Missing the Boat

The power of words never fails to thrill and stun me. I started reading a paperback last night and finished it off this morning as a break from working on half a dozen coaching projects; by the end, I was sobbing into balls of sodden tissues, my throat aching, my eyes stinging as I sniffed back and swallowed tears.

If I’d read the blurb more carefully, I would have got to the bit where it was described as a ‘tearjerker’. I usually avoid anything labelled ‘heart-rending’, ‘harrowing’ or a ‘tearjerker’. Because of my age, I’m already at the mercy of the mood swings my young son calls ‘horrormoans’ – weeping one minute at anything that involves bereft parents then snapping murderously at my kids the next.

Tiredness doesn’t help, but it’s my own fault I ended up in bed today, an exhausted, frazzled, biscuit-eating mess – like a small child who’s had too much excitement all at once and can’t cope.

I committed a real coaching sin after I passed Step 2 of IAC certification; I didn’t give myself time to bask in the glow of passing before I moved on to a flurry of activity and exciting new projects that answered the question “So what next?”. I’d hooked up so many of my Big Picture dreams to becoming certified that suddenly I found myself working from morning till midnight, desperate not to see the energy and momentum dissipate.

The coaching world often leaves me with a sense of anxiety, feeling like I’m about to miss the boat without even knowing what the boat is. But now I have the feeling that if I don’t act soon to create multiple income streams based on what I can offer as a certified coach then somehow my training and IAC-CC  designation will simply evaporate.

I love coaching one-to-one as well as coachwriting, but I often feel like I’m treading water, trying to keep up with business trends, networking, marketing strategies, web building techniques, blogging and multiple streams of income simply to stay afloat. Hard work doesn’t scare me and I truly believe that marketing can be approached as a form of coaching; I also believe that we attract what we need if we believe in ourselves and in our products but sometimes the ratio of coaching related work to actual coaching just feels overwhelming.

So too are the paradoxes – passions pulling me apart like dogs yanking on a choke leash till I can barely breathe: wanting to contribute to the family income but spending less time with my family and being less present than ever before; working at home to follow the principles of ‘right livelihood’ yet becoming more of a mediocre marketer than a masterful coach; loving my homelife coaching yet shelving my own creative projects and clutter-clearing to find clients I can help with theirs.

Getting the balance back and dovetailing my goals would be smart, I know, but another symptom of being out of whack with myself and permanently attached to a computer is the dialogue my ego has with my Wise Best Self: “I hear you, WBS, but I’ll get back to loving the details just as soon as I finish reading this email about reducing the time I spend reading emails.”

The main character in the book I read worked so hard at building a business to provide for her children, using innate skills discovered through tragedy, that she missed sharing the wonder of their childhood with them and never fully appreciated her husband till it was too late to tell him.

Maybe it’s OK to miss the boat if it’s the wrong boat.

All Kinds of Gardens

I love our garden in May. Last spring, I spent hours outside with an MP3 player, relishing the coaching sessions my colleagues had sent me to critique. This year, I’ve been blessing the person who invented the wireless laptop that allows me to work outside on ebooks, websites, teleclasses and articles and to correspond with  friends and colleagues from all over the world.

Scotland’s not renowned for its glorious weather – it’s lush and green for a reason! But when the sun comes out, there’s a flurry of activity as people celebrate the chance to spruce up and preen their front gardens. Lawnmowers rev and back gardens become relaxed outdoor living spaces where laughing neighbours, friends and families spontaneously gather around sizzling barbeques to chat and drink beer. As I sit on our back steps with the sun on my face, gently crushing the fragrance of rosemary and mock orange blossom between my fingers, my garden always reminds me of my coaching.

The mossy, winding path of weathered paving stones we laid years ago leads into little secret patios inviting me to pause, still my thoughts and enjoy the birdsong or a breeze rustling through the branches. Bordering this path is a tall, dense  patchwork of planting which pretty much takes care of itself now. I’m not the world’s best pruner or weeder so I play to my strengths and plant evergreens, easy perennials and ground cover. Reliable old favourites and the odd surprising newcomer. As I’m a coach who talks too much, it’ll come as no surprise that I’m a gardener who plants too densely. My narrow strip of garden’s always teaming with birds, bugs and grubby kids and you never know what you’ll discover next!

