When Discovery Is The Destination

August 11, 2008

I’m reading The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey. Since I’ve been a proponent of personal growth and development for most of my adult life, it surprises even me that I haven’t read a complete Covey book before. I think it’s due in part to my suspicion of “quick-fix gurus” and I mistakenly thought Covey slid into that category. Also, since I heard about him in a corporate management context, I wasn’t very interested. I wasn’t thinking creatively or expansively. Yeah, I know.

One Covey theme I knew already was “begin with the end in mind.” I embrace that approach when I ask one of my favorite questions, “To what end?” In this book he uses analogies of trips without maps and construction without blueprints. If you don’t know where you’re headed, you’re not going to get there. Fair enough. But lately I’ve been hearing people’s struggles as they try to figure out the work they’re born to do. They’re ready for change but don’t know where to head yet. How do they begin?

There are real and compelling stories about people who were working, often pretty successfully, at a job that was unsatisfying and unfulfilling. So these people made radical changes in their lives, changed careers, often to something unique and creative, and are now enjoying what they do and feeling more alive. These stories resonate in the hearts of those of us who believe in fulfillment but think ours feels like a faint memory of a dream. We think, “I want that, too!” And we look for the path to get to it.

The path is laid out. Take time to remember what naturally intrigues you, the things other people can tell are your gifts; think about ways to offer that to other people as products or services; come up with a reasonable plan to gather information and start doing the new thing part-time; and then grow it so it can replace your income and you can do it full-time.

It sounds reasonable. It makes perfect sense. And then a lot of us get stuck on the first step. While other people are in some sort of Mastermind group or other support format to keep them moving forward as they plan and then start a new career, we’re watching from the sidelines as they carry their certainty and enthusiasm thinking, “How’d they do that?”

The discussions I have with other people in this same situation point to something missing. Coaching is available for people who have a vision and maybe a goal in mind but need help developing a plan and implementing it. Therapy is available for people who are so overwhelmed by stress, depression, or self-defeating doubts that they don’t think they can make any changes at all. But what’s available for the people with normal anxiety and normal doubts who just don’t have any idea what kind of work they would enjoy?

As my wordsmith friend Darcy put it, “I wish there was someone who could just help me talk my dream out of myself.”

And this, alas, is my conundrum. What do we call that field?

As I went through the self-discovery process to find what work was a natural fit for me, I realized this is what I most want to do – help people rediscover their dreams and make them real. I thought that would be counseling. Counseling is broadly about promoting healthy growth and development. Many of the techniques of counseling were developed to help with insight and self-awareness, from the belief that increased self-awareness increases opportunities and personal control, leading to greater ability and mastery and freedom. It’s the path to self-actualization.

But counseling has become mostly psychotherapy. The guidelines for Licensed Professional Counselors in my state are written almost solely around the practice of therapy, so much so that when I called to ask questions about how to practice counseling that is not reparative or based in assessment and diagnosis, the people at the licensing board didn’t have clear answers and weren’t sure. The questions were new to them, which tells me the idea is pretty rare.

I’m still enthusiastic about coaching and am studying it because it includes a lot of personal discovery and self-awareness, but it is biased towards achieving goals so much so that the insight and awareness are almost by-products, not a primary focus.

The resolution? I don’t have a clear one yet. But I plan to struggle with the definition of a career that includes activities and steps that are focused on self-discovery and expanding insight. In a world where we are cautioned that we are more often “human doings” than “human beings,” it should be possible to make it a priority to become better at being. It should also be possible to honor the value of expanding self-awareness and insight through a process of self-discovery.

I’m certain there are a lot of people who need this, including all of us who have struggled or are still struggling with figuring out our natural work. There is an intersection of personal growth coaching and personal growth counseling. But there aren’t any streetlights here. I’m going to have to get out my flashlight and sketch what it looks like.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


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