A Coaching Power Tool Created by Betsy Sajdak
(Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart – this you will build your life by and this you will become.-James Lane Allen
I have a long history with the word SATISFACTORY. In fact, much of my lower school years were spent trying to move many of my grades from SATISFACTORY (S) to EXCELLENT (E). I often came home through the snow with a report card in my hand showing all “S” marks. I was always striving for the elusive E. Satisfactory, to me, meant just like everyone else. Boring. Ok. Middle of the road. Making it. Nothing special. No kid wants to be just satisfactory. Merriam-Webster defines satisfactory as adequate. And, who wants to be just adequate. Somewhere between the lower school kid thinking satisfactory is boring and wanting to be excellent, we lose our way and become complacent. We learn to be ok with satisfaction. This is how we live much of our lives – in the satisfactory range. Satisfactory. Try saying it out loud. Satisfactory. If we did lower school style report cards on our lives, many of us would rank our lives as follows: Our job – S. Our marriage – S. Our family – S. Our weight – S. Our goals – S. Our fitness level – S. Our attitude – S. Our finances – U/S. (That is like my PE grade – a U/S. I put in the satisfactory effort but had an unsatisfactory skill – remember this was the 1970s and we didn’t get points for participation and little points for effort!) That said, many of us go through life, living in a state of satisfaction. Sometimes satisfaction is good, particularly if we are teetering on the unsatisfactory. “My finances are satisfactory.” We are ok about having satisfactory finances because we know that unsatisfactory doesn’t pay our bills. However, is living a satisfactory life good enough? Is satisfaction where we want to be? Is it where we want to stay? A quote by Phillips Brooks, an American author, clergyman, and hymn-writer who is most famous for penning the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” once said, “The ideal life is in our blood and never will be still.” As we explore satisfaction versus ideal, let’s think about the chasm between satisfactory and ideal and where we would like to live our lives – being ok with having a satisfactory life or striving toward an ideal life.
People do not come to coaching to be satisfactory. We have all mastered the art of adequate. We are making it. We are moving through life adequately and satisfactorily. Our lives are surrounded by a bunch of satisfactory measures. While satisfaction and happiness do not necessarily mean the same thing, we are seeing the happiness and joy in our lives take a dramatic drop. Each year, the Gallup World Poll releases a study called THE HAPPINESS REPORT which measures the ‘happiness quotient’ for each country studied. In 2019, the United States did not even rank in the top 10 for the level of happiness. In fact, the United States dropped from number 18 to number 19 in 2019 – important to note, this was pre-pandemic. Economist Jeffrey Sachs states, “We are in an era of rising tensions and negative emotions….these findings point to underlying challenges that need to be addressed.” Coaching is the key to addressing these underlying challenges.
Most consumer-driven businesses measure satisfaction –car repair, restaurants, workplaces, and even hospitals measure satisfaction. Satisfaction is typically measured on a 10 point scale with 1 being the most dissatisfied and 10 being most satisfied. But, why are these businesses and workplaces merely going for ‘satisfied?’ According to a blog post on GITMO, “Satisfaction is the LOWEST level of acceptable service. And in the end, it means nothing.” So, why do we keep looking at life through a satisfactory lens? Is it that we don’t know what ideal looks like? Does being satisfied get in the way of pursuing an ideal? Are we afraid of pursuing the ideal life? Do we not know the roadmap to get from satisfactory to ideal?