Slim, blue-green conifers, purple tipped hebes, laurels and rhododendrons form the evergreen backbone of the planting. Softening the hard edges of the paving are delicate pink flowering alpines, fat green elephant’s ears bearing spears of mauve flowers,  burgundy heucheras and deep purple daisy-like blooms set against a crown of arching, russet cordyline spikes. A few well chosen plants, but all working hard. Flowing colour harmonies, contrasting heights, leaves and shapes all combining to serve more than one purpose in a small, confined space. Over the years, I’ve learned by trial and error what works and what doesn’t and now I just trust my instincts, have fun and play it by ear when I plant. I’ve learned to do the same with my coaching.

Everywhere I go in my garden, every day, every season, even in the winter as I gently brush the snow off branches bowed and about to break, I hear, see, feel and smell something different, something perfect.  Every coaching session has its own rhythm too, its own harmonies and unexpected treasures, just as every coach has their own reliable evergreens and well trodden paths.

Many coaches are anxious about whether their coaching style is a ‘fit’ with what the IAC is looking for in a thirty minute exam submission. Yet, while each of the IAC examiners must wander through all kinds of ‘coaching gardens’, savouring sounds, silences, shapes, colours, movement and fragrances that resonate with their own unique perceptions, we all know that true beauty can show up in the smallest of spaces  – and when it does, it’s unmissable, carrying with it the power to unite hearts and minds across time and space. A truly masterful coaching session can do the same.

Saving More than Money

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what  you are.  ~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I shop on Mondays. Every Monday, same supermarket, same basic aim. Feed the family healthily, save as much money as possible and build a coaching business. And a blog. Only it never used to be like that.

Was a time when I just filled the trolley. Then came the personal development books. Half an hour’s reading or writing in the supermarket café became a date with myself every Monday. Sometimes it was an exercise in celebrating simple abundance, at other times just extreme self care, time away from homemaking while turning a chore into a pleasure.

Because of the books, I started to enjoy the actual shopping. My ‘choice muscles’ got a workout as I filled the trolley. Is this bottle of wine getting me closer to my goal or further away from it?  In went washing powder that smelled of jasmine and made me look forward to the laundry. Filo pastry inspired me to recreate the hours I spent chatting with my Greek godmother while we made massive spinach pies after a morning squeezing and prodding produce in the noisy street market. Bargain books screamed synchronicity as they reached out to me from the shelves. I even bought a lipstick once because I loved the name Charisma as much as the colour. (Well, some of us stay-at-home mums need all the help we can get… )

Later, when I was  focusing on getting ready to send in tapes for Step 2 of the IAC exam, my shopping evolved.

I started seeing the perfection in all kinds of empty shelf disappointments and trolley collisions. I found myself communicating cleanly if I had an issue at the customer service desk and it got easier to respond appropriately when I could see that checkout staff were overwhelmed. As I worked my way around the supermarket, I found myself enjoying the humanity of it all, indulging my curiosity and wondering what the story was in every trolley.

Now that I’m certified, I’m working on ways to pass on my experience and share the joy I’ve had in every phase of my journey. Ideas flit in and out of my mind like small birds; if I don’t capture their fleeting presence in a note or a sketch, they take off, no doubt  to bring flashes of colour, pleasure and inspiration to someone more receptive.

When I’m not at my kitchen table, I seem to get strangely inspired in the self-service supermarket café, scribbling away as I slowly sip my way through a pot of mediocre, lukewarm tea. It’s like being in an anonymous motorway service station, a Formica filled truck stop far away from the attractions and distractions of my own home. I find it easy to sit and reflect on how far I’ve travelled and to plan where I’d like to go next.

When I write, it helps me to become mindful and aware, to be still and silent enough to see everything, every detail, every sensation as meaningful. My life becomes one big haiku. When I put down my pen and get ready to focus on the shopping, I usually start my week feeling lucky to have a family to shop for, the money to feed them and the time and means to cook healthy meals.

