It's for My Family by Walter White
What does it mean to have a legacy? And what does it mean to know that your legacy could’ve been different if you’d made different choices? These are tough questions, and they’re probably ones you don’t grapple with on a daily basis… but when you’re thinking of who you are and want to be in the future — for your friends, your romantic partners and your family — it’s important to consider what kind of life you want to lead.
Today on Character Coaching, we’re dealing with a rather unusual case. Our client’s name is Walt, and he’s just been informed that he’s got aggressive cancer. He’s in treatment, but he’s not exactly sure what he’ll do if he leaves his family behind without any money or security to show for it. He knows his family is important to him, and wants to secure their future financially…. but in order to do that, he’s engaged in a kind of work that actively hurts others.
As a result, Walt’s conflicted. What does he want to leave behind? Would he rather do right by his family while hurting the public, or would he rather leave his family destitute but keep his reputation intact? It’s a tough conundrum, and one that’s not easily answered.
If you’re reading this, my guess is that this situation isn’t very relevant to what you’re going through right now. But think a little deeper: have you ever had to make a hard choice between hurting one person in order to do right by another? More than that, have you ever had to consider letting go of how you’ll be “perceived” by others in order to find your own version of peace and happiness?
I’m guessing those conflicts hit a little closer to home. If they do, keep reading, because I think you’ll find something very valuable in our coaching correspondence with Walt…
Walt’s first journal entry:
“When I found out that I had cancer, I knew that what I wanted was to provide for my family. To give them a life. To give Walt Jr. a future. And I threw it all away when I gave up my stake in Gray Matter... for $5000. My birthright for a month's worth of rent. Imagine that. So today, I turn to the one thing I am good at to make that future… to make that life happen. I turn to chemistry. Me and that Pinkman kid started small but when that money… that real money started to roll in… I started to see that the future that I want for my family is possible. Now… it’s not without its problems. Some may say that what I am doing is hurting a lot of people, but if what I do is for my family. Is that so wrong? Now, I know you’re supposed to be one of these coach type experts, but my situation is unique. I doubt that you have seen my kind here before. So coach… here I am… asking for your help. Am I wrong to do something that may be wrong, to make a future for my family?” — Walter White
First impressions: Not a coach’s place to judge
You might be thinking: wow, this is a heavy first journal entry. And if you thought that, you’d be right. Not only are we dealing with a client who’s going through the diagnosis of a horrible illness, but he’s also got a lot of regrets regarding his past occupation, his family, and his future. Where does a coach even start with an entry like this?
Like most of our clients, the most important thing we want to do right out of the gate is to “check our story at the door.” That means I’m not going to project any of my emotions onto Walt’s experience. I have my own personal experiences with loved ones receiving a cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to take what I felt during that time and assume that that’s what Walt feels, too.
In fact, while cancer is a part of Walt’s life, the “loudest” part of this journal has nothing to do with his own health diagnosis. Instead of worrying about that, he seems to be more concerned about his relationship with his family, and how his work is going to help provide for them. That’s the meat of the journal, and that’s what we’re going to home in on and focus our attention upon.
In this situation, what Walt’s asking for is “permission” to do what he’s doing. But it’s not my job as a coach to give the green light as to whether or not he should pursue a certain path. Instead, it’s more important for me to start to ask questions that will help Walt decide if what he’s doing aligns with his own personal value system. After I get to know what Walt believes in, I can then help him look at his actions and allow him to decide whether or not they coincide with what he values.
So, what questions should we ask Walt to learn more about him? My first question might involve something about his cancer, if only to better understand how he sees his future, and how that impacts his family. And then my second question will be directly family related: I’m curious to know if he gets to spend a lot of time with them doing the work that he does, and what kind of future he hopes to create for them. Lastly, I want to ask if the kind of future Walt’s pursuing will end up hurting his family… if it does, how will he feel about that?
Let’s put these questions to Walt now, and see what he comes up with.
- Are you pursuing treatment? If so, how is your treatment going?
