1 Big idea to think about

  • We each have an innate desire to make a meaningful contribution. Our life becomes more purposeful when we become clear about what that contribution is.  

1 way you can apply this

  • Explore where your natural skill intersects with passion and purpose.

1 Question to ask

  • Will the work I am currently engaged in produce meaningful results that matter to me?

Key Moments From The Show 

  • The role leaders play in meeting the challenges of the ‘Great Resignation’ (1:01)
  • Why people regularly underinvest in their professional development (4:27)
  • How to go from knowing your purpose to accomplishing your purpose (6:48)
  • The most hidden obstacles Ken comes across when coaching others (14:12)
  • How fear can lead you to better understanding (15:50)
  • What you can do right now to overcome the fear of the unknown (16:30)

Links And Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Come with me on an exploration of self-discovery. On this podcast, we decipher what really matters as we unravel the chaos of day-to-day work to learn how to build an essential life.

Ken Coleman, welcome to the What’s Essential Podcast. 


Ken Coleman:

Well, it’s good to be with you, man. I’m a big fan of your work and always love talking with you. 

I just was reading an article today called “The Great Resignation is finally getting companies to take burnout seriously. Is it enough?” 

What are your thoughts about this about the role that the great resignation is having on individuals on companies right now? In terms of them figuring out, you know, how to help their people and people feeling the need to design their careers more thoughtfully? 


Ken Coleman:

Yeah, it’s a great question because I think this is a huge emergency alarm going off for leaders. People are leaving companies in droves. And then leaders are having a hard time attracting people to come to them. And you’re seeing all this come together in such a unique time in history. And I think that the wake-up call for leaders is, is this burnout thing.

It’s kind of like being at a movie theater. Have you ever been in a movie theater or in a church setting or a large congregation, of course, pre-COVID, because it would freak everybody out? But one person would cough, and one person would get up to go the bathroom. And then over the next three to five minutes, you see a lot of people doing this, and they’ll get up. And that’s a real thing. There’s a phenomenon there. It’s kind of the mirroring. And I think there was so many people talking about burnout and also experiencing burnout. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a heightened awareness. Mental Health days are like a thing that wasn’t even a thing five years ago. And so what’s happening is, with COVID, forcing all of this change on people, forced change, we as humans don’t like change. And all of a sudden, everything changed. And it was what we were forced to do; we didn’t have a chance to consider it, just boom, it happened. And so it got us more comfortable with change in other areas of our lives. 

I think people are taking wholesale inventory of where they are in their lives. What are they making financially? What do they want their work-life balance to look like? What is their mental health, as it relates to work and toxicity with either a leader or co-workers? And so, leaders are going to have to address these things; leaders are now going to have to offer people not just a job but a ladder, a ladder of growth. And I think that is obviously professional growth. That includes compensation but also personal growth. Can you tie in them reaching their dreams of having a better life? Can you tie that in directly to the job and the opportunity you’re giving them? I think that’s what’s before us. 


Greg McKeown:  

When I ask people, what’s essential to you that you’re under-investing in? Their answers are predictable? Of course, not exactly the same. But one of the most regular answers is that somebody feels that under-investing in their professional development, by which I think they mean the development of skills and training and so on. But I think they also mean deliberately thinking strategically about their career. And I can think of nobody better to try to address that underinvestment than you and, of course, the book that you’ve written, you know, focusing on this proximity principle. I wonder, why do you think it is that people so regularly underinvest in this element of their lives?


Ken Coleman:

For the same reason that someone would not invest in a company or invest in a stock? And I think it’s twofold. The first reason is they don’t know enough about it. And then they’re worried about any risk associated with the investment. So so many people, Greg have no idea what they want to do with their life. I mean, I was just going over some research that we’ve done, and we’re just kind of combing through it. It’s fresh; it’s not even been published, and we’re just kind of examining it and looking into it. And you’re talking about nearly 50% of people have no idea what a long-term career vision looks like or what they want to do. And so the reason they don’t invest in their professional development is they don’t know where to invest and how to invest because they just don’t know enough. You know, and that’s the issue.


Greg McKeown:  

This is the biggest struggle prize to me, of asking people, you know, what do you want? You know that that question, where do you want to be five years from now? It is a rare thing that people have an answer to that question. Certainly, with any specificity, that’s my experience with it. Is that what you find


Ken Coleman:  

100%? My entire radio show, you know, is really addressing those issues, people are trying to figure out, what’s the long-term play? And here’s what’s interesting about it. Nobody has to teach a human being to wrestle with that question. Some people wrestle with it at different times of their lives than others. But we all, at some point, ask a question, a version of this question: What should I do with my life? Why am I here? 

So there’s something in us that longs to know what our contribution is. That’s what I know. That’s what I know from talking to 5000 callers in the last four years: we all longed to make a contribution, and we’re trying to figure out what that contribution is. 


Greg McKeown:

No, that’s so true. It’s it does seem to be quite deeply baked in us. It’s, it’s, one could almost see it is a little cruel because people have that feeling that yearning, but that doesn’t lead them to have clarity. How does somebody go then from the sense of, I have a mission, I have a contribution, I want to do something, but complete vagueness around how to do it, to actually getting not even sort of clear, but really clear about what they should be doing?


