Stuck?  Your solution doesn't start with why.

by Paul Tripp in January 11th, 2021

Imagine you're on a long journey, walking a path in a forest. As a seasoned adventurer, you are familiar with your surroundings, where you've been, and where you intend to go. Then, just like that, you realize you might be lost. You think you just walked in a circle, so you keep going to make sure you walked in a circle. A few more times around, and then you know. You ask for help. Just like that, a phone appears out of nowhere. You pick it up. Guess who's on the other end of the line?

You're stuck, in the vision of your own forest, along a path that you chose, and you need help. I get it. You picked up the phone to ask for help. So let me be clear. I don't care why you're walking in circles; I want to know where you are. If we're talking about a rescue mission, where you are is much more important than why you're there. Since the only person who can see the forest is you, it's my job to get you to tell me what you see and where you think you are. That's the starting point.

Think about your own life for a moment. When is the last time you allowed yourself the opportunity to describe the details of what you see as you look around the path you've created? Many clients are great at telling me why they got there or what will happen because they're stuck, but very few can slow down and describe what they see. A lawyer-client recently told me, "I need some serious help because all I do is work, and I'm sick of having no life." When I asked them how long they have been "sick of having no life," they replied, "About 5 years. Everyone around me is as sick of hearing it as I am saying it." Without realizing it, this client's power source had shifted into a victim stance of "I work so much I've given up control of what I want for my life." "Holy shit, this is the last message I want people to hear," they said. All I did was ask them to describe where they were and what they saw.

My dear friend Dr. Jennifer Degnan-Smith provided me with some fresh insight "This makes sense. High achieving sensing people often need to be oriented to their "where" before they can understand their why." If you're an action/results person who focuses on tasks and outcomes, providing an orientation of "where" you are in relation to your outcomes will serve you much better than a question of "why are you there?" In the beginning, high achievers might not care why they are where they are because they might not believe they have any other choice but to perform at the highest level. Their stories are often framed in terms of "succeed or fail" - there is no middle ground. I had one client tell me, "Who cares why. Help me fix it." That still makes me smile. I get it!

I realize that Simon Sinek has built an empire around "Start With Why," and in the context of how he frames the discussion, I agree. Simon's premise is that organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired if they understand the "why" of what they want to achieve. When you want to create a new vision for what your journey through a forest might look like, feel like, and become - asking yourself why you want to embark on the journey is a great starting point.

But for many who seek coaching, they are already years into the journey, which is why I start with questions of where and what. Only when we can understand where the client is and what they see, do I move to questions around "why" to help them create a new vision for their lives.

The next time you find yourself lost in the forest of your life, take a moment to explore where you are and what you see. My guess is you'll find something you were looking for.