You may think that "Soul" is simply a movie about jazz, music, or following your passion, but it’s way more than that. The film provides a powerful metaphor for life and it took me until the end to fully understand this.

As a coach, I'm always on the lookout for inspiring scenes and themes from movies that I can discuss with my clients. Does "Soul" touch on topics that I come across in my coaching practice? Absolutely. In this article, I'll explore some of these concepts, specifically focusing on purpose, process, and… a surprise topic.

If you haven't seen Pixar's "Soul" yet, I highly recommend that you do so before reading any further if you don't want spoilers. The movie is thought-provoking and invites us to have discussions on a variety of topics, some of which may be controversial.

It's all About the Purpose! But Wait... is it?

Throughout the majority of the movie, I believed that the core message was that in order to live, one must find their so-called spark and purpose in life. However, as the movie progressed, I realized that this message is not entirely true – at least in my interpretation.

The search for our purpose in life may seem daunting, but it's a common experience. I, myself, have struggled with this at multiple stages in my life, particularly before and after attending university. This inner soul search is by far not unique, and many of my clients also experience this before deciding on a coaching process.

Many clients have spent a significant amount of time contemplating their purpose in life. Some may not yet know their purpose, while others may have lost it due to a busy personal or professional life, or may have yet to find a fulfilling way to express their purpose in daily life.

Feeling unfulfilled in one's personal or professional life is a common experience before considering working with a coach.

A key goal for the coaching process is to turn the vague vision of a better future into a clear personal purpose with a tangible plan for moving forward.

The journey to finding one's purpose varies from person to person, and there's no set blueprint for personal development. However, there’s one crucial element that is present in the movie "Soul" – and in coaching.

In "Soul," music teacher Joe Gardner unexpectedly becomes a counsellor for the yet unborn soul named 22. Together, they visit the "Hall of Everything" to help 22 find her purpose. The hall is filled with all the possibilities of what one can do on earth and 22 experiments with literally everything to see what brings her joy. However, her journey doesn't end there. For 22's life-changing discovery, it takes until the end of the movie when she experiences life on earth for the first time.


Similarly, I encourage my clients to experiment in real life or at least under realistic conditions to discover what resonates with them.

Experimentation is a crucial element in finding our purpose. It's not something that we can solely determine through mental analysis. We must experience it.

It's important to note that our perceived purpose can change over time. That's not explicitly addressed in "Soul". It’s portrayed as if we must find our purpose only once and it will remain unchanged for the rest of our life. In reality, this can be more complex. Life events such as falling in love, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, or professional setbacks can all affect how we view our role in life.

Despite this, it's noteworthy that "Soul" highlights the potential negative consequences of pursuing a perceived purpose. Joe believes that playing jazz gigs is his ultimate desire, but by becoming obsessed with it, he loses sight of himself and isolates himself from others and the world around him.


So how can we avoid this pitfall? I encourage my clients to ensure that their purpose aligns with their values, personality, abilities, culture, and resources.

Some of my clients may have an idea of their purpose and may be considering turning their passion into a business. One coaching objective could be to explore and test this idea. It's a matter of exploring your inner existence and experimenting in the outside world. We must become researchers studying our own lives.

For Joe, not being in tune with his inner self leads to a sense of emptiness and a life without perceived meaning. Something is missing, but what is it?

So, it's About the Process?

Joe's repeated inner struggles greatly affect his perception of the world. As a result, he’s unable to fully enjoy teaching, even with his most talented student, Conny – an activity that may be closer to his heart than he realizes or acknowledges. Instead, he continues to strive for jazz gigs. Eventually, he gets the opportunity to perform with a famous saxophonist and her band. He enjoys the experience on stage, but feels empty once he returns home.


Many of us can relate to a similar experience in our own lives. We achieve a big goal we set for ourselves, thinking that once we get that promotion, make that amount of money, find a relationship, achieve our dream body, or become a published author, we'll be happy. But will we be truly happy?

Shortly after achieving our goal, we may feel the same or even worse than before. Our expectations for a bright future can crumble and we are left wondering what's next.

After his so-called dream gig, Joe sits at his piano again. In my interpretation, he’s trying to reconnect with his passion. He plays the piano while reflecting on items that 22 collected during her time on earth, like a maple seed. She experienced life through Joe’s mind and body, and that’s why these items are rooted in Joe's inner world. As I interpret it, he tries to get into resonance with them. They remind him of a former state in which he felt connected with himself and alive.

In coaching, I can support clients in connecting physical objects or internal representations of items, colors, or sensations with a specific inner state. This can help to access this state whenever it may be beneficial. My clients use this technique to tap into their inner strength, calmness, or self-confidence. For Joe, it goes beyond that, it helps him access a state that is also highly relevant in coaching: flow.

Flow does not simply show up. Flow expects a red carpet, and it’s our role to roll it out.

