For seven years, 17 women claimed space in my family room to spend three hours in discussion. No, this was not a book group, nor a social group. These women came to have frank discussions about themselves, their relationships and their inevitable life transitions. This was a completely different mode of learning for the women -- and for me.
Having been a professor of psychology for 11 years, I left my job feeling jaded. I felt that I was repeating the same theories and materials to new faces, not knowing if I had really made an impact.
So, I went about forming a group and a curriculum that focused on the messy life matters that we all deal with: how and where do I spend the majority of my life energy; which relationships matter to me; and how do I keep redefining myself as my needs change? I created a group and a workshop that I wanted and needed in my own life.
The group offered a safe environment in which we were able ask these difficult life questions. We challenged and supported one another and served as sounding boards for one another. Certainly, these sessions were therapeutic, but not therapy.
At the end of 7 years, I had managed to write the book I always wanted to write, another friend started a non-profit and many others took steps towards realizing their dreams -- whether it was taking up an art class, going back to school or deciding to cut down on work.
It has been reported that while Gertrude Stein was on her deathbed, she asked, "What is the answer?"
Then, she was silent for a while and rose from her pillow and said, "What is the question?"
This is precisely the conundrum that we face everyday. We are all overwhelmed by all the busy-ness in our lives, yet we don't ever stop to ask, Why we do the things we do? Will it make us feel happier or more fulfilled? Or is it just a way of distracting us from our true purpose?
For all the Freudians out there, you may know that Freud often referred to Socrates, saying, "the unexamined life is not worth living."
But having come full circle, I can tell you that I know of too many people who have spent decades (and a good deal of money) on the therapist couch without changing their core behavioral patterns. They have mastered self-awareness, which is a big step in change. But the more difficult job of change is about discipline and taking action.
I love what Woody Allen, who spent many years in therapy, had to say in response: "an over-examined life is not worth living." Both statements have their points.
This is precisely why the personal coaching industry is booming today. What many people are looking for now is something different than traditional therapy. Therapy certainly has its place and rewards; it cultivates awareness and a deep sense of connection to yourself.
Coaching, on the other hand, helps us grow into who we want to become by encouraging habitual changes in our daily lives -- strategizing, changing lifestyle patterns, committing to action as well as providing needed accountability and a proactive mindset in the present moment.
We all have our own journey to make with our own set of challenges. But one thing is for sure: personal transformation takes time, accountability and encouragement. It can happen organically through personal relationships or through enlisting an outside coach or joining a group.
I found our group to be so successful based on the simple fact that we tuned in to our individual needs, made ourselves available to listen and be heard and most importantly, we started asking each other the right questions!
Why must you ask yourself the right questions? As James Hollis has often said, "you might be living somebody else's life if you don't."
Angella Nazarian is the bestselling author of Pioneers of the Possible and creator of the newly released iPhone app My Personal Coach.