A Coaching Power Tool By Heather Prentice Schmidt, Identity & Empowerment Coach, CANADA
What Is the Difference Between Drifting vs. Driving?
As a transition and transformation coach who works with clients (primarily mothers) consider the question of what now? What next? and What more? I see many people drifting. The weight of obligation and all the “shoulds” that surround them grow heavier and heavier by the year, and a quiet whisper (Is this all there is? Something doesn’t feel quite right.) persists. They instinctively know they’ve drifted off course but have no idea how to course-correct. They may feel trapped, stuck, unfulfilled, or confused. Tired of the busyness, the hamster wheel, the overwhelm, knowing that something needs to change, but what? And how? They have either drifted into the life they now have or they’re simply drifting through life.
Drifting vs. Driving Definition
Drifting is the non-choice choice. Someone may have casually stumbled into their current situation rather than making conscious choices. They may have followed cultural norms or family expectations without question. They may have chosen the people-pleasing path, not wanting to rock the boat, or the path of least resistance, not taking the time to check in fully with themself, or not quite confident in their ability to follow their heart’s desire. They may have stumbled onto the path in front of them without thinking too deeply about whether it’s what would actually make them happy and how they really want to spend their “one wild and precious life.”[i]
The result of drift is that they now find themselves unhappy, feeling out of alignment with who they are, living a life of someone else’s choosing, one that doesn’t reflect what’s important to them. It doesn’t light them up or feel quite right, or even worse, it exhausts and drains them. They feel increasingly trapped in a life that doesn’t resonate with their authenticity and heart’s desire. The proverbial ladder of success they’ve spent so many years climbing is leaning against the wrong wall.
Synonyms and imagery for drifting include living by default, distracted, disconnected, on autopilot, reactive, a victim to life, out of your hands, with no control, blowing through life like a leaf on the wind, floating down the river of life in a canoe without paddling, a passenger in the car of life where fate is driving.
Your client may or may not be aware that they’ve drifted or that there is another way. They just know that something feels off and they’re not quite sure what to do next. They may not know themselves anymore or feel disconnected and out of touch with who they are. Mothers, in particular, may have lost their own identity, consumed by family demands and responsibility, putting their own needs last for so long that they’ve lost touch with what they desire.
The Power and Control of Driving
The opposite of drifting is driving. To be in the driver’s seat of life means to approach life in an intentional, deliberate, decisive way, where you design your days, goals, and years, proactively aligning with what’s important to you and what you enjoy. Driving is energizing, empowering, and purpose-driven. It implies taking charge, courageously paddling the river of life even when the current is fast, there are rocks to navigate around, and there’s white water on the horizon. It’s being firmly in the driver’s seat, making conscious choices, picking a destination, and then doing what it takes to steer in that direction, despite objections, obstacles, and rough terrain.
Coaching Questions to Identify Drift:
- Where are you drifting in your life? Where have you made a non-choice choice and stumbled into your current situation or life path?
- What parts of your life have you felt trapped or disempowered?
- Thinking back to your major life decisions, what choices did you make and why? Get in touch with why you chose your college and your major, your spouse, your job, where to live, when and how many children to have, etc.
- What would it look like to be the driver of your life? To feel so deeply connected to your life, fully aligned with who you are? To approach your days with intention? To hold a vision of who you want to be and how you want your life to look and feel?
- Does this even seem possible right now?
How to Help Your Client Shift From Drifting to Driving
When to Shift
There are a few times in a mother’s life when it is opportune to shift from drifting into driving.
- When there is a natural shift in the rhythm of life, or an obvious transition, such as children entering school or moving up to the next level, moving, divorce, birth, death, empty nest, or a health change. These transition times are logical places to assess your life and ask questions like “what do I really want out of my life moving forward?”
- A less obvious time is when a client is vaguely unhappy, restless, feeling intuitively called to “more,” but not quite able to put a finger on what that might be. Completing the wheel of life could cause the client to realize their life is out of balance, leading to a bumpier ride than needs to be the case.
- When the pain of staying the same surpasses the discomfort of change and moving into the unknown, the client feels stuck in a deep and painful rut. Their comfort zone has closed in on them to leave them feeling suffocated, frustrated, disconnected, or empty. They spend their days either living in the past or dreaming of a seemingly unrealizable future, never fully immersed in the present moment.
How To Shift
Awareness: The first antidote to drift is awareness. You are not at the mercy of chance or fate. You have the power to choose. Admitting you aren’t happy takes courage. Understanding your life’s path and identifying or admitting where you were drifting and where you were driving takes courage and introspection. The wheel of life, journal prompts and coaching questions are helpful to move your client towards awareness:
- What doesn’t feel right in your life?
- Where are you drifting in your life right now?
- Where are you just going through the motions of your day?
- Where are you people-pleasing and not really on board with what you’re being asked or expected to do?
- Where do you feel you are authentic or truly yourself in your life?
- Where do you bend in order to fit in?
- Where have you chosen the path of least resistance, either unconsciously or deliberately?
- Where have you forged your own path despite it being unpopular, a disappointment to someone, or difficult?
- Think of a time when you had an intuition that you ignored. Or one that you acted on? How did each situation feel?
- What brings you to coaching at this stage of life?
