Your “what for” is the background story about the passion, your deepest motivations and the inspiration behind why you do the work that you do, have your business and the people you serve. This is also known as your “compelling way,” or even your “compelling ‘why’.”

Your “what for?” should be front and center in your business strategies and actions. It is the source of our creativity, momentum and even can provide moments of glorious “flow” in our daily activities. When we’re disconnected from our “what for?” we can feel stale, stuck in a rut or like a gerbil on a wheel and frustrated. Everything can feel like a chore and all of the joy is gone.

Some people think of this kind of disconnect as a loss of “authenticity.” We might not be telling ourselves the truth. We think we love what we are committed to but, in truth, may be doing it because our families expected that path from us or we felt competitive with our peers or were doing it out of necessity and convinced ourselves it was our passion.

There’s nothing wrong with work for money but let’s not kid ourselves then that it’s our passion. Of course, the very best combination is to do what we love AND make money doing it.

I don’t quite believe Marsha Sinetar’s book, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, is as relevant these days as do what you hate and you’ll burn out, feel frustrated, angry and never succeed. When we have a strong “what for?” we make it work – even if it’s challenging. The money doesn’t necessarily follow easily but it will!

Things that get/keep us stuck:

  • Doing what others—usually family— tell/told us we should be doing
  • A traumatic experience that convinced us we shouldn’t be pursuing that path— failing a test, getting poor scores on standardized tests, rejections from school, failing to get a coveted job, rejections from publishers.
  • Lack of people in our life who support us/ believe in us
  • A true limitation no one points out to us until it is too late and we feel we’re the failure.
  • Life circumstances— illness, death or illness in the family, divorce or end of a significant relationship, bankruptcy or other financial problems
  • Random comments/ perceived criticisms from others
  • Perfectionism

A client attended a top music conservatory where she studied violin, only to be told in her graduation year that her fingers were too short to play the positions requiring the biggest stretches. She subsequently went to work for an airline that went out of business. Needless-to-say many unhappy years followed. However, she found her “what for” caring for her ailing mother. . . and subsequently for others. Her entire world opened up. . . including the first real and lasting love in her life!

One of my group coaching clients had a law degree from a prestigious university but was working in another industry. He described himself as “not very aggressive.” It turned out his mother literally completed the law school application for him. Once he identified his “what for,” he launched a new career, using his law degree and true interests to become a law librarian.

A college friend of mine didn’t test well on his MCATs, applied to 20 or more medical schools and finally got his degree in Europe. He has been practicing happily for many years.

I chose my initial career in social work because it was a “safe” career at the time for women. My mom wanted me to be a teacher but I couldn’t see myself doing that and social work seemed a distant relative. When I was burned out after many years of working in in-patient psychiatry, I took a detour into residential real estate sales. There I learned I was good at business and helping people with both the personal and practical side of life and that led me to coaching. It took 20 minutes into my first coach training to know this was my passion. Now my passion within my passion is teaching coaching to others. Mother always knows best!

If you lost your “what for?” here are some things to think about:

IDENTIFY when and where you decided to do the work you do now? How much was accidental? Intentional? Did your training match your experience of doing the doing you do?

WRITE a brief description about what inspires you to do the work you do? What has discouraged you?

ANALYZE how you got here:

  1. Positive influences—successes, key experiences, important people (mentors, teachers, personal relationships that make a difference)
  2. Challenges—Did you have any of those traumatic experiences I referred to above? I stopped painting when a teacher in high school sharply criticized a portrait I was working on, saying the hand (those are really hard to paint!) looked like death! No kidding! She didn’t tell me there is more blood flow in certain parts of the body and that hands are generally have more red tones.


  1. Do you have people in your life who support you now? Believe in you? Even if they aren’t in your life now can you remember what they saw?
  2. What old, outmoded conversations can you discard?
  3. What new, inspiring conversations can you put in their place?
  4. Are you willing to leave the past in the past where it rightfully belongs and commit to finding/ rekindling your passion?
  5. Are you willing to be “unreasonable” with yourself?
  6. Are you willing to ask for help when you need it? (I love that auto ad where the famous chef says, “I did all of it with help from others every step of the way.”
  7. Take all criticism past and present and look at it honestly. Were there pearls of wisdom you can now see had a kernel (or more) or truth you can now use? Are you willing to look at all disappointments from now on as glorious learning opportunities?
  8. Remember we are multidimensional. If you love to travel, don’t be tied to a desk unless you also have 4-6 weeks vacation. If you want time with your children, you might not want a practice where you are on call all the time but you can work in a daytime urgent care center.
  9. Read (or listen to books on tape). There lots of wisdom out there and no need to reinvent the wheel. One of my favorites: The Artist Way by Julia Cameron
  10. Ask yourself where and what it would take to be “unreasonable.” When I found my urge to paint again growing about 10 years ago, I took a yoga and painting class to have a breakthrough. What I got (I was even the yoga retreat’s poster girl that year) was that now I could paint just for me and others’ “crits” don’t matter. Interestingly, and with little “work,” I’ve even sold a few!


Starting out as a clinical social worker, she was always interested in cutting edge ways of working with people that produced meaningful changes in the quality of their lives and families. She added coaching to her practice in 1996 and founded OnTrack Coaching and Consulting, Inc. shortly after. She has worked with CEOs, corporate teams, government execs, small business owners and many others as well as having helped 3 non-profit organizations get off the ground. She integrates the Best Year Yet™ strategic planning system in her work with individuals and small to medium-sized businesses. Her passion, however, is training and mentoring others in coaching. She has an International Coach Federation ACSTH-approved training program based in Boston.

For more information call or text 617-306-9352 or email and write “Coach Training” in the subject line.