When I was about 15 years old, I learned the hard way that sometimes you want things and only when you get them, you realize they were not what you wanted. Addiction is like this too – you want something and shortly after you get what you want, you realize it was not what you wanted.
As a life coach, I talk a lot about wanting. I believe wanting is essential in life. It is the driving force of our existence. But today, I want to tell you about a session on my life coaching deck that reminded me again why the question “Why?” is as important as the question “What?” Chris, one of my wonderful clients, taught me a wonderful lesson about what happens when you do not know why.
All I knew about Chris was that he was a businessman in his early fifties, married, with no kids and a lack of motivation who was looking for a life coach. Nothing special. We all have those periods in our life when we just find it hard to get up in the morning.
This is what I told myself when I prepared for his session. The first time he came, when I opened the door, I saw from the corner of my eyes a classy Mercedes Benz parked outside. Well, the first thing I could think of was “Oh my god, what a beautiful car”. I have to say it made me more curious about the reason he came. I thought that car was the result of lots of motivation.
Chris came out onto my deck, looked around and admired the yard. “What a beautiful place”, he said, “Do you see all your clients here?” he asked. He seemed very friendly.
“Yes, I do. It makes everyone very relaxed, including me”, I smiled.
He put his car keys on the table and said, “It’s true. I feel relaxed already”. He sat at the table and I asked him a bit about his life.
Life coaching involves some detective work. I take the puzzle pieces and try to put them together, looking for the piece that has the most important items on it, the piece that will make the picture clear. I asked and he was happy to answer. I think in some way, he wanted my help and presence to think out loud.
“Why are you here, Chris? What do you want?” I asked him.
He looked confused. “I really don’t know. I think something’s wrong with me”.
Some people just do not know what they want. They sense that something is wrong and their life could be better, but they cannot put their finger on it. Asking “What do you want?” can open doors to places where they do not tend to go by themselves.
“What do you mean ‘Something is wrong with me’?” I asked.
“I have a beautiful wife. We’ve been together 30 years now. I love her and she loves me … I have a business that turns over millions of dollars every year … I bought myself the car of my dreams last year”, he said and I immediately thought about the classy car parked outside my house and I was sure many people have the same dream, “I have good friends that I see from time to time … I go to church every weekend … I have everything I wanted in life and still, there is something wrong with me”.
My first reaction was, “Wow, this sounds like the perfect life. Why on Earth would any person who has everything everyone only dreams of say that something is wrong with him, but then Chris said, “I’m not happy”.
Happiness is like a barometer. I think that people who realize this may feel a bit scared at first, but they have a great potential to be powerful.
“Why aren’t you happy?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I wish I could figure this out myself”, he said. He looked sad.
When he was 16, Chris was kicked out of a very poor, disturbed home. After spending time as a homeless teen, hungry on the cold streets of England, he made up his mind to be a millionaire. “I knew I would be a millionaire one day. I’ve had hundreds of businesses over the years. I became a millionaire officially two years ago. Unfortunately, it had taken me 35 years to do it”.
“Do you think something is wrong with you because it took you 35 years to become a millionaire?” I asked him.
“Yes, of course”, he said, “Don’t you think it’s too long?”
“Some people spend their whole life trying and never become millionaires”, I said to him, “I know many people who would be thrilled with being millionaires after 35 years. It’s much better than never”.
He looked at me surprised and said, “That’s a good point. You’re right”.
Chris was sharp. The way he responded made me think that he was looking for someone to challenge his thinking and to help him thinking.
“What makes you happy?” I asked.
He hesitated and answered like a child who has been caught doing something bad. “Beer … I get up in the morning and think of beer … when I’m at work, I can only think of beer … when I come back home, I only want beer”.
I thought to myself, “What a waste. He reminds me of kids and their attitude to school breaks. Throughout the whole year, they look forward to the next school break, but when the long summer break finally arrives, they do not know what to do with all that spare time. I would have done so many things with that money. I wonder if Chris thought the same way before he had all that money”.
“Do you only think of beer and want beer or do you actually drink beer?” I asked.
“Oh, I drink beer all day, but it doesn’t even make me happy anymore. I told you something was wrong with me”, he said.
It was funny, hearing a 50-year-old man talking like a child. “What’s the problem with drinking beer all day?” I asked.
“I don’t enjoy it and it makes me unhappy. I think I’m addicted”, he said.
“Define addiction”, I said. After hearing so many clients defining “addiction”, I have perfected my own definition the word, but I wondered about his.
“Addiction is when you want something more and more, but when you get what you want, it is not satisfying and you want even more of it. It is a never-ending cycle. It gives you temporary comfort, but over time, it is less and less comforting and you need more and more of it”, he said.
