Research Paper By Doña Moleka
(Life Design & Personal Development Coach, CONGO)
The important thing is not what one is born with, but what use one makes of that equipment – The Courage to be Disliked, Ichiro Kishimi&Fumitake Koga.
But how can one make use of that equipment if one does not know what the equipment is and learn his/her best way of using it?
Who are we? What are we made of? Where do we begin? Where are we headed toward?
I deeply believe in the importance of self-discovery and how connecting to our inner self and knowing the different facets of who we have the power to change our lives forever. Indeed, it is in the exploration of self that one gets more knowledge and understanding about the way one functions, perceives & navigates through life, but above all, gets to discover his/her abilities and purpose. Through this, I believe we are empowered to better design our lives, take meaningful actions, contribute to others and ultimately, live fully and authentically.
People seeking to be coached often come burned out, tired, confused, frustrated, looking to explore what is getting them “stuck”, “lost”, “unhappy with the life they’re living”, in the search of “ways “or “strategies” that would enable them to move forward, be happier and find their way through life. Why? Because we live in a world that teaches us to believe and feel that we are incomplete; we live in a society that operates on the assumption that solutions to our problems as well as our source of satisfaction are found in acquiring external things rather than digging within ourselves.
And while we know that creating awareness is the key to shifting perspective and unlocking action in coaching sessions, the same happens in a person’s life once they’ve become aware of the fullness of who they are as an individual. Indeed, self-discovery allows us to see clearer, to better understand what we truly want in life, what we have, what our limitations, are, where we want to go, and how we want to get there in the most authentic way.
Who Am I?
At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. – Lao Tzu
According to Collins Dictionary, self-discovery is “the process of gaining an understanding of oneself and one’s motivations and needs” or “becoming aware of one’s true potential, character, motives, etc.”(Collinsdictionary n.d.). Hence, the answer to the “who I am?” question can be found in exploring and stating one’s needs, values, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, beliefs, emotional triggers, and interpretation of the world, which all together contribute to forming a person’s character and personality.
Discovering who we allow us to understand how we function, how we process information and react to emotions, how we perceive the world and situations, what we like and don’t like, what we value most, and what we really want in life. Being aware of these enables us to set the foundation for living a life of alignment by identifying “Gaps” or areas that are not allowing us to live in alignment.
In her book “The heart of laser focus coaching”, Marion Franklin described the principle of Structural Alignment, developed by Tony A. Kirkland, as a coaching framework to help clients learn about themselves and gain clarity that is aligned with their truth which eventually leads them to change patterns, perspectives, and behaviors, hence designing their life accordingly (Franklin 2019). She goes on to explain that there are four levels to Structural Alignment and each of them needs to be in harmony for a person to feel like they’re moving forward, making progress, and finally living a fulfilling and authentic life. These levels, which are specific to one person to another, are Truth (the foundation), Vision, Purpose, and Spirituality. A process of self-discovery thus enables an individual to explore each of these levels by answering the following questions:
- Truth: what is really true for me? what is really going on? what is my real desire?
- Vision: what do I really want my life to look like? what’s the broader picture?
- Purpose: why am I on earth for? what meaning do I want to give to my life?
- Spirituality: who is my real and higher self; me without any outside influence, in absence of ego, judgment, and fear; me in my purest form and all peace?
Marion Franklin explains that challenges, frustrations, and feelings of being lost, stuck or incomplete occur when one of the above elements is misaligned. Thus, thorough knowledge and understanding of our current self with regards to these four levels is necessary for alignment or re-alignment to take place, which unlocks the door for life design.
Who/what do I want to be vs. Who do I want to grow into?
Who we are today isn’t necessarily who we were a couple of years ago. The same goes for our needs, our desires, and aspiration as well as the way we once perceived the world.
A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming- The Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle, 1972
In their New York Times bestselling book “Designing Your Life”, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans both Standford University professors who first introduced the concept of Life Design, speak about reframing as one of the most important mindsets of design thinking and eventually one of the most important in life design. A very interesting example of a reframe given by Burnett and Evans was for the question “What do you want to be when you grow up” reframed into “Who or what do you want to grow into?”, hence affirming that life is about growth and change, not about answering the question “who do I want to be?” once and for all (Burnett & Evans, 2016). Likewise, self-discovery is a journey, not an end destination. It is evolving and dynamic, not static. It implies exploration, newness, and growth. It is an evolutionary process in which one is “always becoming”. Thus, the aim here is not to figure out who we are once and for all and have a definite image of self but rather to further understand the various versions of ourselves as we move and build our way forward, navigating change and transition throughout life, always starting right where we are.
Indeed, as defined by Julia Lang, M.S, a Professor of Practice and the Associate Director of Career Education and Life Design at the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University, “Life Design is a creative, iterative, human-centered problem-solving methodology that can be applied to navigate change and transition throughout life” (Lang, 2020). Similarly, coaching is nothing but a creative, thought-provoking, client-centered process that fosters change and transformation through awareness of self.
