By Nikka Santos, Leadership and Career Coach and Creator of The Future Leaders Program

“The meaning you give is the instinct you will live.” For me, that distills what we do for our clients: help them frame their story so that it empowers them to live their best lives and be their best selves. They don’t have to be perfect. Their lives don’t have to be ideal. In fact, the most empowering stories can be our stories of pain and struggle. By asking them about what’s on their hearts and minds, we help them weave their story in a way that gives their lives meaning and purpose. Making sense of my own story made me realize that I’m here to be the adult I wish I had around when I was growing up—this comes from a deep place of pain for me. I’m here to grow into the kind of leader I hope for, and help more people do the same—that comes from a place of awe witnessing the greatness of others.

The session was also a reminder for me to be mindful of my own meaning and purpose. I need to be aligned and in a good place myself in order to coach well. This takes intentional work. We coaches aren’t perfect, but we are so privileged that our work and the people we serve are a constant reminder to hold on to meaning; to keep an eye on our North Star; to not sweat it too much if we get lost sometimes because that star and the meaning we hold onto will always be there for us to come back to. In that way, the talk also made me feel grateful.

One tool that comes to mind in “meaning-making” is a metaphor-prompt I used today with a 14-year-old coachee who is a Star Wars and Marvel fan. I asked her: As you work on becoming yourself, who is a comic or movie character you can learn from (meaning/identity-prompt)? What does this character inspire you to do (performance/behavior-prompt)?

Before that, I had asked her to share her thoughts on this quote by essayist Anna Quindlen: “The thing that is really hard and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” I often share this quote with young people I coach through The Future Leaders Program and I’m fascinated by how they respond to it. That quote resonates with a lot of them. It’s a quote about finding yourself… of making meaning of your life. I’ve heard some amazing ideas on how to work on finding yourself from people more than half my age!