In “How Connected Are You?” I discussed my observation that coaching clients who are lonely often don’t achieve their goals. That’s no surprise, given that research has shown that being lonely over a prolonged period of time can actually be life-threatening.
Yet, if there’s any one thing that derails our coaching clients more than being lonely, it’s not having purpose. I like to call this “not knowing your why.”
He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche
What’s the Purpose?
Most people who hire a coach have a good idea about what they want to work on in coaching. But, surprisingly, they sometimes don’t know why they want to work on specific goals. If they don’t know their “why,” they end up asking, “What’s the purpose?”
I coached a college student whose goal was to make a 3.0 or higher cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA). When I asked him why he wanted to achieve that goal, he said, “So I can get a good job when I get out of college.” Yet, when I asked him what kind of work he wanted to do, he said he didn’t know.
Going into his fourth semester in college, my client had already changed majors twice because he was bored with his classes and didn’t see any purpose in taking them. His cumulative GPA was 1.8, and he had accumulated only 27 credit hours, instead of 35 – 45 hours that a 4-year college student typically acquires by the end of three college semesters.
My client’s first major was Mechanical Engineering. He chose this major because he liked building things and figuring out how to put things together. He got a kick out of making creative inventions. Yet, he disliked explaining all the steps needed to derive answers for Calculus problems and following detailed instructions for large “projects.”
My client’s second major was International Studies. He chose this major because he was fairly fluent in three languages and liked to travel. Yet, he didn’t like International Relations, Global Ethics, or some other courses that he had to complete in order to graduate with a degree in International Studies. Again, he found these classes boring. He also didn’t like writing the long essays that the courses required. He just didn’t see the purpose.
The Gap Between Goals and Purpose
When I started coaching him, my client was toying with the idea of changing his major again. Yet, when I reviewed the Undergraduate Bulletin and Degree Requirements for the potential major with him, he realized that he would run into some of the same issues that he had with the other majors.
Additionally, one of my client’s goals was to make a salary of at least $ 70,000 within two years of graduation. We did some research for the third major he was considering and found out that he could expect to make about $ 30,000 – $ 35,000 upon graduation and perhaps $ 40,000 – $ 45,000 within two years of graduation.
My client was stuck. He didn’t like any of his options. In short, he couldn’t connect his goals with the purpose of his being in college. His goals alone were not enough. He just couldn’t find his way.
The Connection Between Suffering and Purpose
When I dug deep with this college student, my impression was that either he wasn’t ready for college or that he might be better off pursuing vocational interests that did not require a college degree.
I don’t think my student understood that he didn’t necessarily need to “like” all of the required courses in order to pursue a particular degree. In fact, I found that he wasn’t willing to “suffer through” courses that he didn’t like in order to reach his goals.
In the classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl describes how he developed his approach to psychotherapy (known as logotherapy) during and partly because of his suffering in World War II concentration camps. Frankl believes that:
- Everyone suffers, and suffering is an unavoidable component of life.
- Suffering is inherent in finding purpose or one’s “search for meaning.”
- A person’s search for meaning is his or her primary motivational force.
In the four concentration camps where Frankl was imprisoned over a period of several years, only 5% of his fellow prisoners survived. Frankl observed that those who survived actually accepted their suffering:
Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. We had realized its hidden opportunities for achievement, the opportunities which caused the poet Rilke to write, “Wie viel ist aufzuleiden!” (How much suffering there is to get through!). Rilke spoke of “getting through suffering” as others would talk of “getting through work.” – Viktor Frankl
Acceptance of Suffering
Now, it’s not that one has to suffer in order to graduate from college or to accomplish any major goal in life. However, if we expect not to suffer at all, we’re probably setting ourselves up for disappointment, resentment, and failure.
This concept of “acceptance of suffering” is becoming more meaningful to me as I get older. It’s almost as if older people need to be even more prepared than others to experience suffering. As they say, “Getting old is not for sissies!”
My husband and I have a friend who was diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition the same week he retired last May. The condition affects his speech and mobility, and he now uses a walker to keep from falling.
My husband said to our friend a few days ago, “I’m sure this wasn’t what you signed up for.” He responded, “No, I didn’t sign up for it, but it’s good it didn’t come on earlier.”
Wow! What an inspiration our friend is to us and others! He seems to accept his condition. Or, from another point of view, one might say that he accepts his suffering.
We also sense that our friend still finds purpose in life each day. And that he is grateful.
What’s Your Purpose?
It’s not only college students and young adults who sometimes have trouble finding their why and figuring out their how. People of all ages go through stages in which they search for meaning. And people of all ages need help with determining goals that are tied to a genuine sense of purpose.
All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber
At LaMountain & Associates, we help our clients figure out what they are running from, to, and why. Please contact us for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to explore if our coaching services would be a good fit for you!