This trick always worked. When asked about addiction, every client comes up with a definition that sounds like it is the first time they have thought about it. The trick is to make them hear themselves defining it.
“When did you start drinking?” I asked him.
“I’ve been drinking all my life, but you know, once a week, nothing serious. I’m not sure exactly when I started drinking more. I think about two or two and a half years ago”.
I had a feeling I had heard him talking about this timeframe. “What triggered it? Did something special happen back then, two or two and a half years ago?” I asked.
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing”, he said, playing with his car keys, then suddenly stopped.
We had about 2 minutes of silence. He looked at me and his eyes were shining. He knew exactly when his drinking had started. “It started at a party my wife and I organized for the whole office after I signed a big contract. It was supposed to be the happiest day of my life and I was in panic. I think I’m still in panic”, he said with long pauses, as if he was talking to himself and thinking out loud.
“What was it that scared you so much?” I asked.
He sat back in his chair and played with his car keys again. There was another long period of silence. Then, he said, “I think I realized it didn’t have the power I thought it did”.
“What power?” I asked.
“The power to make me happy, the power to fix everything, the power to feel loved. I was given a magic lamp and there was nothing magic about it. All my life, I’d said, ‘When I become a millionaire, it will fix everything’ and it fixed nothing. I was the same man. It was so devastating I started to drink. I’m addicted to beer. Every day, I drink more than the previous day and it doesn’t help”.
When he talked about the magic lamp, I understood that most people think the same about money. They are addicted to making money. They want more of it, they make more of it, but it is never enough. The second you look in your bank account provides temporary comfort, but every time, the joy last less and less time. It is painful to find out that what you wanted all your life was not exactly what you thought it would be. Chris was just one more guy who was addicted to making money. He was just an addicted millionaire.
Addiction, from my experience, is a mindset. If you overcome one, you usually replace it with something else. Sometimes, I think it is a bottomless pit, caused by pain, that people try to fill in ways that only make the emptiness bigger. I had found the most valuable piece in this puzzle. Chris and I talked about addiction and I asked him to think of all the things in his life he was addicted to, based on his definition of addiction.
“I’m addicted to money”, he said in relief.
Mostly poor people are addicted to money, because they are far more focused on wanting money than on what they would do with that money once they got it. They dedicate most of their energy in life to making money and not enough to using it well. They know what they want, but not why they want it.
Chris had been addicted to money since he was 16 years old. He had been in such pain from being thrown out of his home and living on the streets without food, he developed the belief that money was the cure for all his pains. He had started business after a business. He had failed and gotten up and earned more and more and finally, when he had reached his desired goal of being a millionaire and it had not filled up the emptiness, he had lost his motivation and wanted to drown himself in his disappointment, so he had swapped one addiction with another.
Emptiness cannot be filled with sugar, food, alcohol, money, drugs or any other addiction. Emptiness can only be replaced by a feeling of gratitude, self-appreciation, acceptance, forgiveness and a strong feeling of love.
The millionaire game
It was the end of the session and Chris and I came up with a strategy for our next session. I told him next time we would play the “Millionaire game”. I started playing this game when I was 24 and I had my first business. At home, we play it very often with the kids. In this game, we imagine what we would do with lots of money. When we talk about what we want to do with that money, it can help us find the why, the pain or discomfort we want this money to heal. If we know what we are missing in life, we can make good use of our money by buying this feeling with the money we have worked so hard to get. Money is a means to an end. When it becomes the goal, reaching our goal can be painful.
I felt lucky. It is not often you get a chance to sit with a real millionaire and ask him, “If you were a millionaire, what would you do with your money?”
Chris stood up and looked at the garden.
“You have a nice place. It’s very relaxing here. Do you play games with all your clients?” he asked, smiling.
“As often as I can”, I answered and stood next to him.
“I’ve always thought I was born 16 years old on the street. It’s a strange thought. I don’t remember myself playing games”, he said. I think he understood that money was not really what he wanted. Maybe he was grieving his lost childhood.
As we both looked at the palm trees of my yard, I touched his shoulder and said, “It’s never too late to start”.
This post is part of the series From the Life Coaching Deck:
- If-then Parenting Style
- How to Help Your Kid Drive
- The Meaning of Life
- Hyperactive Kids
- Secret Demons
- Making Money Addiction
- Art Fights Depression
- Trust Your Healing Powers
- The Want Muscle
- Abusive Parenting Cycle
- Learning to Want
- Don’t Put Labels on Kids
- Stop Making More Money
- There Are No Hopeless Teens
- How to Have a Good Day Everyday
- No More Disappointment: The Biggest Loser Leads the Dance
- Choosing the Right Career Path for Your Kids