Stop asking about Life Purpose! Don’t upset your clients by asking about something that doesn’t really exist! by Maria Biquet
My dear fellow coaches,
I am writing this letter to you with all my love and support to save you time and energy in the coaching relationship.
What is the purpose of the “life purpose” question?
A relatively common question in the coaching process is “what is your purpose in life?” Lots of articles, Coaching methods and proposed Sets of coaching questions include this question as vital for the development of a person.
By asking this serious question, you should/need to consider and think how the client might feel if they have to give you an answer during a coaching conversation, particularly if this isn’t a question instigated by themselves. This is a difficult, almost “philosophical” question, that most people don’t usually think about.
The way that the coaching process is typically applied in the organizational setting has its own purpose: to help the client to achieve a specific result, to attain a goal or to increase self-awareness among others. The process is based on learning and more specifically on learning the ability to learn. Learning is a continuous never-ending process that leads to our improvement and maturity. The question, driven by the client, is what do they want to learn about.
So, in this context of continuous discovery and learning, is there room for the most important and most serious question that philosophy has asked about the human existence? Since the ancient times of humanity, eastern and western philosophy and most religions have tried to invent answers to this question by creating complex thinking systems, intellectual theories and gods. The existential question “why we exist” still remains unanswered with no obvious options or clues about what “purpose of life” might be.
A client who is in the process of “learning to learn” is focused on the really vital issues of deepening their self-awareness, developing new thinking and trying new functional behaviors.
Asking a person about their “life purpose”, we require them to wonder about their own existence: why they exist.
It’s about timing, readiness and openness of the client to explore this question as part of their coaching agenda. And so, when the question about life purpose is suddenly asked, it doesn’t really offer more than a bit of astonishment to clients, particularly those who are more senior executives and or a sense of awe for “the Coach who asks so deep questions” to those who are considered less mature and probably a little naive.
Does it really add value to the conversation?
People seriously wonder about their purpose in life. Some common examples are when:
They are going through a crisis (midlife, death of a beloved person etc).
They are in clinical depression.
Things don’t go well and are disappointed.
If your Coaching assignment is related to one of the above cases, or one of those conditions has happened during your coaching relationship, then the question might come up from the side of the Coachee as part of their internal dialogue in that specific period of time.
All three cases however need to be managed with utmost care and vigilance - especially the second in which you will need to refer the client to a psychiatrist - because the client is in a delicate condition and needs support. If the question arises from his side, you may discuss it in a “theoretical – philosophical” framework which I believe lies outside the coaching framework. Since there are no answers to this question, any opinions expressed for this question depict our personal views and attitudes towards life and might cause a serious breach of connectedness and trust between you and the client at a deeper level, particularly if each has a contrary personal philosophy.
What will happen if you believe that Life doesn’t have Purpose and the Coachee believes that their Life Purpose is their work? How can you persuade them that a Purpose that changes over time is not Life Purpose? What will happen to your “rapport”, “trust”, “reliability”, “sense of connectedness” after such a fundamental disagreement?
In fact the question “what is your purpose in life” is a very deep philosophical question which, like all philosophical questions, doesn’t have an ultimate answer. Have you ever asked yourself about your own life purpose? What have you discovered? Did you end up with a clear answer why you exist and therefore what the purpose of your life is? When we, the coach, are in a difficult condition we may wonder about why we exist and what life is about but cannot really add much value in a coaching conversation where we need to coach a person to their own improvement. It may confuse or upset or stress the client who is in a process of discovering, learning and evolving their strengths.
We are proud to be coaches and we must be aware that we do a serious profession with our clients leading and supporting them in their journey to self- improvement; our questions should take them to their next step in their learning and not confuse or divert them to vague existential issues that will eventually blur their sight and distract them from their goal, especially if it isn’t their goal/agenda.
Is there purpose in life?
Final words to my dear fellow coaches: In fact there is no answer to the question about life purpose simply because there is no life purpose as such. Life Purpose is linked to our existence and therefore it is a fixed, permanent and steady target throughout our life. It is the answer to the “why do I exist?” question.
In real life we have different “purposes” depending on our stage of life and evolvement; our “life purpose” is in fact a “life goal” that continuously evolves in quality and contents as we become more mature.
In every decade our approach to life changes as we grow older and gain experience; we often see the following stages related to “purposes” in emotionally healthy people:
in our twenties we want to learn and become good professionals at what we do;
in our thirties we work hard to become leaders;
in our forties our efforts are focused on becoming an excellent leader;
in our fifties we realize that we should start creating other leaders…etc.;
at the same time our life may become more colorful with the addition of some more private “purposes” related to family creation and care for children and spouses, self-development, cultivation of some artistic talent or other interest.
Let’s keep our clients to the present. Help them define real targets and “purposes” and work towards them with joy, passion and dedication. Their learning happens in the process which consists of small targets and small victories that lead them to becoming their better self. And that is the biggest purpose for the journey of life.
Warmest regards, Maria
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