Coaching Moments: Journey to Mastery

I was going to keep this post for later, in case my blog ever goes back to fulfilling its claim to be ‘Soulfood and Support for Coaches, Writers and Homemakers.‘ However, given that I’m prone to abrupt bouts of cyberhibernation – deciduous blogging, I call it on a good day… blogging suicide and shameful abandonment on a bad day – I decided there’s no point in fighting it any more. It is what it is; I post when I post. My posts definitely seem to blossom in spring alongside my ubiquitous tulips.

If you’re not a life coach, an IAC coach who’s thinking of attempting certification, or any kind of coach, then I apologise if this post is of no interest to you. Escape now! (Or simply scroll down and read the last four paragraphs.) You may have just saved yourself a lengthy wade through words. What can I say… I’m a word-loving blether and I’m glad to be home!

Last year, I attempted to reprise my coaching column, Coaching Moments, because my coaching association’s newsletter and blog were edited by a talented young woman who liked my work and ‘got’ me. At first, writing and sending her pieces that were intended to support fellow coaches reminded me of the pure delight I used to have when the column was first created; sadly, the blog and social media format of the association’s current publication fried my brain and I only wrote three pieces. Two were published and this one was abandoned when the editor resigned.

So, this is for all my coaching friends who are ‘kent faces’, and for you, the silent coaching friend I’ve yet to meet. If you subscribed after downloading one or both of my coaching ebooks, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Coaching Moments: Journey to Mastery

Mastery isn’t a word we often hear anymore, but it’s as critical as ever to achieving extraordinary results. As intimidating as it might initially seem, when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable. Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience. ~ Gary Keller

Are you thinking of going for IAC certification? Perhaps the Master Masteries Coach designation? I have one question for you if you are… Which specific, deeply cherished dream of yours would come true if you were IAC certified? I ask because my own certification journey didn’t just make mine come true; it changed my life and in many ways, saved it.

I discovered coaching when I read dozens of self-help books and kept journals to lift myself out of low grade chronic depression – so-called walking depression. The seeds of several books germinated in those journals and as gently as waking from a dream, I realised I wanted to support folk through coaching and writing. As an ex-academic, though, I knew I wouldn’t be happy without the self-esteem boost I’d get from certification. I needed to feel safe in the knowledge that a team of highly experienced coaches had validated my coaching mastery and deemed it safe for me to share my intuition, skills and knowledge.

I studied online. I found mentors and coaching buddies who’ve become cherished friends. My dream was never to set up a traditional coaching business, but in striving for coaching mastery, by following the flow of what I loved, I ended up with three strands in my patchwork coaching life. Niches found me.

When things got hard – and I failed my practical exam first time round – it was the support of other coaches and that dream of seeing IAC-CC after my name on the back cover of a book that kept me going. The book didn’t get published, but I became a masterful coach and intuitive peer-critiquer as a by-product; more importantly, I became a kinder, happier, wiser person because of my certification journey.

All mastery requires clarity of purpose, deep self-awareness, dogged determination, hard slog and the support of others, but coaching mastery has a magic all of its own; it elicits and consolidates our greatness, but will never let us move onwards or upwards without championing us; it shores up our achievements by connecting them to our dreams, our Big Picture, the legacy we hope to leave behind.

Coaching mastery means that we have the tools to drag ourselves back when we find ourselves drowning in our dramas; it encourages us to make friends with those uncomfortable, provocative questions that open us up like flowers in the sun; it requires of us that we love what is, that we cherish our humanity and the learning in our Now.

Mastery also requires that we breathe. It flourishes and blooms when we sit still and simply enjoy being, which is the heart of all curiosity, presence and active listening.

The best way to become a Master Masteries Coach? Study the IAC Masteries as if they’re a spiritual instruction manual for your life; imagine they have nothing to do with coaching. Live and breathe them and grow to love them like poems learned by heart which become part of you.

Get brave and bold and explore new territories. Untangle the strands of what makes you feel stuck. Calm the clashing values that strain and pull against each other like dogs on choke chains.

Make your journey towards mastery part of your every waking moment. Be grateful for the rocks that make the stream sing and listen deeply to the silences between the notes that make the music. Be as curious as a child and lay your day’s discoveries out on the table so you can poke around in them and wrap the cherished ones up in a handkerchief. Celebrate your humanity, your daily triumphs and the lessons that help you rise when your heart stumbles.

Don’t rush headlong into the next challenge without asking yourself how you want to feel and how you can get yourself some of that feeling right here, right now, in everything you do.

And my dream? This is it. I’m writing here, right now, for you. And it feels like home.