Ken Coleman:

Yeah. So this is what’s funny: we’re not teaching this. And so, you know, I’m trying to wade into this worldview that good work is just a functional thing that I do to live and focus on driving the issue home that you were created to contribute; you live to work and stop looking at work as a four-letter word. So the answer to your question is we don’t teach people how to get clear. And the answer is not out there; the answer is in you. And let me explain. I believe that every human being comes into this world with talent. Think of it as a ball of clay that you can develop and honed, much like a potter does with a ball of clay on the potter’s wheel. And it can be honed into skill and functional, usable, premium tools. That’s what talent is. 

The second element every human has is passion. That’s just love, a love for a type of work. Or if I’m going to go even more fundamentally simple. I’d love for a task or a role. You think about this type of work. You think about this type of role, and you get excited about it, but when you’re in the middle of it, time seems to stand still. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s legendary TED Talk. Psychologists calls this flow. And he compares it to ecstasy. And it is a mental and emotional ecstasy. That’s high emotion. And then high devotion. It’s what drives the craftsmen who just keep going at it keeps doing it. Because of the love of the work to get better and better and better. That’s passion. 

And the final element that every human being has is mission; we were just talking about this a moment ago. Mission. This is the results that matter. If you think of the word mission, the way we most think of it in a military context. There, there are objectives to the mission. There are objectives, but there is one clear result that the mission is focused on. And so, if you think about your work, all work contributes results; it just does. So, what are the results that you want your work to put out into the world? So those are the three elements, and we can look internally for the clues to get the answers. So when talent and passion, and mission are in alignment, then you get that crystal clarity that you and I were just talking about. 

So here’s everybody’s purpose statement from a high level: you are on purpose. When you use what you do best talent to do work, you love passion to produce results that matter to your mission. And here’s the beautiful part of this. When you get that, and you fill in the blanks, those three elements align, and they point to the marketplace where there are multiple jobs, career paths, and even dream jobs. But I think so many people get hung up on “Oh, there’s only one job. There’s only one mate for me, romantically and professionally. There’s only one thing, and I don’t want to screw it up.” And the pressure of that is what contributes to them. NEVER truly pursuing the answer.


Greg McKeown:  

What strikes me about that story isn’t just the success element of it. What strikes me about it is is your skill as a coach. That’s what I actually took from that. There was there’s a level of precision in that story that actually, if I’m even blunt about it, is different than hearing you describe, “Oh, here are the seven steps, which, you know, I understand because one is a full spectrum one is a specific story.” 

But that, to me, is an interesting competence that you bring to the table, right? There are very few people who have talked to 5000 people on air, right, with all that intensity, that they feel the pressure to get to the bottom line fast, your need to be able to get them to do it and to do something useful with them fast. What is that process like for you?


Ken Coleman:

Well, the outlying answer is I must be a counselor first, which means I’m listening for facts and feelings; then I’ve got to move into a coaching role because they’re presenting me with a question and, ultimately, a problem. And then once I coach them on what I believe they need to do in that situation, then I have to turn into a cheerleader at the end. Most of the calls I do, the person already knows the answer or has an inkling or a wondering about it. And after I dig and make them confront their own feelings and their own facts, and then I’m validating for them, what they were initially feeling. And so what I have to do, primarily, is listen for the story. And the question behind the question. 


Greg McKeown:  

Well, what you said was that you have to listen to what’s way down there; that’s the thing that you know, captures my attention, your skill as a coach is really about revealing something that’s hidden at first from you and from them. And that’s really the key skill that’s going on here. And in a sense, I would say your primary contribution to the person who’s calling in is that you’re going to help them discover something that isn’t obvious to them.


Ken Coleman:  

And in doing so, helping them see who they really are and see them the way that they should see themselves because they’re bringing to me, environment context, stuff that I don’t have. And so, in some ways, what’s so fun about the role. And honestly, what also makes it effective is that I don’t have all that stuff. I don’t have all the circumstantial context and their whole life story. What I have is honestly, a, I have a methodology that I know works, once I can get a person completely clear.


Greg McKeown: 

Well, it’s helping them to become really clear about why they’re not going forward already. But then helping them to see a few very tangible things they can quickly do to start making progress. What are the most hidden obstacles that you uncover when you’re going through this diagnostic process? This deep listening with these 5000 calls?


Ken Coleman:

Yeah. No particular order of fear of the unknown; I’ve touched on that. I have to get people to realize that they’re afraid of the next steps and the timing and their planners, or they have zero idea how to get there. They just got a notion. And so it’s terrifying to think about moving forward on a notion. So fear of the unknown fear of failure, fear of rejection, somebody’s telling them no. 

Then, doubt, which is, I don’t know if I’m good enough. I don’t know. If I have what it takes to stick it out. 

Pride, I don’t want to ask for help. No one’s gonna help me. I don’t want anybody to think that I’m delusional for switching and pivoting careers when I’ve got a golden handcuff of a career, that kind of stuff. Those are the biggies that are the underlying factors that are holding people up. And when I get them to that realization, then I can say all right, now let’s address that fear or that doubt.


