It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
You see, I needed some time away. Not something I planned, the result of a visioning process or some strategy. No, I was responding to a feeling that something wasn’t right. And whatever that was, connects with the fact that I don’t describe myself as a coach as it’s not a description that sits well with me. Sure, some of the work I do can be described as coaching. There are times I get paid well to do just that. The notion that I ‘am’ a coach…just doesn’t fit.
At heart, I’m a writer. And to me, a writer is about more than the business of sitting at a keyboard, or with a notebook in a cafe somewhere. That’s an identity that sits well with me, without actually describing what writing is to me, and how it relates to this other aspect I explore when I’m doing a talk, delivering a training, or coaching somebody. (Check here and here for more on me as a writer.)
I just got a text from someone I’m coaching. In part it reads, “Thank you so much for the chat this morning. The thank you comes from the bottom of my heart.” That heartfelt thanks is the result of my client and I going on a bit of a journey together. A journey that has much in common with the one I do when I’m seeking a story. A journey that becomes a story when it’s recounted after the event. Which begs the question of what a story is…
This is something I gave a talk about on my birthday last month: I couldn’t think of a better way of celebrating than to share the ideas and emotions I have about this…stuff. Something so intrinsic to the experience of being human we’re usually unaware of it. If your life is normally a melodrama and it turns into a romcom then you’ll notice the change of gear without taking into account that the melodrama you typically live is itself a fiction.
We exchange stories all the time. They define us, to ourselves and those we share them with, whether we like it or not. At which point I need to distinguish between the soundbites that people broadcast about how they’d like you to think of them, and the truth of the stories they relate. One reason I ducked out of this blog for a while was to get away from the whole coaching scene. Invariably, whether it’s in the form of a quick chat or a Facebook posting, the message you’ll get from the great majority of coaches is that life’s just fabulous, and they’re the people to get yours sorted out with a few sessions.
Such spindoctoring has little to do with the lives most people live, however many clients they have and whoever they hang out with. Polishing your language skills doesn’t mean you have anything to say. We’re easily distracted by such peacocking, which has nothing to do with the real stories that people live. Go back to Jung’s student Joseph Campbell. He found a pattern within myths the world over, an ur-story he called The Hero’s Journey. It’s become a bit of a hit on the self-development scene too, not always for the right reasons…there tends to be an overemphasis on the Hero part, with less attention paid to the journey.
Bottom line is, that a journey is about going from where you are to somewhere new to you. When I was a baby, first taken to the seaside, I was apparently disturbed by the movement of the sand under my feet. And why not? In my experience ground had always stayed where it was. The notion that it could shift was a novelty, and one I didn’t respond well to initially. An hour or so later, I was at ease with this phenomenon.
See what I did there? I told a story. I related what happened when I ventured into the unknown, and the consequence of that experience. Sorry, there’s no ‘that’s how I made my first million’, or ‘reader, I married her’ there. And that’s the point. Journeys into the unknown are happening all the time. They are commonplace. And our ability to deal with them helps or hinders our progress in life.
And that’s why we like stories. To be reassured, as a 7 year old, that it’s possible to go to the shops on your own. As a 13 year old, that talking to the opposite sex can be accomplished. Sure enough, there’s also the ones about stealing fire from the gods, and developing globally successful social media systems that make people billions. Thing being, you don’t have to go to those extremes. Difference is there in the aisle in the supermarket you’ve never been down. The motorbike you’ve fantasised about but never driven. The shoes you like the look of but think are too sexy for you.
What Campbell didn’t explicitly outline was what’s necessary for us to make those steps forward into the unknown, beyond pointing to successful precedents (he overlooked the stories where things didn’t work out). And again we can nod towards Jung in suggesting an approach that I came across in the work of Robert Anton Wilson, who recommends that an explorer needs to be equipped with the shield of valour, the sword of reason, the cup of sympathy and the wand of intuition in order to retrieve something of value from explorations of the abyss.
Something about that really resonates with me. And increasingly I find that when I am asked to coach with someone, those are the qualities that I need to bring with me to be of use to my client. With the woman who texted me, in our last session I’d engaged my intuition by making use of a set of cards I’ve devised, which suggested that the most productive way forward was to utilise the formidable skills she’d developed in her previous career. That realisation was the breakthrough moment in our session, and the touchstone for what’s happened since. And it required me to set aside whatever I’d been thinking previously – including the mistaken notion that she was already tapping into that previous skillset – and allow news of difference to shape what then transpired.
I don’t always use cards in that way. I don’t always do anything, for that matter. What I can do is be there as best I can by connecting with my own resources, all the better for them to resonate with a client’s capabilities so that between us we can find a way to take that next step forward, with the realisation that though it appears we’re in the area of the map that says ‘Here Be Dragons’ the new space will soon be as familiar, as welcome, as buttered toast.