- Do you get so spend a lot of time with your family in this work? What future do you see for your Walt Jr. and the rest of your family?
Next: A selfless future?
“Yes. I am still pursuing treatment because that’s what my family wants. I am on chemo and fighting like hell. The future I see for them is one where Walt Jr. can go to college and have his treatments paid for without any worry. Junior, Skyler and our newborn, Holly, can have food and shelter at a minimum… but if I have my way they will want for nothing. It’s the only way.” -Walter White
With this journal, we’re getting a deeper look at Walt’s value system. And while my initial reaction is to pass judgment on Walt for hurting others in order to provide for his family, it’s not my place as a coach to insert my values into my client’s belief system. For those reasons, even if what Walt’s doing isn’t what’s best for everyone, we still need to assume that he’s doing what he’s doing out of positive intent — that means I have to trust that his ultimate desire is to help others, not harm them.
What we can assume from this journal is that Walt is definitely concerned with being seen as a “family man”… every single one of his goals involve providing for his wife and children. But as a coach, I have to wonder: for all he talks about his family, how much time does he actually spend with them? It sounds like his work keeps him very busy, and that his desire to provide for them might actually take away time that he could spend with them.
That’s not to say that Walt’s doing anything wrong. But it does bring up the question: what really makes Walt happy? Is it purely his family? Or does he find any enjoyment at all out of his chemistry work? If the latter is the case, then I might suggest that he should allow himself to explore his passion as a chemist alongside his desire to be there for his family.
And if not, I’d ask: how much time does Walt need to secure a future for those he loves? Will it take a long time, or will he be able to finish his work in time to spend his days alongside those he loves? Because it sounds like this venture has taken on a life of its own, regardless of how Walt’s family factors into the picture.
In fact, I’m going to go ahead and take a guess that Walt’s goal might not actually be to spend time with his family, but rather to grow and nurture his business venture. I might have my own opinion about whether or not that’s right, but it’s not my place to judge… instead, it’s my place to help Walt understand himself and his life better.
Again, it’s not wrong to enjoy your work… but as a coach, it’s my responsibility to challenge my clients’ reasons for acting as they do. People sometimes give very neat reasons on paper to explain their actions, but it’s worth helping them reconsider if their motivations aren’t what they always say they are.
Alright. Let’s put these ponderings to Walt once more, and see what he says.
- I am wondering if you would like to spend more time with your family? Is there a possibility that you can enjoy some of that future with them? I may be wrong but I was curious… :)
- How much more time do you need to keep working to secure that future?
The check-in: A clearer future
“Well, the thing is that… well, it’s complicated. I am starting to realize that maybe this other part of my life is really me, and that I need to secure a future for what I created… my family. But I think the thing that makes me happy, that makes me truly happy, is this chemistry. It’s exciting. I will work to secure their future and I will work to secure my legacy. Thank you coach. I have clarity now.”-Walter White
What a journal entry! It’s important to note that we’ve helped Walt gain “clarity” about his situation, which is every coach’s goal. Why? Because when we don’t have clarity about what we want in life, we start to create a kind of cognitive dissonance in our own heads that makes us feel uncomfortable, restless and angry. In other words: when we behave differently than what we believe, we become detached.
So, I’m glad to have helped Walt find clarity regarding his goals and desires. While I might not agree with what he’s decided, it’s still valuable that I’ve allowed Walt to come to the conclusion that his business is the most important part of his life. He wants a certain kind of legacy, but the legacy won’t mean anything without his chemistry venture.
It might sound controversial, but our job as coaches isn’t to assume others or pass judgment upon them. Instead, our job is simply to help them find out what they want, and provide them with the mental tools to achieve that goal. It’s not on me to agree with my client; instead, my job is to be a conduit for the client’s future.
What do you think about that? Are you struggling with questions about your legacy, future and true desires? If that’s the case, I’d absolutely love to hear from you… hopefully your goals are a little more savory than my controversial client’s, but even if they’re not, I’d like to know what you’re struggling with right now.
Let me know — until next time, this is Jonathan, out.