We work best when we have a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose engages not just our will, but our best thoughts, our passions and gives life a much needed sense of meaning. In Proverbs it says not having vision can kill you; I would add both physically and emotionally. I’m reminded of the old Disney short cartoons that would include a businessman trudging to work at his soul-sucking day job, rings under his eyes, despondently going through the motions. Life is much better lived when it is about meaningful activity, whether at work or play, to be on purpose and engaged with those around us. If you are dissatisfied with your current job or life path, a personal coach can help you reorient yourself so you have a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
What Do You Want?
Another way to phrase this is, what are my objectives? Too often, people get an opportunity to work at some job or project, and because the money is good, or the prestige, or who is involved, they don’t pause long enough to ask, “Is this something I really want?” If we don’t ask the question, we end up living on impulse, aimless, and our sense of purpose becomes circumstantial. There’s an old business saying, “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” Brainstorm first. Wave your magic wand and put it all on paper, even the things that are a long shot or might seem silly. Asking myself what I want is how I can identify my desires and make a plan to reach my goals in life. It is a way to be kind to myself. This is an area where a personal coach can help us understand the complexities of our desires. We need to divide our goals into needs, wants, and fantasies, so we know what’s important and what has some likelihood of success. “I need a car to get to and from work” is a specific need. “I need a BMW to get to and from work” is more of a want. Transportation is a need; expensive transportation is a luxury, unless you’re going to be driving rich clients to lunch. “I need someone to give me a car” is a fantasy. What we’re really saying is I want this, but I don’t want to have to work or pay for it. Many fantasies contain this dynamic. “I want to top the charts as a singer, but I don’t want to leave Chugwater, Wyoming.” You may hail from Chugwater, but your chances for your desired advancement are severely limited if you stay there. “I want to know Spanish, but I don’t want to learn it” is another example. As a corollary to aiming at nothing, aiming at everything is likely to produce similarly aimless results. Part of the process is narrowing your focus. You have a finite amount of time, energy, money, and willpower, so you want to be working on the most important things first. Here again, a personal coach can help with this filtering process. In a sense, we’re asking ourselves to put some of our dreams on hold, and a well-reasoned second opinion can help us make those hard choices.
What are the Steps?
Once we have a pretty good sense of our objectives, we chart a path to them as a series of steps or tasks or action items, whichever language you prefer. The goal to get a car might look like, “Get a job, earn money, buy a car.” It can be that simple. Be flexible. If you reach a block in your steps see if there’s a work around and if you can’t find one, re-evaluate the goal. For example, “Get a job” only works if you have a way to get there, so a work around might be “Get a job, learn the bus route, earn money, etc.” If there’s a good bus route to your job, you might decide to push the purchase of a car (and insurance, maintenance, and gas) into the future. To have a clear picture of the path to your goal, it is good to break it down enough so the steps are clear. “Get an MBA degree, find a job as a mid-level manager” is a very high level overview. A more helpful breakdown might be, “Research business colleges, borrow money for tuition, apply, finish the courses, get a degree, find a mentorship program at a large company, take whatever job they give me to start, work my way up through promotion.” The steps may change along the way, but at least you have a reasonable path to get started. This evaluation process is greatly helped by having someone as a sounding board, which is part of the service provided by a personal coach.
Break it Down
Once you have narrowed your path down to a single main focus, you are ready to work with your personal coach to add detail to the steps. A single main focus is so you don’t have competing goals with mutually exclusive steps (like, “go to business school, get an MFA in filmmaking”). Some goals can run concurrently, but only if the steps can run concurrently. If you had a goal of “Learn the piano” and the steps of “Acquire a keyboard, find a teacher, schedule lessons,” the breakdown might look like, “Research inexpensive keyboards with weighted keys, buy one, make a space for it, review options for teachers, find one and schedule a recurring lesson, make time each day to practice, evaluate progress in six months.” You can break it down to your heart’s content, but be wary of using time planning as a way of avoiding taking action. Planning is almost always easier than execution, but actually performing the tasks you’ve outlined is how you reach your goal. If you are plagued by a great capacity for planning with a poor capacity to execute, see the section “The Enemy Within” below.