First and foremost, we must show up ourselves, be present and actively engaged. If you want to enter a creative flow, you must start working. You won't enter a flow state for writing if you don't sit down and start writing. In coaching, I help clients set the stage by gaining clarity, staying focused on the task at hand, and creating the right atmosphere with personal cues for their internal state and surroundings. These cues are unique to each individual and make it more likely for the flow to join us.

So, what does "Soul" tell us about the missing piece when it comes to purpose? From my perspective, the movie suggests that it's more about the process than the goal. Joe's character illustrates the importance of focusing on the joy of playing music, rather than just one specific gig. Similarly, 22's character emphasizes the importance of enjoying the little things in life, such as a slice of pizza or the autumn leaves of red and gold.


In my coaching practice, I help clients strengthen their ability to find joy in the process of striving towards their goals, appreciate their learning curves, and navigate the challenges that come with it.

For example, for those wanting to become published authors, how can they find joy in the daily writing process, rather than just focusing on the finished book? For those looking to achieve health goals, how can they find pleasure in cooking healthy meals or exercising, rather than just focusing on body metrics?

This coaching process often includes practicing gratitude, mindfulness, and enjoying the small steps along the way. The process is key, but is that all there is to it?

Jazzing: It Don't Mean a Thing...

In the movie, Joe feels fulfilled only when playing the piano, while 22 finds joy in many things while exploring life on earth: strolling around the city, talking to people, and observing nature. Through her experience, he becomes aware of what it means to be truly ready to live.

As I watched the movie, I initially believed that its central message would circle around the superficial stage of soul search. However, I was mistaken. My revised understanding of the movie's central message is as follows.

The pursuit of purpose has been presented as the problem, but the underlying question the movie invites us to explore is more profound: What is this thing called life?

The challenge of Pixar’s movie Soul is to find a way to smoothly transform our mindset from searching for our unique purpose to reflecting on this question. Only then can we realize our creative ownership of what it means to live. The chosen stylistic device to achieve this transformation is to use music as a metaphor for life.

I believe that the choice of jazz as the main character's passion in "Soul" was intentional. Through my research for my TEDx Talk, I found that people, even those with little knowledge of jazz, associate this music style with improvisation. I believe that the choice for Soul was driven by how improvisational music reflects and inspires an approach to life.

For me, improvisation means being present, enjoying the company of others, finding inspiration in the small things, going with the flow, appreciating what is, creating something meaningful, having an open heart, body, and mind, and expressing ourselves in tune with our inner core spontaneously.

In "Soul", 22 experiences life on earth in this way, and it's this approach that ultimately leads to Joe's transformation. This is what 22 calls "jazzing" and for me, it's the essence of life.

Jazzing is not only a captivating concept for a movie, but it's also a central theme in my coaching sessions. Many of my clients desire to live a more present life, but they may not express it as "jazzing." They might say, I simply want to be more relaxed, want to enjoy the moment, want to be, or want to live. Through the lens of "Soul", we might call it jazzing! How do we approach this in coaching?

I’ve used improvisational music as a metaphor for life an business for many years. As a longtime musician and impro aficionado, I thrive on sharing this approach. I believe it’s important to consider four different perspectives to get a complete picture of who we are, how we flourish, and how we – to stay with 22’s words – get into jazzing.

Christine Paulus Integral Improvisational Coaching Approach
Integral Improvisational Coaching Approach, C. Paulus (2016), cf. K. Wilber (1995)

One of the four perspectives encourages you to explore your inner world. As a client, you delve deeper into your purpose, values, and inner experiences such as emotions, thoughts, and attitudes. You connect with your core, understand your personal story, and cultivate a sense of inner calm and presence.

Jazzing calls for the inner collective experience as another perspective. You reflect on the energy you share within relationships, communities, and culture. You connect with those you resonate with and learn to appreciate and challenge each other, creating a unique and energizing dynamic which I love to call a common inner groove.

Furthermore, jazzing needs a clear structure on the one hand and freedom on the other hand. You design your environment and work with the structures and resources available to you. You create ways to craft and love your processes, routines, and workflows and learn to navigate and dance with duality in uncertain environments, just like improvising musicians do.

Individual self-expression is another natural perspective to jazzing. You experiment with your insights and develop your behavior skills, much like jazz musicians practice their scales. Then, it's time to go on stage! You forget everything you’ve explored and analyzed, you simply let go, staying in the moment, following your intuition, and: improvising.

As I understand my role as a coach, my goal is to create a safe space for my clients to explore their inner sound and express it in the world.

I believe that coaching empowers individuals to develop an improvisational approach to life. Because, no question, we’re all longing for integrity, development, transformation and creativity. The world asks for more jazzing.

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Christine Paulus Online Personal Business Coach Berlin

Christine Paulus


My name is Christine Paulus. I'm a psychologist and certified Integral Coach and Business Coach. As a longtime musician, I love to bring my improvisational approach to my work as an Online Coach!