From radical acceptance to life design: Building your way forward starting where we are
Just like coaching does not focus on the past but on the present to build a client’s way forward, the principle of design thinking found in life design is about starting and working right where we are. “Before you can figure out which direction to head in, you need to know where you are and what design problems you are trying to solve” (Burnett and Evans, 2016, p. 3). In her article published in the Taylor Center branch of Tulane university website, “What is Life Design? 10 core Life Design Frameworks”, professor Julia Lang explains herten core mental frameworks of life design, each requiring a great deal of honest self-exploration and investigation, starting with considering and acknowledging our present self and moving onward:
- Framework 1: Radically accept where you are in the journey
- Framework 2: Forget finding your passion, seek to understand yourself
- Framework 3: Define what matters to you
- Framework 4: Brainstorm many possible pathways
- Framework 5: Build a network through empathizing and learning from others
- Framework 6: Design your story + personal brand
- Framework 7: Try it out. Test your ideas and assumptions in the real world
- Framework 8: Be flexible. Adapt your plan based on what you learn.
- Framework 9: Focus on who you are evolving into, not one static future career
- Framework 10: Believe your life is worth designing.
In her first framework: Radically accept where you are in the journey, Lang defines the notion of radical acceptance developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, which relies a lot on self-awareness as well as self-acceptance – purely recognizing who and where we are, what we have and don’t have as well as how we feel, and coming to accepting all of it before deciding to move forward. This framework can be seen as the starting point of self-discovery, an evaluation of our current situation(believes, fears, hopes, doubts, challenges, interests, etc.). Furthermore, in addition to being aware of our present self, an important factor of one’s journey through discovery and life design is a thorough understanding of self which eventually enables and empowers us to define or state what really matters to us with regards to self, others or the world in general, and ultimately let go of what does not align to it. Similar to the principle of Structural Alignment already explained above, this is explained in Lang’s framework 2 and 3 as well as in Burnett & Evans ‘idea of “Building Your Compass” – finding coherency between one’s Workview (what is work? Why work? What defines good or worthwhile work? Etc.) and one’s Lifeview (what gives life meaning? What makes life valuable/worthwhile? How does your life relate to others? Etc.).
When we’re able to establish what is our view of life and what is our view of work, we can then decide for ourselves if the latter and everything around it align with the bigger picture: the life we want to live.
The common denominator
At the center of any successful coaching, life design or self-help program is self-discovery found. Indeed, none of the principles, framework, and/or processes explained above could be possible and efficient without self-exploration and discovery.
True, solid, and sustainable growth can only happen if and when an individual is willing to pursue an honest journey through self-reflection and assessment, with understanding, compassion, and acceptance. Indeed, our role as coaches is to assist individuals to be who they want to be, go in the direction that they want to go, and ultimately live the life they want to live, not the life they should live. We can have all the framework, the tools, the models we want, but if it does not embark our client on a journey and a process of self-exploration, awareness, and discovery, there will be no authenticity created for them, no forward movement. Personal growth and satisfaction are gained out of “pealing the layers” and digging deep into one’s inner mindset. This is where the coaching core competencies play a big role. Whether it is Coaching Presence through creating empathy, being observant, and/or exhibiting curiosity; Powerful Questioning, or Direct Communication, a coach who does not demonstrate and make full usage of these core competencies will neither foster self-discovery nor progress in a client.
Summing it all up
Many of our frustrations come from trying to live, cope, respond, act and behave in ways that do not fit us, that are not aligned with who we are, with our values and believes. We go through life often without really considering that what has worked for someone else might not work for us. We want to fit the norms of society, letting others advise and sometimes even dictate what’s “best” for us, only to realize and feel that something is still missing, that we’re not where our deepest self wants to be. We’ve become accustomed to being taught and less familiar with seeking learning through curiosity and exploration. However, this is not empowering, but rather limiting. And while other approaches such as mentoring, consulting, and training are more focused on teaching, providing advice and/or recommendation based on the “expert’s” knowledge, experience, and wisdom, coaching as well as design thinking approaches draw their essence from the client’s insights, knowledge, and wisdom. The main goal is not to tell but to partner with a client in a process that will support them in learning more about themselves, expand their perspective and grow.
“The underlying philosophy behind coaching is that everyone is resourceful and creative with energy, wisdom, ability and genius waiting to be set in motion.” (International Coaching Academy). Self-discovery is thus the main ingredient to create, define, articulate and design a life that is authentic to us, that meets our needs and that is aligned with our values; a life that we are happy to live. It is said that humans are not static, and to this, we could add: unless we stop becoming, unless we stop learning about ourselves.
So where do we begin? How do we want to spend the rest of our lives? How do we live an aligned and coherent life? A well-designed life is a life of alignment, and alignment begins with self-discovery. Therefore, the journey to designing our lives, living fulfilled and authentic starts with knowing ourselves.
Collins dictionary n.d., Self-discovery, accessed March 28th, 2021 https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/self-discovery
Franklin, M 2019, The Heart of Laser-Focused Coaching, Thomas Noble Books, Wilmington.
Lang, 2020, What is life design, Tulane, accessed April 18th, 2021,
International Coaching Academy n.d., FC01:What is Coaching, accessed April 20th, 2021,