Dave Wheitner asked:
Idealists frequently entertain ideas about how our lives and the world around us might be different. Our thinking extends beyond current reality, as we spend significant time considering the “big picture” complexities of how everything fits together in the world. Because of this, we see many problems and many possibilities that others often miss.
In fact, we may spend so much time thinking about the issues of the world that we ignore ourselves–and the future. Because living authentically is also important to us, this can decrease our personal sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, and it can decrease the energy we have to create what we care about the most.
Idealists gravitate toward causes including environmental sustainability, health and medicine, animal rights, social justice, ethical leadership, labor rights, and world peace. We may take on very formal roles such as nonprofit executive director, political leader, advocate, educator, counselor, physician, or entrepreneur of a socially and ecologically responsible business. We may occasionally volunteer or engage in civic action. Or, we may possess great concern about the issues of the world but feel too overwhelmed to act.
Coaching, whose power has long been recognized by successful corporations, is of particular benefit to idealists for many reasons. First, because we like to imagine a better world, idealists must often challenge the status quo. Humans innately resist change, so we may feel pressured to compromise our purpose and values to be accepted and viewed as practical. Coaching motivates us to explore and clarify key components of our foundation or “good side,” i.e., the core of who we are. This may include our life purpose, what things we value most, and our strengths and virtues.
Idealists, more than most, must build a particularly strong sense of self so that we’re not simply marching to the drumbeat of others. Taking the easy road may lead to feelings of conflict and lack of integrity, meaning we’re not living as energetically or powerfully as we could be. And until we learn to do this, it’s difficult to be a model for others, and to “be the change we wish to see in the world,” per Gandhi. Imagine being able to live and lead authentically, even in the face of pressure to do the same old, same old!
Secondly, our world is already filled with myriad negative images and soundbytes–violence, poverty, political leaders verbally attacking one another, crime, and so forth. Where the news media ends with this approach, those involved in social and ecological causes often begin, using shocking images and data to educate others about world problems.
Thus, many causes such as environmental sustainability, social justice, animal rights, worker rights and world peace have difficulty attracting other individuals, instead turning them away unintentionally. In fact, even organizations with common interests often end up competing rather than collaborating! This does little to advance one’s efforts, and may lead to feelings of isolation.
Life coaching can address such issues from a few angles. On one hand, coaching encourages one to practice an approach that’s proactively driven by visions of desired end results. This stands in stark contrast to the more common type of approach that’s reactively mired in problem-solving and fear. As a number of authors have explained, visions attract and energize people who can assist with our endeavors, while problems and fear do not create lasting motivation and progress.* After mastering a vision-based approach in one’s own life, one can apply a similar philosophy to larger endeavors involving other people.
Additionally, awareness of our own priority values enables us to communicate on a deeper and more meaningful level with people about common values–even if their positions or beliefs about how to solve issues are quite different from ours. Imagine engaging in meaningful and mutually beneficial dialogue, rather than simply debating and learning nothing!
Thirdly, given the daily stressors they often face, those in idealist professions must contend with exceptionally high rates of burnout, compassion fatigue, feelings of martyrdom and subsequent turnover. This is true of both paid employees and volunteers. Many individuals leave their position or even an entire field after a short time; and talented idealists often don’t remain in a field long enough to aspire to leadership levels. In several large cities, the nonprofit community is projected to have a significant shortage of qualified candidates to fill executive director positions in just a few years.
Some of this can be mitigated by learning and adopting a more positive vision-based approach, as noted above. Clarifying one’s purpose, values and wants also helps to increase energy levels and resilience, and it enhances our ability to say “No” and “Yes” more intentionally. Along with identifying our strengths, this helps us to engage in activities that resonate with our “core self” and decrease involvement in those that don’t. By learning to advocate for ourselves to the same degree we advocate for our causes, we can sustain our energies.
Related to the above, coaching can also help us to separate what matters most to us from the superficial “shoulds” that we’ve adopted from others. We may be working exceptionally hard to do the right thing, when we could actually be having more impact with seemingly less effort by living more authentically. Imagine being fulfilled enough so that you also have plenty to give others, and can focus your efforts to make a visible difference!
Life coaches can’t stop global warming on their own. Nor can they single-handedly create a world where all have the opportunity for a healthy and enjoyable life, nations are at peace, people of all races and backgrounds enjoy equal rights, humans respect other living beings, and leaders behave ethically. However, if socially and ecologically conscious individuals and organizations take full advantage of what life coaching has to offer, then a vision for a healthy and sustainable world is within our collective reach.
*A number of authors and bloggers have written on various aspects of the value of a vision-based or results-driven approach, including Bruce Elkin, Robert Fritz, Shakti Gawain, Hildy Gottlieb, Napoleon Hill, Hal Williamson and Walter Winch. I thank them for inspiring much of my thinking on this topic.