Up, Down and Grateful

up - balloon house

Up, Down, Amazing and Grateful

The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind. ~ Wayne Dyer

My daughter’s fourteenth birthday was a day full of assumptions, both hers and mine. She didn’t know her best friends were throwing a surprise birthday party later in the week, and her sadness at not receiving presents or cards from them, on the morning of her birthday, seeped through her gratitude for everything else. I stayed quietly positive and cheerful throughout the day, assuming she would rather have the eventual surprise than the truth.

We went to the cinema in the afternoon, and as she couldn’t make up her mind which film she’d like to see, my husband bought tickets for the new Disney Pixar film, Up, which had received great reviews. One look at the poster – a house flying through the air suspended by balloons – had her assuming the film would be “babyish.”

We settled into our seats, the lights dimmed, the adverts blared across the screen in the darkness, and soon we were surrounded by the sounds and smells of popcorn, hotdogs and nachos.

I loved the first five minutes of the film. The music was poignant and moving, and through a sequence of short scenes and vignettes, we saw the quiet, quirky child grow old and grumpy as, one by one, he shelved the dreams of his youth.

Thud. My seat jarred forward as it was kicked from behind. I turned to see a boy of seven or eight sitting next to a stony-faced man, a weary washed-out looking mum and a gum-chewing sister.

I decided not to say anything. The simple act of turning around is usually enough.

The film surprised me; in turns bizarre and surreal, touching and funny, it was strangely mesmerizing. The two main characters, a lonely, overweight boy full of childhood exuberance, and an irascible, heartbroken widower, became unlikely companions on a road trip. The difference in their ages gave the film great breadth of scope and depth, while the themes of disappointment and frustration, stubbornness and letting go, redemption and hope were woven throughout with compassion and wit.

Disney films enchant me. The colours are glorious and they evoke memories of watching them with my saucer-eyed kids. A quick glance to the side showed my husband laughing with my son and my daughter giggling, devouring every detail.

Thud…thud. I fought the urge to turn round, scared that a negative reaction from the boy or his parents might embarrass my daughter and spoil her birthday film.

I took a deep breath, knowing the wriggling kicks were a distraction I had to overcome. My kids have always been very settled and courteous in cinemas, but as I’ve got older, it seems like fewer children can sit still for the length of a film without eating, wriggling or talking.

The sounds of laughter, music and talking dogs filled the warm darkness of the cinema. Glorious multicoloured balloons, bright plumage and jungle scenes filled the screen, and I tried my best to simply let go and fill my heart with compassion.

The credits rolled and we were the only two families who stayed to watch till the end.

As the lights went up, from behind me came a “Wow! That was amazing!” The mum and dad said nothing. “Dad, that was the best thing I’ve ever seen!” “Don’t be stupid,” said the dad. “It was the best film I’ve ever seen, Dad.  It was amazing!”

His joy was contagious and I turned to smile at his mum, expecting to see her happy at the pleasure they’d so obviously brought him. She looked sad and distant as the man put on his coat in silence, and the older girl pulled her mobile phone from her pocket.

I left the cinema curious about who they were and what was going on in their lives. I wondered how long the boy’s delight in films would last and I was glad I hadn’t said or done anything to ruin, what for him, was the most amazing film ever.

Epilogue:

A few days later, my daughter came home to a room full of bright banners, balloons and birthday party food, all bought and prepared by her best friends. The cries of “Surprise!!” brought her hands to her face in shocked delight, then sudden awareness as she looked at me with tears and comprehension in her eyes. The long, tear-filled hug she gave me was full of gratitude and appreciation for my part in the surprise, which I’d known about for weeks. Laughing and giggling with her friends, she blew out the candles on her cake and made a wish for the second time that week; I could see that all of her sadness from the previous days had disappeared.

Surrounded by friends, good food and the determination to celebrate, it’s so much easier to feel grateful. As we all prepare for the coming season of gratitude and goodwill, blessings and bounty, I’d like to take this chance to thank you. I wish I could convey in words how much pleasure it gives me to belong to this community, to know you’ve taken the time to read my words.

I can’t offer you food, or tokens of peace and friendship, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be thinking of you on Thanksgiving Day and giving thanks for the Internet, for the coaching we share and for the wonderful universe whose plan brought us together. I’m not American, but I shamelessly adopt rituals and celebrations from all over the world, special days that make smiles brighter and hearts warmer, days that bring people together in shared gratitude for life, love and blessings, wherever we live, whoever we are. Thank you. My life is better because of you.

Sea Breezes, Books and Minerals

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

How often do you coach someone who’s come to you overwhelmed, stuck or overweight? Someone who’s spiritually sluggish, washed out and weary?

