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On Philosophy and Coaching...

January 25, 2017

 

"Well, now you can earn a living and have a soul..."

 

The above quote, whilst obscure, does have a backstory to it.  In the fall of 2005, I was completing my honours degree in philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan; I had completed a degree in Finance a year-and-a-half prior.  In one of my final senior philosophy classes, the professor asked us to introduce ourselves, and give a brief background on how we came to be in the class.  When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned my previous degree, and expressed my interest in pursuing my current one.  The professor looked at me with a slight smirk, and delivered the aforementioned quote, much to the amusement of myself and the class.

 

The idea stuck with me, and made sense -- though my interpretation of it has changed over time.   At the time, the assumption was that I would finish my philosophy degree, and pursue more "practical" means of employment -- leaning heavily on my previous financial education.  My professor insinuated I could do so, while possessing the moral aptitude to not be some swindling businessman, as many tropes would have you believe.  Now, please do not misinterpret me; I fully understand that there are very few "practical" avenues for philosophy to play the central role in employment, save teaching (the days of Aristotle and Plato musing for a living are well-and-gone past, and I have seen the "I Have a Philosophy Degree: WHY Would You Like Fries With That" t-shirts...).  I may have toyed with the notion of becoming a professor during my studies, but I was taking philosophy because it genuinely interested me.  Only after looking back through the lens of time do I understand how much of an impact it had beyond simple interest.

 

I've come to realize that philosophy is a credible, even vital, background to almost any profession -- in fact, it's a pretty good background to apply to life itself.  One of the biggest slams against philosophy is the perpetual asking of, "Why?".  Taken to an extreme, of course it can be laughable (as in the aforementioned t-shirt gag); however, understanding our why is pivotal in explaining not only where we succeeded, but also where we failed.  It pushes us to peel back the proverbial onion layers and learn about the root cause of our actions.  Do they stem from stories we've told ourselves for too long?  Are they a machination of our beliefs and prejudices?  Have we honed our skills, and now perform at an exemplary level?  These can all be traced back using the question, "Why?".

 

Beyond the why, philosophy teaches us how to think as well.  Whether it be logical reasoning or the ability to ask intelligent questions, philosophical thought can be an amazing means to be both introspective, and apply ourselves to our lives outwardly.  We do not need to read volumes of Hume, Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard to pull back some figurative veil of ignorance -- we just need to be open to understanding why we do what we do, how we go about doing it, and have the awareness to be accountable for all of it.

 

All of this applies directly to the techniques used in coaching.   This way of thinking allows a coach to open up their frame of reference to understand how their client thinks, and enables us to provide a third-party awareness that a client may need in order to discover the path they want to take.  If a client does not fully understand why they have not accomplished a goal, or even why they want to accomplish one, we work together to discover it.  Once a client has their why, the how becomes the focus; action steps and planning that we put in place help define that how, and primes the client for success.

 

Ultimately, the values of philosophical thought cannot be overstated, when applied to life in general, and more specifically when working as a coach.  It's an education I rely on day-in and day-out, and one that I proudly use to deliver the best service I can to anyone I meet with.

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