Count the Cost
Action requires expense. To accomplish anything we expend our time, our effort, our emotional energy, our mental energy, our money. Everything we do costs something. When we are planning how to meet our objectives we have to count the cost, not only to ourselves but to our loved ones. I had a friend keen on being a screenwriter who asked his wife, “What would you say if I said I wanted to move to Hollywood?” Without missing a beat, she replied, “I’d miss you.” School costs money, cars cost money, research takes energy and technology, everything we do costs us something. Go through each step of your plan and ask yourself what is the cost; to yourself, to your loved ones, and of course in dollars. One other area you have to count the cost is Opportunity Cost. This is the road not traveled. If you choose one path, you cannot concurrently choose another. You have $100 to spend. You have two items you want, each costing $60. You choose one. The one you did not choose is the Opportunity Cost. It is important to have this in mind when choosing a course of action, so that we are not blindsided at the 11th hour, grief-stricken at the thought of that road not traveled.
The Enemy Within
Sometimes we have a strong desire to move in a certain direction, but when we try to make forward motion, the wind goes out of our sails. A friend tells us we’d be perfect for a certain kind of job, and in the glow of that encouragement we find half a dozen Help Wanted ads for that kind of work. We reach for the phone, and freeze. Or an instructor says we have a gift. For one glorious moment, we imagine ourselves at the top of our game, winning awards, performing before cheering crowds. Then, the diatribe begins, the litany of our imperfections, the reasons it won’t work, the reasons why we won’t measure up. Some of these may be legitimate self-assessments and it is important to listen to those. The winnowing process of America’s Got Talent is littered with people who didn’t have loved ones with the consideration to say, “Honey, singing really isn’t your thing.” Having said that, there will always be someone “better” than us. That isn’t the issue. Out of nearly 7 billion people, you are the only you that will ever be. That matters. You bring that to your craft, whatever it is, and it will have a unique quality. Whether someone will like it or pay for it is immaterial to your creative process, though it may impact your capacity to make a living at it. Too often, however, we strangle our dreams in the crib. There are many possible underlying reasons for the debilitating voices in our creative process. We may be afraid of failure, afraid of success, we may have the critical voice of a parent, or family member, or friend ringing in our mind each time we try to step out and risk something. To move forward, we have to get off that playing field. Personal affirmations can help, such as “I deserve good things,” “I have a choice,” “I am an amazing, unique reflection of the image of God upon the Earth.” Whatever works for you. The truth is we have choice and we have agency, the capacity to move and effect change in our lives. The past is the past, the future is not written. All we have is now. And we can populate now with the next step in our plan.
Our emotional grid is formed by the trauma and good that we experience, and what we do with it. Often, in order to be able to receive good things, or be able to consistently move forward, we need some help unpacking what went into our formation. A parental voice telling us we will never amount to anything during our childhood can be very difficult to overcome. A series of humiliating setbacks can confirm our worst fears about our ability to perform or excel. Sometimes it is very valuable to enlist the aid of a licensed mental health counselor. This is someone who can walk with us through the dark places of our narrative, the places where we were traumatized, the places where we felt one down, the places where we didn’t get the nurture we needed, and help us to reframe the narrative, make room around our trauma and help us move in the direction of emotional growth and health. The more integrated we are emotionally and mentally, the better able we will be to pursue our goals. This is not easy. There is a reason they call it emotional work. This differs from personal coaching in that it is less about choosing a path forward than understanding what has gone before and how it is impacting current function. The goal is to keep trying to become a better version of you and so you can be on purpose about your forward motion toward your set goals, whether the focus is your path, or your emotional growth and health.
There is a verse in Scripture which says we do not have because we do not ask. In essence we do not have the blessings of God because we do not ask Him for them. I would expand that to say we do not have agency in our own lives because we do not ask what we want, do not ask “what’s that about?” when our goals are stopped at the gate by feelings of inadequacy or apprehension. Moving forward is much easier if we can maintain an adult position, with our fears properly weighted and in check, remembering as stated above that the past is the past (it’s not happening now), and the future is unwritten (it’s not happening now). All we have is the current moment. What we choose to do with it will determine whether or not we are moving in our intended direction. We can live with intention, and we can ask for help to keep on the path. We don’t have to go it alone. This is why a personal coach can be such a great help when charting your course.
Photos “Long Distance,” courtesy of Chris Lawton, tookapic.com, CC0 License; “Time to Think,” courtesy of Enrico, Flickr Creative Commons; “Key to My Heart,” courtesy of FoxDesign, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Spring,” courtesy of antranius, pixabay.com, CC0 License