I Don’t Know (A New Advice Column for Coaches)

“I don’t know” holds much magic.
(And I’m plenty magic these days.)

I’m thinking of starting a coaching advice column, but with a twist. My answer would pretty much always be, “I don’t know,” with lots of words after and ending with, “Maybe it always starts with us.”

Someone recently asked a very wonderful question about what we do when a client’s ego will not allow them to recognize that all of their accomplishments and external successes are not bringing them closer to the happiness they desire. This lovely someone asked how we can coach them into an awareness of their need for love, connection, and community over achievement.

Specifically, our conversation went like this:

Dear James-Olivia,

I feel that above and beyond all of this is the need for a person to connect deeply with themselves. Then they can connect authentically with others rather than from an egotistical position which is less truthful. It seems that the human experience starts with true love connection and then we grow away from this as we develope in our worlds as egotistical beings. Many of us then spend most of our adult life trying to get back to the truth of who we are, love! This is where true happiness and fulfilment exists. Many never actually get this or are even aware of this process.

So my question is…What do we do with our clients to create the awareness of this process without causing them to back away? The client who has reached all their goals and is still unhappy or unfulfilled needs to understand this process, but quite often is a very strong ego centred person who has been driven to achieve and be successful on the outside. Ego can be a hard nut to crack!!! Any thoughts?


Dear KP,

I do wish I had that answer. I really don’t know how we convince a client that their true happiness and fulfillment will not ultimately be found in their achievements and external successes, nor do I believe that to be my job (besides, I’m wrong about a lot of stuff).

I do, however, believe the adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” It also works the other way; when the teacher is ready, the student will appear. I have yet to convince anyone who wasn’t interested in my brilliance that I had an iota of wisdom they needed (despite my most concerted–and ironic–efforts). Also, no one has ever taught me anything I wasn’t ready to learn (I’m determined and ridiculous that way, and I find that I’m not alone in it.)

You’re so right about the ego being a tough nut to crack, and I think perhaps you’ve partially answered your own question in your intuitive understanding that the truth of who we are is love. I also agree that many clients are not aware of the process of returning to that truth. The beauty of love is that a person’s awareness of what is happening doesn’t stop us from being a part of the process of loving people, and we can start the process by doing the work of making ourselves safe for one another.

The ego fears, among other things, judgment. What is more loving–and less judgmental– than curiosity? We can be curious about ourselves, our world, our biases, the beliefs and values we have been taught and that we hold dear, the institutions and systems we participate in and uphold, the constructs we accept, the behaviors we normalize, and then… then we can be curious about our clients. When we are safe for ourselves, we become safe for our clients.

When our clients are safe (i.e. loved and accepted), the ego softens, and an awareness of that process of getting back to the truth of what we are can look more like a gift to the soul and less like a threat to the ego. But it starts with us; we have to do our work first. If we want our clients to understand that achievement does not equal happiness or fulfillment, we could be keenly aware of the importance we place on the achievement of “getting through” to our clients. We first become the safe place of accepting our clients as they are without pushing our agendas, expectations, judgments, and hopes on them.

Maybe it always starts with us.

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