Why. It was the only word I heard this three-year-old boy ask his mother from the middle seat on my flight from Boston to Seattle. “Why, Mommy?” “Why?” At one point, I wanted to scream from the top of my lungs “Who the hell knows?” – But instead I turned up the volume on my Bose noise-canceling headphones and accepted the fact I would rather go deaf than listen to him ask “Why Mommy?” one more time.
What is your Why? You must find your purpose! Why do you do what you do? Why do you exist? All of these seemingly unanswerable questions from life coaches cause the same full-throated scream reaction whenever I hear them. My first coach asked me these questions, and I told her that if I knew these answers I wouldn’t need her. She wouldn’t give up, but I did a few months later and found a new coach.
I am finding your “Why” can’t be discovered by looking at it directly. It’s kind of like the sun; it will blind you into wild insanity. Instead, I like to work with my clients to understand the stories they tell themselves around a myriad of topics so I can begin to understand their mental landscape and they can begin to establish a verbal framework in where they are allowed to hear themselves talk. Seriously. When is the last time someone asked you open-ended questions where they listen to you without judgment, advice or mentoring?
The approach of asking open-ended questions allows us to pump oxygen into the space between us. It creates room for you to think, for me to hear and for us to see a way ahead. It’s kind of like when we built forts with sheets or sleeping bags as kids. We always had to use one arm, or a chair or the sofa so we could have some space to feel like the true secret spies that we were. Now imagine how that feeling might have changed if the fort held itself up, on its’ own?! The things we could have seen and thought! That’s the power of an oxygen filled space.
Once that space exists, magic can happen. I always marvel at how clients express their “OMG; I didn’t even see that” once we get a few sessions in. Because they can hear themselves, they can see clearer, and dream bigger; allowing them to wonder “Why” without looking directly at it. The “Why” question becomes something they want to contemplate – a curiosity unlocked. Clients realize that looking directly at the “Why” becomes a futile exercise because the answers are always on the periphery. They are what you know, but do not see.
I had a client today who stated, “It feels disingenuous when people respond to my stated need. I feel like they are responding to what I asked for when they should have already anticipated my need!” It makes complete sense – doesn’t it? How many times have you wanted the people around you to read your mind and fulfill your deepest desires without asking?
As we unpacked this story, what my client found is that they have an intuitive gift of delivering for others and feel fear around getting vulnerable by acknowledging how good it feels to be seen. The story he tells himself is that he is weak if he asks for help. This client also stated that by asking for help he believes he is causing undue stress on others and he gains his approval by finding and delivering solutions – so this “need” causes a “crack” in how he perceives his self-worth.
That led us to resentment. This Client was able to recount numerous examples of just how resentful he feels at work and home. This resentment has led to rumination which has led to a festering of anger and a range of emotions. With just a few more questions the dam broke open for him, and he was able to understand his “Why.” Why he feels resentful, why he is scared to get vulnerable, why he feels like he needs to fix everything and make everyone else happy when he never feels seen….and the self-discovery went on.”
If I had started with “Why” and probed for answers, this Client wouldn’t have been able to have a breakthrough moment because these answers were not consciously obvious.
So, what creates a breakthrough moment? The oxygen between us, the stories you tell yourself, the values you emulate, the vision you have for your life, the passion that you have to move beyond your current circumstance, and my ability to ask thought-provoking open-ended questions.
And then one day you know, doing nothing is no longer an option. Are you ready to show up?