July 15, 2024


At the beginning of just about every coaching engagement I’ve had over the last 15 or more years, I’ve asked, “What do you want?”. And it’s pretty universally a very difficult question to answer honestly.

Why do I say that?

It’s easy to come up with an off-the-cuff answer like “win the lottery” or “a new BMW M5” or “a promotion.”

I find answers like that suspect and not of much value for the coaching session.  Traditionally these types of answers come from the Knower/Judger side of our being. For the most part, they are learned—taught to us by our environment (parents, peers, comparisons, metrics) to be conversational in nature and ready to proffer at a moment’s notice (or when the coach asks!).

I usually then ask, “Why do we want what we want?”

And now we get to peel the onion and dig deeper.

If the end result of accomplishing the “want” is to step over somebody (in salary, position, sponsorship, race track performance), then the foundation of the want is judgmental. Saying I “want” to be better than someone is pure K/J and, in my experience, not particularly helpful toward the growth that most of my mentees are looking for. Yet it’s easy to quantify a “want” when it’s measured against something or someone else, isn’t it? For most of my clients, it’s the only foundation they’ve ever explored. Self-improvement gurus have been selling the “climb over your neighbor” dream for decades. And while that can be temporarily satisfying, my experience has shown that:

  1. It does not last long (i.e., no real “change” is involved), and
  2. It doesn’t usually contribute much to overall happiness.

What’s the problem here? We all know that the metrics of life (money, status, position in the company, athletic acumen, etc.) measure our social well-being. But what defines success along those scales? Society does. And that’s not me wanting something—it’s society convincing me I want it. Hence, it’s coming from my K/J persona.

So, Kim, what is a more productive “want”? One that, when achieved, actually produces real change?

First let me say that even the K/J wants are capable of feeding us—giving us an improved sense of accomplishment, for example—and can still form worthwhile “goals.” If my ego’s involved, then there’s really no problem with pursing more money, status, etc. I just can’t fool myself into believing that’s what I really want.

I can think about the additional money I might earn and ask, “What does that buy?”  or “Who can that help?” How does that manifest itself in a new life for me?” And I’m starting to get through to the real want. I think too often we stop short of the real want by getting distracted by other stepping stones (in this case money) on the way there.

When I can engage my Learner/Researcher, I can see how the desired change will add to my quality of life through physical and mental health, relationships, and reduced struggle. And it’s quite possible that getting there is aided by some K/J stepping stone (like money). I maintain that as long as the L/R want stays in focus, the K/J stepping stone isn’t really a learned societal want but a rational requirement to get to the real want.

It boils down to this question: “What do I want for me?” It appears pretty self-centered—it gets to what I want to be, regardless of how it relates to the rest of the world (avoiding K/J judgments and comparisons).

I exercise and run quite regularly. I don’t even really like running (boring!), so I break the chore into short-term wants (e.g., I want to run a certain distance at a certain pace). That’s completely about me. I’m not really competing against anyone but myself in trying to keep pace with my younger self. What do I really want? I want to live as long as I can physically competent. And this is a rational (K/J) stepping stone to support that (L/R) want.

I ballroom dance. Again, it’s not that my be-all, end-all goal is to be on Dancing with the Stars. It’s to nurture relationships with my wife and my circle of friends. And it also contributes to that longer, physically competent life.

So if you’re in a position to ask yourself “What do I want?”, try peeling the onion and ask “Why do I want that?” And then ask it again… and again… and again until you get down to the non-egoist, just-for-me, “cuz it makes my life whole” answer.

Now you’ve got it.

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