Chances are, you’ll have worked on what’s anchoring them in their past and what’s blocking their energy, the flow of prosperity and creativity in their lives. You’ll have investigated what they’re clinging to, afraid of letting go.

For me, it’s been books. Currently, as we prepare to lay a new wooden floor, all of my books are packed in see-through plastic storage crates, dozens of them, some in the attic, and six or seven clogging the dining room. But do you know something? After years of squeezing between sofas and bookcases – I have no home office or study –  I feel as happy as a kid with new wax crayons. I have that lightness of spirit I feel on holiday, in rooms with lace curtains billowing in a sea breeze, revealing tantalising glimpses of a beach full of promise.

When the new wooden floor is laid, and the last skirting board nailed in place, not one single book will reappear on a shelf unless it is insanely useful, destined to be re-read or so precious it gives me an energy surge just thinking about it. I don’t need books to remind me  – or show others  – who I was, who I am, what I know or what I enjoy.

I turned fifty last month. For forty-five years, I’ve been devouring reading material; novels, text books, course books, magazines and more recently, online text. I have clusters of books from every phase and every career: dictionaries and text books in nine languages; tomes on astrology, feng shui, art and garden design; books on translation, linguistics and creative writing; files of coach training printouts and dozens of homelife coaching and personal development books.

I adore reading. I adore books. So why am I on the verge of a cull? I need my energy more. Most of my books are no longer inspiring me; they’re depleting me and anchoring me in the past.

I no longer cast astrological charts or speak Greek every day. I passed my coach certification and no longer mentor, or critique exam tapes. If I haven’t absorbed the basics by now, I’d rather revise them in some fresh new format.

I’m tired of dusting books I don’t read, and as my collection grows, it strikes me as bizarre to contemplate extending my home to house books.

Until recently, the thought of parting with them was unbearable. So what happened?

The menopause, my dad’s heart attack, my kids’ puberty and my own illness happened.

My life, for six months, has felt clogged and bogged down with tolerations. Even as I tackled them, kaizen style, one at a time, I accrued more than I dealt with. Sick of missed deadlines, sleepless nights, hair loss, infections and depression, I summoned the strength to arrange appointments with a consultant and my local doctor. Determined not to have my concerns dismissed, swept under the rug of age, parenthood and caring for an elderly relative, I asked for blood tests.

My inner child, my coaching voice, my intuition and every member of my spiritual team, desperate to crawl out from under the weight of overwhelm, were all screaming:

  • What do I need?
  • What’s stopping me getting it?
  • What am I getting too much of?
  • What am I not getting enough of?
  • What will I gain when I get the balance and flow back?

When I visited the consultant, I simply asked him to help me find out what I was deficient in.  Such a small question, but my silent sigh convinced me it was the right step, the right question, like a perfect pebble dropped in a deep pool.

While I was waiting for the results, I had my seasonal September craving to get clean and clear. I rode it like a cresting wave, surfing my way through packing, recycling and binning my possessions, blessing and letting go of anything that no longer energised me. I knew I’d reach the shore battered and sea-tossed, but it was worth it.

Out went patterned, grubby rugs, shabby faded curtains and sagging fake wood bookcases.

In came a shaggy wool rug, freshly painted cream walls, soft cotton slip covers and snuggly throws and cushions, all in natural textures and the colours of serenity and sea shores: sun baked terracotta, warm sand and sea-tossed pebbles, driftwood and shells.

My books, photo frames and ornaments are still safely stored until I decide their fate.

Right now, I need spiritual space more than belongings, fresh air and clear surfaces more than books and objects. I need time with my loved ones more than the memories that keep me anchored to lost loves and the empty shells of lives no longer lived.

My blood test results came back and I smiled. Due to malabsorption, I’m severely deficient in major minerals, including zinc. Zinc deficiency can cause sleeplessness, depression, skin problems, hair loss, infections and a lack of  appetite – for food, love and life itself. I was right to have insisted on tests.

Now that I know, I can work on my zinc. It’s easier to ask myself “How can I get and absorb more zinc?” than “How can I fix my entire life?”

One banana, one handful of seeds, one step at a time works for me, as long as it’s a step that takes me in the right direction.

Are you depleted at the moment? What do you need to get – and absorb – more of? What small step could you take today that will get you closer to where you want to be?

(*This was adapted from my latest Coaching Moments piece in VOICE, the official newsletter of the International Association of Coaching, where it was edited by Linda Dessau. The illustration is a painting called Long Golden day by Alice Dalton Brown.)