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Self-coaching and Finding Your Passion

I’m a big fan of Pinterest. I mostly pin pretty interiors photos and pictures of the great outdoors. But it’s a much more versatile tool than that. There are lots of coaching posts on Pinterest too, which often link to interesting blogs.

My question is whether Pinterest is useful for self-coaching, and to what extent can self-coaching help you?

My answer is that self-coaching can certainly be valuable. I coached myself to a massive career change so can attest to this.

My caveat is that coaching yourself is hard because you won’t always recognise the unconscious assumptions and beliefs that you hold about yourself and about the world. You won’t always push yourself in a way that a coach does to dig deeper, to do uncomfortable thinking. And you won’t always recognise two crucial things. You won’t necessarily see patterns of thinking, behaviour and preferences. And you won’t naturally notice your own unique skills and attributes because of how familiar these are to you.

My self-coaching was successful because I had already had a lot of coaching with other coaches, and because I had already done coach training using different methodologies so could access a huge range of tools. I wasn’t as susceptible to limiting beliefs about myself or my situation as I might otherwise have been, and I didn’t get stuck in the self-discovery stage of coaching so was able to take action (this is where a lot of self-help, whether in books or online, falls down).

How useful is self-help?

A Pinterest pin that I read this week inspired this post.

Mine is an anti-thesis to the advice given. And a caution about how to self-coach effectively.

I’m going to use just a small part of the pin content to illustrate my point.

The pin asks “Want to know how to find your passion? The quickest way is to ask these 10 questions...”

The premise of the post is that an adult it’s common to feel like you are not living as you want to, that there seems to be something missing in your life. And that finding what you are passionate about and doing more of that, will improve your life, and take those feelings away.

In principle I agree with this. It’s important to do things that you feel enthused and excited by.

However, I don’t agree that identifying a latent passion will solve the problem of feeling directionless or bored or un-sustained. And it won’t help you to find a job that fulfils you. What you need to do is to find more effective ways of examining what you value in the here and now (which may or may not be informed by what you valued in the past).

The first two passion-identifying questions are these:

1. What was your favourite thing to do growing up?

2. When you were a child, what did you dream of doing when you grew up?

These questions can unearth important data. They are meant to point, I think, to things that you find psychologically immersive and that get you into a state of flow (total positive absorption in a task).

But in and of themselves they aren’t useful. You’ll need to dig deeper than surface level to figure out what the data you uncover means.

The biggest problem with the first question is that as we mature our interests and our tastes change. This question suggests that your tastes are immutable. It intrinsically assumes that there is valuable information about you to be found in those childish interests. But why would this be the case? Passions and interests change with experience and circumstance.

Here’s an example. As a child I loved to play hide and seek in the ferns on the mountain behind my gran’s house. This doesn’t tell me much that I can use in service of finding my passions. I still love the smell of ferns in summer, and I love to be outside. But I’ve had several periods in my adult life when I spent a lot my time outdoors doing things in nature, when I still felt directionless and sad.

The second question is more misleading because what you wanted to do when you were growing up has little bearing on the realities of work.

As children we have little to no idea about what jobs actually entail.

The reality of working-life is that jobs seldom provide the excitement and exhilaration that constitutes childish passions. Even while doing things you love, there are usually trade-offs, so an adult what you should be looking for is not unbridled passion, but a balance between what is valuable to you, and the things that aren’t valuable to you, but that are comfortable compromises. Finding a career in which you feel comfortable and at ease is less about passion and more about equilibrium and value.

For example, all of my teenage years I wanted to be an actor. I spent almost all of my free time rehearsing or performing. I frequently experienced immersion and flow. I was deeply passionate about it. But I am quiet and private and not at all showy, which are characteristics somewhat at odds with being an actor. The life of a performer is more than their performances. It is also auditioning, and touring, and frequent unemployment (for most), and being around people all the time, and scrutiny, and reviews, and anti-social hours, and relationship/family un-friendly environments, and big egos, and sycophancy… and I found that in the decade I worked in theatre it was not a world in which I felt comfortable or at ease.

This second question, however, can yield useful data if you approach it from a coaching perspective. Because if you ask a follow up question “what was it about X (in my case acting) that you particularly valued?” you can start to build a picture of what drives and motivates you. In short, what you value. I can say, about acting, that I loved to be immersed in a performance, that I liked understanding a character and sharing that character with an audience, that I enjoyed analysing the text for nuance, that I enjoyed exploring the history and context of plays, that the collaboration of playing against another actor and reacting to what they brought to their performance, the elements of exploration and play… those things were what I liked.

Again, though, this is not enough information. These are things that are very specific to a particular activity or role. So another coaching question is required to start to understand patterns and to get a clearer picture. A good follow up question could be “what was it about X (acting) that you have valued in other situations?”

In response to this I can identify that in academia and teaching I like to work with what students bring to a tutorial, their ideas and knowledge – that there is a collaborative element to the work, that I like the energy of teaching (which is not totally dissimilar from a performance), that I enjoy the learning, challenge and deep thinking required, I like examining possibilities and trying to piece together answers to problems. And from this, a pattern begins to emerge – one that says that I value collaboration, learning, exploration, analysis and performance.

With further coaching questions it’s possible to drill deeper and to start to home in on deeply held values. But it’s the deeper examination, and the recognition of patterns that is useful here, not knowing what, as a child, you wanted to do when you grew up.

There are eight more questions in the post, but each one will yield similar results: a superficial examination of your interests. So I shan’t analyse each one. This is why I would caution against self-coaching from this sort of content. You may find out an interesting thing or two, but not the kind of thing that will motivate productive action.

In fact, I would strenuously caution against using this kind data to guide any action with regard to major change. Because if you use the superficial answers to make decisions, you’ll be leaping from one unsatisfying situation to the next. What you need, rather, is to ask questions that reveal patterns about what you deeply value. From that exercise numerous passions and interests might emerge. Ones that are flexible and adaptable. Ones that are not tied to fantastical thinking about a mythical “what you were born to do with your life”. This is because the activities you undertake in life are not the point when you are looking for life-satisfaction. The point is what you get from that activity that coheres with what you deeply value, or what you need at any given point in time.

If you want to read more about a values-led coaching approach, you might also enjoy this blog post:

Have you found self help useful? Do you use Pinterest for self-help inspiration? I'd love to hear how it has worked for you.


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