But today I’m dreading the shopping. Spring usually lightens my heart with the fragrance of hyacinths and the sight of jugs of tulips and golden daffodils but not this year.

The supermarket has stacks and pyramids of boxed, foil wrapped, huge, chocolate Easter eggs and golden bunnies atop every aisle as well as in an entire dedicated aisle. In our house, we dye hardboiled eggs red and decorate the house with bowls of them. The Greeks believe they symbolise renewal and the blood of Christ.

For me, many chocolate Easter eggs symbolise something entirely different.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of The Slave Trade Act. It effectively ended Britain’s role in the transatlantic shipping of human beings, although no restitution was ever made to those who suffered. Sadly, statistics show that human trafficking is now the fastest growing crime problem in the world, second only to drugs. In West Africa, especially in the Cote d’Ivoire, young boys are trafficked into slavery to work in cocoa production.  Many major well known manufacturers buy their cocoa from there, citing consumer demand as their reason for persisting. Fair Trade companies and producers of organic chocolate don’t. My children will be receiving fewer chocolate eggs this year and they won’t be their favourite, cheaper brands.

I’m concerned with what my shopping will cost me at the final checkout.

And the Angels Sang

Cradling a coffee to my lips like a prayer in a begging bowl, I sat alone, half hidden behind a pillar and a potted palm. The owner of the hotel, a friend, kept throwing me reassuring glances. The lights on the huge Christmas tree twinkled and raucous laughter and the smell of beer drifted in from the public bar next door.

A pretty dark eyed Polish waitress and the owner’s son and daughter smiled as they rushed back and forwards from the bar, fussing around thirty elderly residents from a local nursing home who sat at a long table drinking tea and coffee, clinking their teaspoons as they relaxed after their annual Christmas meal.

Some sat very still, their hands clasped in their laps, their eyes rheumy, dreaming perhaps of Christmases past. One dignified man in a tweed jacket and sombre tie smiled and thanked the waitress graciously for every small service. A bald man with ruddy cheeks leaned over to chat to friends who had to strain to hear, their lined faces creased in smiles.

“That’s them comin’, Charlie!” shouted one of the regulars at the bar and my heart started pounding. A group of bustling schoolchildren in school uniform was herded in by two teachers, one anxiously smiling, the other firmly issuing orders in a hushed voice that brooked no opposition.

Tall gangly boys with dishevelled uniforms jostled with nervously giggling girls as they took off coats and scarves and flustered around, gathering sheet music and producing shining brass trumpets and trombones from black leather cases lined in red velvet. One lad heaved from a heavy case an accordion that was almost as big as him. Several of the girls spotted me, smiled, whispered to my daughter, nudged her and pointed: “Look! There’s yer mum!” She saw me, broke into a sunny grin and waved a shy half wave as I smiled back and fought to stop myself grinning like a doting idiot. Her teacher leaned down smiling and whispered to me “You’ll be glad you came.” One of my daughter’s classmates started to announce the short programme. “Thank you for inviting us to come here to entertain you today.”

A short dance routine, a brass band Christmas tune, a boy playing Flower of Scotland on the accordion. I listened with half an ear, clapping loudly at the end of each performance but ever aware of my beating heart and the faces of the old folk. From behind the pillar, I couldn’t see my daughter, sitting on the floor with her friends. Only those who stepped up to perform were in my line of vision. The old folk clapped each child, each performance till their fragile hands must have ached. But one old lady in a pastel coloured cardigan didn’t clap; her face intense and panicky, she searched the faces of the youngsters, stirred perhaps by memories of Christmas concerts gone by, looking for and not finding the face of a child long gone.

And there she was. My baby, standing tall and proud in front of the assembled choir of young people I’d known since they’d played with sand and plasticine at playgroup. Nearly as tall as me now, silver tinsel in her blonde pony tail, the same intense look in her pale turquoise eyes that I’d seen in every photograph of me growing up. My friend Charlie looked over, saw me struggling with a lump in my throat and the throb of unshed tears as my girl began to sing. “It was on a starry night…” and then he looked at me, looked back at my daughter, stunned. He’d never heard her sing, knew only that I was a proud mum, knew that like him, I’d lost my elderly mum before she’d had the chance to know her youngest grandchildren. “And the angels sang for him…” The public bar fell silent. “The bells in heaven rang for him…” As her golden voice wrapped itself around everyone in the room, I felt my mother’s arms around me, holding me together. I saw the faces of those proud old people transfixed and tears streaming down their faces. After her last note had faded away into silence, there was a pause before the whole room started clapping.

