Christian, a successful entrepreneur in his late-fifties, had accumulated substantial wealth with his company producing supplies for the automotive industry. He had come to me for coaching because he had lately been plagued by an unspecific restlessness and dissatisfaction with his life. His unpleasant state had caught him by surprise, and he could identify no logical reason for his feelings. On the contrary; he had reached a point in his life at which he could finally enjoy the fruit of his labour. His company was running smoothly, the kids were nearly out of the house, and he finally had free time to spend with his wife and on the golf course. ‘I don’t know what is wrong with me. It is as if the colours were drained from my life. I have been looking forward to this point in my career a long time and I feel I have sacrificed a lot to get here. But now, it all feels stale.’
Christian had seemed tired and disengaged at the beginning of our conversation. As I walked him through the levels of the iceberg, explaining the connection between our behaviours, feelings, thoughts, values, and needs, he became more and more animated. As soon as I had finished explaining the last need, Christian’s finger went straight to meaning/significance. He exhaled deeply. ‘This is it. This is why everything seems so pointless. For the longest time in my life, I was focused on creating stability and safety — for my company, my employees, my customers. But somehow, this doesn’t feel meaningful anymore. I am just not sure if making plastic casings for car headlights is my purpose. I think my iceberg is lopsided.’
Christian and I talked about how over the course of our lifetime and depending on our circumstances, the focus on our needs changes. In our twenties, autonomous self-expression may be the driving force for most of our actions. Once we have a family or other people who depend on us, creating safety/predictability may become more prominent. And once we have achieved sufficient stability, the need for meaning/significance may become more prominent. Every person experiences these shifting of priorities in different ways. But usually, we will observe change over time and with the focus on different needs, our values will shift as well. And although fluctuations are natural, we need to attend to all of our needs in some shape or form in order to feel our life is balanced. So far, every one of my clients who felt dissatisfied with their life was able to pinpoint one or more needs they had neglected for too long.
Upon understanding that he did not feel his life was meaningful or that he was doing something significant, Christian’s energy surged. In order to identify what would feel meaningful/significant to him, we talked about the values he stood for. He identified two core values he wanted to use as his North Star: community and future generations.
Christian began to think about ways he could benefit his organization by applying these two core values. Very practically, he began to re-design the layout of the cafeteria in the building, and he hired a caterer specialized in organic food. He created a physical space, which invited people to engage as a community; to meet and speak while nourishing body and soul with healthy foods. In order to promote more cross-generational communication, Christian initiated a two-way mentoring process: The most senior workers and leaders in his organization were invited to dedicate an hour every two weeks for one of the younger employees, and the most junior hires were asked to mentor one senior in whatever they felt was important in their world; from social networking to the use of technology.
Slowly but surely, Christian noticed the changes in the company’s culture; there was more communication in the hallways and in the cafeteria, which allowed for a more fluid and informal approach to problem solving and innovation. People simply talked more and with more openness. Inspired by all the change he witnessed, Christian made the decision to postpone his golfing career and instead signed up with a foundation supporting the development of NGO-leaders worldwide. In our last session he concluded: ‘I feel I am now the captain of my iceberg, perhaps for the first time in my life. I am much more conscious about where to invest my energy, and I realized just how important making a difference is to my personal sense of purpose.’
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