The ONE Question That Should Drive all Coaching (with 18 Authenticity Quotes) by Emma-Louise Elsey

Person pondering the ultimate question and authenticity quotes holding red coffee cup

I wrote this a few years ago right after a meditation session. I was reading Joseph Campbell's "Pathways to Bliss" at the time, and sat down at my desk to find my fingers typing themselves...

This article asks you a sequence of questions and shares 18 quotes about authenticity from philosophers throughout the ages, before wrapping up with the ultimate question...

Here are 18 Authenticity Quotes, plus the Ultimate Coaching Question

Are you trapped in doing, instead of being?

1. We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it's all about.  Joseph Campbell

What we THINK we want, is NOT always what our soul yearns for...

We already have all the answers inside. But we need to pay attention to our soul, how things FEEL—and importantly, how we FEEL about those things.

2. People want riches; they need fulfillment. Robert Conklin

YOU are the answer you are seeking. You just need to LISTEN!

It's about authenticity, congruency—and aligning our lives, choices and actions with what we believe matters most.

Are you tired, from the effort of NOT being yourself?

As children we learned how to be and—importantly—how NOT to be. All too often this involved a stifling of our very essence—our energy, our enthusiasm, what made us different...

3. We are too often tired, not from 'the loss of muscular power' but from the effort not to be ourselves. We are actors trying to impress other people or ourselves and it's hard work. By contrast, the authentic person does not dissipate energy in contradictions. His self-honesty reduces internal conflicts, and he feels alive, exhilarated. His energy is turned on by doing what matters to him. He does not dissipate energy on conflicts or deceits...  It is the greatest power in the world the power to be ourselves. Readers Digest US edition, Jan 1983, p79

So, how do we connect with ourselves, our real selves?

4. You were wild once. Don't let them tame you. Isadora Duncan

How much quiet time do you have to connect with yourself? Time alone, quiet time, perhaps in nature, being mindful? How much solitude do you have where YOU get to bubble up from underneath all those layers of societal expectation and time pressure?

5. Solitude is at the heart of all self-knowledge, because it's when we are alone that we learn to distinguish between the false and the true, the trivial and the important. Readers Digest US edition, Jan 1983, p79

We pay a huge price for not being ourselves. We flatten and mute our experience of life. We abandon our selves and it leaves us feeling disconnected and lonely. We feel empty and lost—like something is missing from our lives.

But what's missing from our lives (the emptiness) is US!

6. Rita Mae Brown said: I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.

Who are YOU, really? What do YOU think? What matters most to YOU?

So many people are not only disconnected from who they are, they're not thinking for themselves either. We go with the flow, believe what we're told, and are swept along by life. We are disconnected from what we love and what matters most to us!

7. Where do you need to think for yourself? When we begin to cultivate awareness of our thoughts and emotions, we begin to see just how much we live according to other people's and society's beliefs and actions. Don't get upset by this. Just get in touch with how you really think and feel inside and begin to express your authenticity.  In what areas of your life do you want to work on first? Alan Keightley

Living an authentic, vibrant and meaningful life is more than fun, it can be thrilling!

8. My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. Maya Angelou

But instead of our choices reflecting who we are, all too often they reflect our fears. We avoid what is difficult. And in so doing we block ourselves from happiness, self-connection, meaning, fulfilment and freedom of the soul.

9. May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. Nelson Mandela

Life will be challenging whatever route we take. And we can never fully protect ourselves from difficulty and pain, so why not challenge yourself to be more? Why not take that challenge and follow your heart and your dreams? After all:

10. Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Anyone can do this. It's all about making a choice.

11. Live your life as an exclamation, rather than an explanation. Bob Newton

Will you take the courageous path—or the easy one?

This is true for all of us:

12. If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely. Seth Godin

If we're going to suffer anyway (and we will), why not suffer because we have challenged ourselves? Why not suffer the pain of giving birth to our true selves, of sharing what we really think, of living our life the way we want to?

Do you want to be a beautiful person?

13. The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. Elisabeth Kubler Ross

Which will you allow to drive your life's journey? Your fear or your hopes and dreams?

14. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. Anais Nin

Because challenging yourself can be fun—and thrilling too.

How much fun are you having?

15. We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there too. Kristin Martz

16. In 1780, William Ellery Channing said: To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.

William Channing knew what mattered most to him, he knew who he wanted to be and how he wanted to live his life.

What about you?


So, what's the fundamental question I believe should drive all coaching? Here it is:

Will being/doing/having ________ ultimately enliven or deaden you?

Essentially, will this thing you want to be, do or have make you feel ALIVE? Or will it numb, drain, stifle and mute your experience of life?


So THIS is what should guide us...

Will this (action, activity, choice, decision, person, career, thought) enliven or deaden you? Does it move you closer to aliveness, or will it ultimately diminish or drain you?

17. Harold Thurman Whitman said: Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

We must make the choices that enliven, not deaden us.

But no-one said this would be easy!

18. Every man has a coward and hero in his soul. Thomas Carlyle

Which will you choose?

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Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

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  1. Steve Hall

    Wow, I truly got so much value out of reading these today, I particularly resonate with the fundamental question too and will definitely add this to my toolbox thank you : )

    • Michela Phillips

      We're glad these authenticity quotes and questions provided value for you, Steve!



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