The children gathered up their instruments and sheet music, chatting and giggling proudly and my daughter came over to me, her face beaming. She grew anxious when she saw my blotchy face but when I smiled, unable to speak, and pulled her to me, she stroked my hair with a wisdom beyond her years and gave me a huge, silent hug.

Shaking off the Shoulds

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides. ~ Artur Schnabel

I opened the kitchen curtains this morning to an eerie brightness and snow falling silently outside.

My kids’ delight in the snow is not contagious. After I packed them off to school, wrapped up, laughing and excited, I sat down at the kitchen table, hugging a steaming mug of coffee as I remembered my own childhood winters, trudging through blizzards to school, with frozen, aching fingers and toes, breathing in damp wool from the scarf I’d been mummified in.

So, no ski slopes, toboggans and brightly coloured bobble hats for me, I’m afraid. Snow’s for Christmas, when the tree tops glisten, Bing and Dean croon, fairy lights twinkle outside on snowy conifers and I snuggle up in front of the fire with a feel good film and something yummy. Today I’m having a snow day. No ice-dancing with other cars on roads like ice rinks; I’m staying in and going nowhere.

It’s all too easy to let the shoulds gently freeze out the To Be list, the fun and the wants, till you can’t even remember what they were – but today I’m giving myself a day off.

A day off from self imposed routines and unquestioned obligations; a day off from marketing emails designed to make me feel anxious and lacking. A day where no-one cares whether I have a niche or not.

But having a snow day doesn’t mean that nothing gets done. It’s often in moments of silence, idleness or mundane activity that inspiration and creativity take us by surprise.

I’ve whizzed through the cleaning and clutter, choosing to tackle the windows to let in more of the bright snow light. I’ve ignored the ironing but cleared out an entire kitchen cupboard instead, just for that glorious feeling you get as you bag up objects you neither love nor need. I’ve listened to an inspiring audio clip from Byron Katie’s new book, ‘A Thousand Names for Joy’ and I’ve done some chatty email coaching, slurping hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles, glad I’ve not got a  webcam. And the avalanche of marketing emails in my inbox?  To unsubscribe, click here Click…. Click….Click….

While I’ve been sitting here writing, it’s stopped snowing and some of the snow has thawed. I’ve just watched a laurel branch bounce back from under its burden of snow, launching it like a catapult.

That’s how I feel as I shake off the shoulds, the rest of my snow day beckoning me like our snow covered front garden, silently waiting to share its treasure when the kids come home.

I might be tempted to build a snow wolf or make some snow angels with them. Or most likely, I’ll put on the kettle and watch them through the living room window, daydreaming of a new year stretching before me like an empty beach full of promise, a cinema’s COMING SOON trailers, a tempting pile of unread books, hyacinths hidden in a bowl, a brand new journal to cuddle up with and bustling pavement cafes full of people to meet and delicious treats to tempt the senses.

A year of choices, not shoulds.

The Sound of Music

Everything in life responds to the song of the heart. ~ Ernest Holmes

I love hearing silence used beautifully. The perfect pause that reaches out like ripples around a pebble in a dark pool. A poem where the unspoken word can say more than the most carefully crafted chapter. The silence between the notes that makes the music.

I went to a Scottish folk concert last night and sat in awe as the fiddles and pipes had a spirited conversation, the flute became a voice, the guitar wrapped itself around them all and the drumbeat turned into a heartbeat, a handclapping, footstomping hall full of joy and applause. As I sat listening to the band, watching the stage lights pick out their foot tapping, swaying forms in beams of changing coloured light on the dark stage, I remembered how I used to feel performing my own songs in the heat of the lights, savouring the silence between the fading of the last note and the start of the clapping.