- How would it feel to be in the driver’s seat of your life: setting the direction, charting the course, steering the ship, fully engaged?
- In looking at a wheel of life, what areas stand out as being less well-developed or weak?
Exploration: The client may want to take the driver’s seat but not know where to begin. Or they may want to steer the car onto a different route, but need to know what to keep and what to leave behind, or how to deal with the weight of baggage accumulated along the journey so far. Exploration is important to help the client identify their values, what’s important to them, where their natural interests and strengths lie, and what is missing from their life.
- What legacy do you want to leave?
- If you had only a limited amount of time left on earth, where would you want to invest it?
- What have you always wanted to be/do/have?
- What have you always wanted to try or accomplish, but put off starting?
- What parts of your life do you love? What parts aren’t aligned with your heart?
- How have your values, interests, and dreams changed since having children?
Action/Experimentation: Action can help a client get unstuck and generate ideas and momentum, especially if they’ve lost touch with themselves. Experimentation and small actions can confirm that the client is driving in the right direction. Helpful questions to shift the client into driving include:
- What is one small next step you can choose to intentionally align with what feels good and important to you?
- What kind of an experiment could you design to test whether your dream is still alive and relevant?
- What have you always wanted to do but never found the courage to try? What’s one small step you could take towards giving it a shot?
Acceptance and Courage (Looking through the Lens of Obligation and Choice): The shift from drifting into driving could encompass relatively minor tweaks, or it could involve a major, drastic change. The soul-searching that comes with awareness and exploration will indicate if the car needs a minor course correction or a 180-degree turn.
Some self-help and personal growth literature details massive life changes that have people heading off for a year to eat, pray, and love under a Tuscan sun, selling everything to sail around the world or backpack through Asia. While pulling up stakes to move across the country, go back to school, start a business, or ditch the corporate ladder in favor of something more fulfilling are all possible, mothers need to factor in other people and obligations, most importantly their children.
Many of my clients are mothers for whom such drastic course corrections are not only out of reach, but would involve trade-offs that mean losing things that are important. This warrants an exploration of what feels obligatory and a good look at the shoulds in their lives, from children’s activities and schooling to caring for aging parents to being a volunteer and part of a community. It is empowering and essential to help my clients take a look at these should in the context of their values. Some obligations will transition into conscious, deliberate choices, while others will have to be discarded in order to get back into the driver’s seat of life. Either way, the conscious act of weighing the previously unquestioned expectations, obligations, and should against one’s own values and desires are empowering. It automatically shifts the client into the driver’s seat of their life, empowering them to make choices rather than accept what has come their way. It also forces the client to address the friction between conflicting values, which may be pulling them in different directions.
Acceptance might also include acknowledging the role you played in the non-choice choices you made. An unconscious decision is a reaction to life’s circumstances at the time, and in that, the temptation is to remain a victim. Shifting the client into full responsibility for where they find themselves is empowering, unlocks latent energy for problem-solving, and invites the client to see the possibility for action where none existed previously.
Helpful coaching questions include:
- What obligations have you feeling trapped and like you don’t have a choice? Examples might be children, marriage, aging parents, mortgage, work retirement plan, reputation, etc.
- What do you value about that obligation? What would you miss if you didn’t have it?
- What could you do to shift that obligation into a choice? What would it feel like if you said “I get to” instead of “I have to”? Or reframed “I should” with “I choose to”? How does changing the language change how you feel?
- What about your obligations spark joy or gratitude?
Obstacles to Making the Shift From Drifting to Driving
Indecision: What do I want? What if I don’t know what I want? I don’t want what I’ve drifted into, but I’m not sure what the alternative is. I’ve lost myself in the busyness of being a mother and I’m not even sure who I am and what I like anymore. Experimentation and action can help resolve indecision.
Fear of failure: What if the dreams and whispers of my soul aren’t able to be realized? That would be crushing. What if I try and fail? What if I leave the comfort and security of what I have and things don’t work out as I envision them, then what?
Confidence and courage: To stand up for who you are and own that. To say no to other people’s goals for you, risking their disappointment and push-back, or not fitting in. Deciding to live your own life, on your terms, and not the terms set out for you by your upbringing, your peers or colleagues, your spouse, children, community, celebrity culture, popular culture images of what success should look like or what milestones we should reach and when.
Timing: Doors to dreams open many years ago may now have closed. Some obligations are not easily shed or shedding them comes at too high a cost. One of the dangers of drifting that goes on too long is that life takes us so far from our original dream destination and so far off course that it becomes almost impossible to correct. A coach can partner with a client to consider what is indeed possible, what’s just fear and resistance to change talking, and how one might fulfill one’s values and identity within the realms of what’s possible.
The Bottom Line
The importance of action cannot be understated, as the client moves from sleep-walking through life, victim-like and powerless, with life acting upon them or them reacting to external circumstances, to being an active and engaged participant in life, fully alive, making deliberate choices and setting intentions, no matter how small at first.
A coach is an invaluable partner in the shift from drifting into driving. The coaching space can help a client get back in touch with themselves and access the dreams and resources deep inside; identify the limitations and blocks holding them back; mirror back their beliefs to open up perspective shifts and access new possibilities; help identify supports, structures, and systems to facilitate change; and provide a process for commitment and accountability when the shift is challenging.