We are often looking for something in order to make us feel better, or make us more effective, or more resilient in our lives and work. Many businesses rely on the promise that there is something out there that we can get, gain or achieve, that will give us the thing we seek. Perhaps we seek confidence, or groundedness, or calm, or energy. Whatever we seek, such is the nature of our global economy, someone out there will be happy to sell it to us. Or at least sell us the promise that it can be ours.
Maybe I’m a little guilty of that too. Maybe when you hire a coach or come on a workshop you have the idea that someone (I guess that’s me in this case?!) has something, or can get you something that you seek to make things better. It’s such a strong story, so deeply woven into our culture, and so much amplified and exaggerated by our confused, frenetic economic set up.
The thing is, increasingly I find that the thing people seek is something we already have and already know. We just forgot.
Searching ‘out there’ for what we already have inside
Often the role of the external thing – whether that’s a coach, an exotic holiday or a pair of spangly new shoes, is not really to give us something new, but to remind us of something valuable we already have – that we forgot that we have.
The exotic holiday reminds you that you already know exactly how to relax, how to refresh yourself, how to not take things so seriously, how to open up your senses and appreciate adventure and new tastes.
You just forgot.
The spangly shoes remind you that you love to party, and shimmer and shine. That there is something bright and vivacious and fun loving in you. That’s why you love the shoes. You just forgot – in the office, on the tube, getting the kids to school.
It’s easy to forget.
And the coach? Well, that depends, of course, on what you think you are looking for.
Let me share a story.
Anxiety, performance, relaxation and letting go in a new leadership role
Abigail (not her real name) is moving into a new role. She is excited, inspired and passionate about the new role. She knows she will be a success. The role is something meaningful and important, not just to her or her company, but also to the wider world.
Abigail is also afraid. About the pressures of stepping into a new role in a heavily performance driven culture. Will she be allowed time to build a foundation, to develop her knowledge in order to help clients and be a good team member? Or will she be thrown to the lions, in front of clients, pressured to advise and consult in areas she is not yet fully on top of?
She is also worried about how she will respond if the pressure does get too much. She recognises a pattern in her life. Stress and anxiety building, and then in response a desire to zone out, dumb down. For Abigail this means procrastinating – not doing the things that will help her prepare, and also slobbing out in front of the TV with food and wine. Dulling out when the anxiety gets too much.
So, what can we do in our coaching session?
Leadership development as integration of our different parts
Well, we could make one or both of these tendencies wrong. We could buy into the story that there is something wrong with Abigail – either with her level of anxiety and apprehension, or with her tendency to dull out and slob out. We could decide that these are ‘problems’. Then we can try to look for something out there (a better her, a new technique, a solution) that will remove or overcome this problem.
The pharmaceutical industry does a nice trade in pills to reduce anxiety and calm us down.
The self-help, productivity industry does a lovely line in ‘get your shit together and get off the sofa’ books, audios, course and products.
Solutions everywhere. Always something to improve, to add on, to buy.
But what if it all makes sense already? What if these tendencies to be sometimes highly stimulated and sometimes to zone out completely are valuable parts of Abigail? What if these are necessary parts, not problems to overcome?
What if they even carry some message for her potential, her natural evolution as a leader? If they do, we will entirely miss them, in our speedy rush to purchase, acquire or discover a solution.
Problems as potential wisdom in coaching
I ask, “what do you get when you slob out on the sofa with food and wine? What 1 thing in there can you appreciate about slobbing out?”
“I get to relax, let go, there is no pressure”. She replies.
I ask again, “and what do you get from this hyper aware, hyper vigilant, highly stimulated part of you – the part that can worry and be anxious”.
“That’s a super power” she says. “It makes me successful and competent and able to deliver. But I need to learn how to handle it”.
“Let’s imagine that both of these are valuable parts of you”, I suggest. “Let’s imagine that instead of having to handle or balance them, they just need to come together. What do you already know in your life when you are relaxed and let go AND absolutely aware and totally in touch with the senses?”
Abigail’s eyes light up. She knows instantly.
“When I ride my horse,” she says.
“When I ride I have to let go and relax, because horses feel any tension or anxiety. But I also have to be totally aware of the situation, what is going on, the world around me.”
Reconnecting with our deeper knowing, remembering our inner wisdom
Riding horses is Abigail’s passion.
She already knows intimately this state of being aware and heightened AND relaxed and unpressured – all at once. For her this is a state of flow and delight. In fact, one could say the reason she loves riding so much is because it gives her the state that in most other areas of her life she struggles to access.
Her love of horse riding, like the holiday, like the spangly shoes, (and on a good day, like the coach) just mirrors back something important in her being that she already knows.
She just forgot.
She just imagines – as most of us do, that that state of consciousness, that flow and integration of different energies, does not get to come to work. That a state of no pressure, letting go, while being aware and attentive, somehow disappears at the office door, or in the meeting with her new manager.
That’s a trick we all play on ourselves. And one we play on each other collectively.
And that is a shame, because then we all feel partial and fragmented. We don’t bring the best of us to all that we do. And our businesses and organisations operate in ways that are also partial and fragmented. It’s particularly a shame, because then we believe much more than we need to, that this is because we have terrible problems, and are in need of solutions or fixing.
And all the time we know what it is …
To ride our horse.
To party ‘til dawn.
To sit in silence like the mountain.
To gasp in wonder at the huge vista of light, where sky meets shore.
We already know those parts of us, because we already have them all.
We just sometimes need reminding.
Becoming a leader means becoming yourself
The leadership researcher Warren Bennis once said,
“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is that simple and also that difficult”.
What is it you already know, and love, and are intimately connected with that brings you what you spend so much time seeking?
How about you bring that quality, that way of being that you already know, to work, today, tomorrow, and every day?
Ride the horse that is yours to ride. Dance the dance in your spangly shoes. Bring the stillness of the mountain onto the tube with you.
And then we can see about problems and solutions.