I sang my way around Europe when I worked as a language teacher and translator; my voice was a vital part of who I was and what I did.  After I had my kids, I moved back to Scotland and slowly, imperceptibly, I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped playing the guitar and even stopped speaking the foreign languages I was fluent in. Silence gently settled around my soul like snow.

When I drifted into life coaching, on my journey out of what I now realise was low grade chronic depression, my passion to tell the whole world about it bubbled up, spilled over and finally gushed out in the torrent that helped me rediscover my voice.

Meeting other coaches in teleclasses and online was a bonus, like watching a film with a cast of wonderful, colourful characters. I have a colleague who coaches with the quiet, understated elegance of a Grace Kelly. One coaching buddy has the gentle strength and loving radiance of a spiritual leader – I’ve never met her but I just know  she has a twinkle in her eye! Another has a voice like hot chocolate; her coaching sessions are like a studio where you turn yourself and your life into a work of art. And we all know someone who coaches like Bette Davis on a bad day, right? So who would you be?

I suspect I’d be Maria from The Sound of Music, twirling around on a mountain top, squashing innocent edelweiss underfoot, tripping my way clumsily through cobbled streets and coaching sessions oblivious to the fact that I was knocking people over with my swinging guitar case as I sang “I have confidence in sunshine…!”

It didn’t surprise me when I failed Step 2 of the IAC exam. I gush, I interrupt inappropriately and I have this overwhelming urge to fix things, to make children’s clothes out of curtains and get people singing about their favourite things.

Can I see myself ever getting certified?  Well, Maria never did make it as a nun, although, thanks to her Mother Superior’s glorious rendition of  “Climb every mountain”, she got the handsome husband, the home full of happy kids and found her dream. Am I glad to have my voice back, a spirited, life loving, world worshipping voice? Oh yes. Oh, dear God, YES!!!

Heading for Home

Yesterday as I was driving home from the supermarket, winding my way through the hills listening to Jose Gonzales’ haunting voice and guitar chords, I felt more at peace than I have for months. I’d finally allowed myself to envision our summer holidays by the sea – far away from IAC certification, recorded sessions, triads, teleclasses, marketing emails and coaching sites.

My kids hate shopping for clothes – I don’t know how long that will last – so into the supermarket trolley alongside the broccoli and bananas went bargain T shirts, suntan cream, mosquito spray, antiseptic wipes, books  and some beaded, jewelled sandals for my daughter, who’s caught in the tweenage years between pretty pastels and peer pressure. I even surprised myself and bought a black and white polka dot dress – with frills.

As I contemplated some San Francisco crime thrillers to read on  the balcony in those peaceful hours when the children are sound asleep and the crickets are singing, I remembered in amazement how I’d studied a different Proficiency every day of our holidays in Greece last year. It’s been a roller coaster of a year.

I thought back to the past few frazzled weeks of unsuccessful recordings, studying, buddy coaching, email correspondence, doing critiques and writing feedback. I’d burned meals, fed the kids junk food, watched the house get grubby and struggled to remember all of their after school arrangements. My days grew wearier and I looked on sadly as my husband kept the family together while I drank too much coffee at my computer.

The day I stunned my Sensible Self and recklessly sent in the only two recorded coaching sessions I’d done unselfconsciously, I bought myself ninety days of peace. Ninety days of enjoying my children. Time to relax in our garden and take trips to haunted Scottish castles and dark lochs; time to make memories in the local park; time to fall over in turquoise waves and drink Greek coffee in seafront cafés. Ninety days of salads and wine, jasmine scented evenings and candles.

My life’s the session I want to get a passing score for and when I’m not grounded in my daily rituals, the simple, joyful details of my life – a jug of freesias on a scrubbed wooden table, a hearty meal served on a mismatched collection of crockery, a new book, a furtive kiss on a teddy bear’s nose as I make beds –  my intuition withers and I struggle to create anything at all. Bad news for a coach, especially one who loves to write.

Driving home from the supermarket, windows down, savouring the smell of drenched earth in the rain, I turned up the music and decided I’d wear my polka dot dress on the day I get my exam results back.