All of us want to have an ideal life. At one time, that was defined as a spouse, two and a half kids, friendly dog, white picket fence, living in the suburbs. Oh, how our picture of the ideal has changed! When we are young and people ask us “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Kids go for an ideal – an astronaut, a firefighter, a doctor, a teacher, a builder. No one wants to grow up, to be in middle management, dealing with budgets, late employees, temperamental bosses, traffic, difficult kids, and moody spouses. In 1999, Monster.com put out a commercial where kids stated what they wanted to be when they grow up, “When I grow up, I want to file all day, I want to climb my way up to middle management, I want to be replaced on a whim…” Maybe you remember it? The commercial brilliantly showed kids stating all things that would create a satisfactory life. So, if we are so good at satisfaction, what is ideal?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ideal as “satisfying one’s conception of what is perfect; most suitable.” Does the definition of ideal (perfect) get in the way of us pursuing our ideal? According to the psychologist Carl Rogers “Your ideal self is who you want to be….The ideal self is an idealized version of yourself created out of what you have learned from your life experiences, the demands of society, and what you admire in your role models.”When looking at our ideal life, one tends to wonder if having an idea is even possible. On most days, it seems like the ideal is at best, elusive. That once you get the ideal in one area (let’s say career) you have had to sacrifice time with your family to get there, so the ideal family situation now has dropped to barely satisfactory. In fact, Adam Sicinski on his IQmatrix blog describes it this way, “Your ideal self should always be several steps ahead of you. In fact, even if you do become that ideal version of yourself at some point in the future, by that stage this ideal version of “you” will have changed, and you will therefore still be in pursuit of this ideal self. This is, of course, an important progression because it naturally leads to healthy growth and development.” In other words, once you have reached your ideal, you have changed and your vision of ideal has changed and therefore you will always be reaching and growing toward a new ideal life.
Many clients come to coaching seeking something that is missing. They are looking to take the next step in moving from a satisfactory to an ideal life. They are pursuing something more. They are reaching for elusive goals. Clients coming to coaching are not merely willing to live just a satisfactory life. It is here that coaching can help! Yay! It will be important to use tools to determine where the client is currently at and what their definition is of the ideal. Tools the coach can use to uncover this could be the wheel of life, strength finder, or another tool that helps the client understand themselves better. Once the client can see themselves and what areas of their life they are just living adequately, the coach can help the client reframe their perspective on what ideal looks like and ask powerful questions to determine what step(s) need to be taken to get to the ideal. We define this as the coaching gap between satisfaction and ideal.
Clients may initially approach coaching by tweaking small areas of their situation or life. These areas are equally as important as the bigger life-changing areas as working with the client on these initial areas will allow the client and coach to get to know each other better and establish trust. After the trust is established, the coach can use her intuition and powerful questions to move the client from satisfactory to ideal in the areas that the client has identified. Examples of powerful questions to move your client forward could be:
- What is your dream?
- What does your ideal life look like a year from now?
- What opportunities does this bring about?
- What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?
- What is stopping you from your ideal life?
According to Henry Kimsey-House, et. al. working with the client, the “coach is someone who will absolutely tell the truth – the truth about where clients are strong, for example, and where they hold back, and give up, deny or rationalize.” When working with a client on moving from satisfactory to ideal, coaches need to ask questions that challenge the client’s perspective, discover options the client has, and that address the previous inaction of the client.
Homework for the client to start thinking about their ideal life could be setting up a collage, Pinterest board, or journaling what an ideal life looks like. Getting a visual perspective starts to make the ideal life look possible, reachable, and real.
- Ideal lives are often shown on social media. How do you move your client from an Insta-Gram life to real, ideal life?
- What questions could you ask your client to be sure that they are not settling on satisfactorily because of self-limiting perspectives?
- What activities could you give your client to do to determine what an ideal life looks like for them?
“Satisfactory.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, 31 October 2020 Merriam-Webster.
Newman, K. World Happiness Report Finds That People are Feeling Worse. Date: March 20, 2019. Date Accessed: November 3, 2020.
com Advertisement. Date accessed: November 4, 2020.
“Ideal.” Oxford Dictionary, Oxford Learners Dictionary,
Sicinski, A. What is Self-Ideal? And Why is it Important to Pursue Your Ideal Self? Date Accessed: November 4, 2020.
Kimsey-House H, Kimsey-House K, Sandahl P, et. al. Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business Transforming Lives.