These days, people are increasingly using executive coaching for the purpose of ‘figuring out what to do with my life’ (and ideally still be able to afford living in the Bay Area!) From high-ranking executives at globally successful companies, to startup founders who’ve sold their company and are now free to roam, to Bay Area transplants who’ve grown disenchanted with the tech scene- all have entered my practice ready to decode their personal truth, find their greater purpose, and build a personally meaningful roadmap toward their version of success.
“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.” Albert Einstein
Our personal truth serves as our unique roadmap, helping us navigate toward a future created with purpose. Every day we make choices that steer us on our personal path- our inner beliefs, preferences, sense of right and wrong all come together to drive the direction we take in life. In his book Unapologetically You, behavioral science academic and author Steve Maraboli advises us of the importance of this position: “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.”
But what if we aren’t sure of what we are meant to do, and our greater purpose seems unclear? How do we ‘know’ what’s right for us?
How can we be sure of ‘what’s best’ when we make choices for our future? Some people feel a deep sense of conviction about their life’s purpose- “I was born to make music. I was born to build. I was born to heal.” Other people don’t feel this depth of clarity, and take aim for their future by solving tangible problems first- they develop a range of practices, skills and resources to prevent commonly avoided hardships like sickness, injury, poverty, social isolation. Others feel satisfied knowing they’ve contributed to offsetting the needs of their family, community, or are embodying their religious tenets faithfully. Even with recognizable success, some people may still wonder if they they’ve adequately challenged themselves to fulfill their personal destiny or greater purpose in life. How can we ‘know’ if we’ve made the right choices for ourselves? At some point, a person’s experience of happiness and purpose comes back to personal taste, or preference for achievement.
Cultural expectations, opinions of people we admire, and social influences related to the times further shape our notions of what an ideal, purpose-driven, meaningful life looks like. How have outside influences shaped your assumptions about what you should do with your life? Without awareness of what’s driving your thoughts, feelings and behaviors it’s easy to get stuck in the habit of chasing goals without fully understanding if it’s personally important to do so. We can distract ourselves by measuring outcomes in size, volume, impact, or accumulation as a marker to indicate the degree of our success. We may even learn to rely on these outcomes to tell us how satisfied we should feel.
Three Exercises for discovering personal truth- how do you ‘know’ yourself?
Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the mind as an information processor- cognitive psychologists seek to understand human perception- the process of how we experience our emotions, how we develop mental representations, and derive genuine fulfillment from our experiences.
Bring to mind some of your favorite moments in your past. When you think about places, recreations, or experiences that you enjoy for the sake of the pleasure they gives you- try to uncover the why behind the attraction, or the feeling they’ve given you. Identify your preferences in the following areas, simply based on your experience of them: how do you ‘know’ you like them?
- areas in nature (cliffs, beaches, snowy mountains, open fields, woods, etc)
- Sounds of specific musical instruments, musical genres, or eras of music
- Social activities at a party (group games, exploratory dinner conversations, group cooking, dancing, people watching, etc)
2. Can you identify how external influences or mental representations play a role in how you developed these preferences?
- Consider how your family, social circles, workplace or local communities have shaped your understanding of how to best spend your time.
- How does the narrative you’ve adopted about your personality style (e.g. loner, leader, helper) shape your predictions of trying new experiences and how you’ll feel about them?
3. Imagine moving to a society where areas of achievement, compensation for work and the social status of various roles were completely different than what we know them to be now.
- Can you imagine choosing a role/occupation (a collection of responsibilities and activities) without knowing how this society thought of it?
- What would you be doing? (Starting an original project? Building a team after evaluating competencies in people? Leading growth?)
- How much of your attraction to these elements are because you’re familiar and/or been successful in doing these things in the past?
- If you found out there was one additional responsibility within this role/occupation that you were apprehensive to take on, what would that be?
These exercises are meant to help you uncover and tap into your personal truth, creating a guiding force for making choices in the big picture of your life path. Be patient with yourself, track the evolution of your thoughts, feelings and insights throughout the process. You’re on your way to ‘knowing’ yourself better than ever before.