Greg McKeown:   

Yeah, I mean, that makes so much sense to me. There’s a scriptural idea here that perfect love casts out all fear. And I think about that slightly differently in this moment because just recently, I’ve been thinking that the word understanding is just like a different word for love. And so if you rephrase that, Perfect Understanding casts out all fear, then you say yes. When you feel fear, that can often be a really helpful sensation because it’s just teaching you something like what you don’t know. And so what are you fearful about? Well, go and learn about that. Go figure out what you don’t know about that. And let’s build understanding. So we know how to actually take the next step. And the next step. 

What are some very practical things that people can do right now to overcome the fear? That is the fear of the unknown.


Ken Coleman:

Well, simply put, you gotta go dig. And to your point, you just, you just set it up so beautifully, I must go get some knowledge. And I must go get some wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom are two different things. And so when I’ve got an unknown that is causing me great fear, then I’ve got to go get some enlightenment, right? I’ve got to lift the fog. I’ve got to turn the wipers on so that I can see what is out in front of me. And so the way we do that is knowledge and wisdom, knowledge would be facts. 

So, okay, let me use an example I get all the time. Somebody wants to switch careers. And it doesn’t matter the career, but they’ve been in one career for a long time. And they call me, and they are afraid that there’s just no possible way they’re going to ever be able to do it. “Ken, help!” 

You know, and I said, “Why do you think it’s impossible?

“Well, because I’m gonna have to get a degree,” or “I don’t know what kind of degree I’m gonna have to get; I don’t know what kind of education I’m gonna need. And I don’t know how much that’s gonna cost. And, and, and I can’t do that right now. Because I’m in debt. Plus, I’ve got kids and all these things.” 

And essentially, what they are manifesting in that moment is they’ve just revealed to me that they’re terrified of the unknown because they really don’t know what it would take to get there. And so, I’ve got to go get knowledge. And so I’ll press them and go, “Well, do you actually know if you nee a degree to do that work?”

“Well, no, I mean, I think it might be good, but I don’t think it’s necessarily.” 

“Correct. Go find out, go find out, do I need a degree? Or can I get a certification, or maybe some good old-fashioned experience?” So we’ve got to go get knowledge. 

The second thing we have to do is get wisdom. So knowledge is you could get knowledge and wisdom from the same source. And if I, you know, I wrote a book called The Proximity Principle and said, in order to do what you want to do, you’ve got to be around people that are doing it in places where it is happening. So I go to somebody if I want to be a nurse, and I’m a school teacher, I know, I’m going to sit down with three or four or five nurses. And I’m going to say, “What is the best education plan?” I know I’ve got to have a degree in this case. But does it matter which kind of nursing school I go to? Could I do my prerequisites at a community college?” 

You go get knowledge from multiple sources. And that’s helpful. You also need to get wisdom. “Okay, I’ve got this option, this option, this option for training; what do you think is the best path?” 

And so people who have experience can give us knowledge and wisdom once we’ve acquired the necessary knowledge and wisdom? Well, now we have the answers to the unknown. Now, there’s nothing to be scared of. And again, it’s a silly little example. But it is the same psychological dynamic. I have three kids 12,13, and 15, now. But all three of them, when they were younger, there was a noise in the room, and they cried out, and they were not going to be able to sleep; their chests were pounding, and something was under the bed or in the closet. And only when I flipped the light on, crawled under the bed, or walked in the closet. And they would either creep up behind me and get the evidence themselves or the fact that I came back out of the closet or back out from underneath the bed alive, fully intact, where they’ve been able to go, “Okay, there’s nothing under there.” 

And so it’s the same psychological factor where I think this is going to be crazy, risky, crazy, expensive, crazy long, all these things and I can’t do it. Oh, or I actually dive into it, I find out what is the path really look like? And that’s why, again, in the seven stages, like boom, there are four qualifying questions. What do I need to learn? For real? What do I really need to learn to get the ticket? What do I need to do? What experience am I going to need? So, that tells me where my entry level might be. How much is that going to cost me financially if I’ve got to take a pay cut for a short season, or how much is going to cost actually to get qualified – the education piece? And then, finally, based on my financial reality, how long is that going to take? Okay, now, all of a sudden by answering those four questions, the education question, the experience question, the economic question, the expectation question, I got myself all of the pieces to put the plan together. And now there’s nothing to Be afraid of. And back to what you mentioned earlier. I also see that there’s actually very little risk here at all.


Greg McKeown:

Ken Coleman, author of the new book From Paycheck to Purpose: The clear path to doing work you love. Thank you for being on the What’s Essential Podcast.


Ken Coleman:

Thrilled to be with you. Thanks for having me.


Greg McKeown:

Ladies and gentlemen, essentialist one end all, we’ve come to that moment again, the end of the show. Thank you. Really, sincerely, thank you for listening. It’s been amazing to see what’s happened already with this show just in the first year. It’s become the top five self-improvement podcasts on Apple and within the top 10 in the education category. That’s really an amazing first year and you are the ones that have made it happen. Thank you. You’ve made it special.