer, “I’m going to become the boogeyman,” – which created a lot of laughter but not an end to this question. She changed her mind, and I’m happy to say that she is now working as a successful business specialist with her engineering degree and loves her job.
My interest in finding my true passion and making a living of it has been with me for a long time. The belief that everybody has unique strengths they should use for themselves and the greater good is somehow appealing. It sounds so simple and given that everyone should know what they are passionate about and at the same time good at, but the truth is it isn’t. In fact, it’s very complex. In the USA, 15% percent of the working population literally hate their jobs, and 66% are unhappy with their jobs (Burnett & Evans, Designing your life, 2016). Of course, some people have known all along, and I’m sure you can quickly think of at least one to two persons in your close circle working from their true element and loving it. But I’m also sure you can’t point at more than three to four. So why is it that not more of us are doing the desirable “right” thing and being our “true self”? When you are not doing what is meant for you, what you love to do and are truly good at, you may feel that something is wrong, something is not right, and you are not in peace with yourself and the universe. You may not see it or experience it clearly, but this itch or feeling sometimes becomes so strong that you need to respond and do something about it. You might be successful in your carrier but still not happy if you are not doing what you love to do. If your spirit is constantly heavy, you know you need to change something in your life. My intention here is to explore how people can go on this quest for their passion and how coaching can support you in finding your true calling and how to go for what you want to do if you find it or know it already. That can be more challenging than the search itself. The good news is that it’s never too late to get the life that you love.
What Can You Do?
When reading through some of the massive literature on this subject it’s quite easy to get lost but there are some main findings that stand out:
- It helps to connect with your inner self by meditating and quieting your mind
- There are tools and exercises you can use to find your calling
- This journey is neither simple nor straightforward; on the opposite, it’s complex, and it takes courage
Why does it help to meditate? Your mind is constantly working overtime, and it’s more complicated to calm it than one would think. As Ken Robinson describes so well in his book Finding your Element, one of the aims of meditation is to reduce this noise so that you can experience deeper levels of consciousness. He describes an old analogy where the turbulence of thinking is compared to the waves and ripples of the surface of a lake. You need to calm the disrupted surface to see into the depths beneath(Robinson, 2013). Meditating is relatively a simple act in itself; still, most people find it difficult and don’t manage to make a habit of it. However, when regular meditation is accomplished, the promised rewards are high on many levels. By silencing your mind, you can see yourself more clearly. A thought or an idea that hasn’t had a space or gotten attention before now receives a chance to surface and be nurtured.
Tools and Exercises:
How can you know what it is that you genuinely love to do? The book Designing your life has a selection of exercises designed to help people find their true purpose by teaching how to use design to figure it out. There are many brilliant exercises in this book, but you must be willing to ask yourself some hard questions. Here is an example of an exercise from the book that has proven to be very powerful and inspiring for my clients and me. They call it The good time journal (Burnett & Evans, Dave, The Designing Your Life Workbook, 2016)
It helps you figure out which tasks at work you genuinely love to do if any. That is a piece of valuable information that supports finding your passion. This exercise requires that you keep a journal over at least three weeks and write down when you are in “the flow” and engaged. They explain flow as engagement on steroids. Being in a state of flow means that you experience some of these attributes (Burnett & Evans, Designing your life, 2016):
- Experience complete involvement in the activity
- Feeling a sense of ecstasy or euphoria
- Having great inner clarity – knowing just what to do and how to do it
- Being totally calm and at peace
- Feeling as if time were standing still – or disappearing in an instant
You grade your activities to get a clearer picture of what you like and what you don’t like. Suppose you are true to yourself and do this exercise persistently over a few weeks. In that case, there is always something interesting to work on from there. For instance, you might love to engage in deep conversations where you are listening and helping colleagues with their challenges. What does that tell you? As a leader, you might love the most to assist other people to grow, which might be an indicator of something. In the book Finding your Element, there are also many exercises with similar goals but use different methods (Robinson, 2013).
The Journey of Living Your Passion
There are countless tools and exercises, and some people go through many of them. By doing so persistently, they just might come to a valuable finding. Then what? How often haven’t you heard sentences like “I always wanted to become a writer, but that doesn’t pay the bills”; or “Now I know that I truly want to become a high school teacher, but it would be insane to leave my high paying job as a banker to fulfill that dream”. It’s not enough to know what it is you want to do; you need to be willing to take action to pursue it. If you are one of the lucky ones that discover your passion in life, it’s an exciting new beginning of an era that can be both challenging and tough. It takes courage to follow through, where coaching can be of great support. What is stopping you from taking up more space and growing? What does it take to move from what often includes comfort and safety and serves our material needs – but is perhaps unfulfilling and boring – towards a life that might be more complex and challenging, less safe, but spiritually more fulfilling? The things that are stopping you often only exist in your own mind.
How Can Coaching Support
Whatever people are looking for, the answer is to be found within them. But they must be willing to take on the journey to unveil it. The coach can support the client on the journey to get to know who they are, which is often quite disturbingly different from who they have become. In between sessions, when the client is still searching for the one true passion, the coach can offer the client exercises that the coach has done for himself before with success. As described above, the book Design your life provides a lot of exercises, but it might be a bit overwhelming to do them all. However, some of them, like discovering the flow, might support findings during coaching sessions and help clients be more determined in their search for their true passion. When the client has mapped out what it is that he/she wants to accomplish, that is the beginning of another journey where the coach can be continuous support. If the question of what I want to be when I grow up has been answered, coaching can help the client overcome the obstacles, face their fears, and get the life they deserve.
Coaches help clients see themselves without judgment. A coaching session is a safe space where you can share your thoughts and see yourself differently by being asked some powerful and mind-blowing questions. The coach is curious and doesn’t know it all, so the coach asks questions the client might never have heard or answered before. That leads to the discovery of underlying beliefs. What’s holding you back? What are you afraid of? What does it take to break the chains and face your fears? Is it as impossible as you thought? Or is it maybe just you that’s been stopping you from moving on to your beautiful future and the life worth striving for? The courage is there, and the way forward lies ahead, and you know where to go; you just need to find the courage and see the path that’s been there all this time.
The coach can help find courage by reframing perspectives. People tend to see things their way, the way they are used to, and often get stuck because they cannot see it differently. It helps get a gentle push to look in a different direction and see things from another perspective. Questions like “What would you do if you were brave?”, “What would your fearless self do?” or “What would you do if you knew you would succeed?” can open possibilities that were not there before.
People tend to justify their own lives but still think that things are not as they should be. The coach can explore with the client what it is about their life that doesn’t feel right and what needs to be changed. The urgency can be minor or significant; the less it is, the harder it is to change. As Marion Franklin points out in her book The heart of laser-focused coaching, people are more motivated (90%) to move away from pain than to move towards pleasure(Franklin, 2019). By gaining clarity on the possibilities and your longings, the choice of making a change from a safe, comfortable life to a life that offers more fulfillment becomes more desirable.
To conclude, coaching is excellent for people when they want to move on with their lives. They know they want to change but not exactly how or what they want to change. Coaching is a process that offers a safe, judgment-free space where it’s all about you, your inner thoughts, and hidden dreams and helps you step by step to take the necessary action towards a bigger and more fulfilling life. As said in the beginning – it’s never too late.
Burnett, B., & Evans, D. (2016). Designing your life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Burnett, B., & Evans, Dave. (2018). The Designing Your Life Workbook. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.
Franklin, M. (2019). The heart of laser-focused coaching. Wroclaw: Amazon Fulfillment.
Robinson, K. (2013). Finding your Element. New York: Penguin Books.