Starting from wherever we are and with whatever we’ve got…

To greet the New Year I posted a quote from Jim Rohn which seemed to me particularly meaningful when we’re about to turn a page in life, or we’re considering doing so:

“Start from wherever you are and with whatever you’ve got.”

What’s so great about that? Doesn’t it state the obvious?

Cartoon boat and sunWell, maybe not. Do we as coaches really understand what it might mean in terms of our coaching? Or do we approach our coachees from our own starting point rather than theirs, using what we prefer to use rather than what’s needed in the moment? And more broadly, how much pain and anguish can be caused for anyone, coach or non-coach, if we cannot face “wherever we are” and “whatever we’ve got” because we’re fixated with where we’d like to be and what we think we ought to have?

This time I’ll be looking at some of the implications of Jim Rohn’s deceptively simple sentence, and what taking it to heart might mean for us as coaches, as well as our coachees in the fullness of time…

What does it mean for coaches?

How many times when we’re coaching do we find ourselves getting frustrated with coachees who do not see what we see as the way forward? How many times might we assume we know best? I’ve written elsewhere about how significant certain skills and attitudes are in coaching. Listening, the ability to register and interpret non-verbal communication, and effective questioning are all essential, as are non-judgementalism, non-directiveness and compassion.

Without these skills and attitudes we become oblivious to what is actually in front of us in our coaching sessions. Cartoon blindfolded man throwing dartsWe don’t recognise “what we have” because we can only see the importance of our own opinions and frustrations rather than the reality of our coachees. How can we begin “wherever we are” when we fail to be aware that in reality we’re far from the side of the one whose location we need to be inhabiting? If we don’t recognise our actual starting point, then we will in all likelihood not bring forth the tools and approaches that are necessary to facilitating the thought and development of the particular individual we are working with, in that particular moment.

We all carry baggage with us into coaching sessions, and this is a very human thing to do. I’ve touched before on reasons for and consequences of this tendency, suggesting ways of neutralising its worst effects. If we don’t remember to start from wherever we are and with whatever we’ve got, we can unwittingly inflict our own prejudices and biases on proceedings, reducing the effectiveness of our coaching and potentially damaging how a coachee moves forward with whatever is the subject of the coaching.

Remembering the words of Jim Rohn can help us avoid such problems. If we reflect on what it means to start from where we are in terms of where the coachee is located, and how this will help us ‘know’ what to bring to the session of our skills and tools in the moment, we will go a long way towards ensuring we are fulfilling our role in an optimal manner.

What does it mean for coachees?

A significant amount of emotional and psychological pain can be caused when in our mind’s eye we fail to start from wherever we are and with whatever we’ve got. Our imagination is filled with what we ‘must’ do or ‘ought’ to do; what we ‘should’ accomplish. How wonderful life will be when we’ve ‘succeeded’, when we’ve left behind the person we are!

Why might all this cause us pain? Because more often than not our imaginings are totally unrelated to what we can do or what, deep down, we ourselves really want to do.

What do I mean? Think about the following:

  • Where do our assumptions about what we ‘must’, ‘ought’ or ‘should’ do come from in the first place? Are they really related to our own self-generated aims in life, or do they represent the goals and dreams of others, implanted in our psyche at some possibly indeterminate point in the past?
  • If we are fixated with the ‘musts’, ‘oughts’ or ‘shoulds’ of life, what is underpinning that fascination, particularly if it is causing us pain? Might it in some cases be fear? Might we be afraid of facing the reality of “where we are” and “what we have” because something is driving us to believe they denote our abject failure?

Butterfly and rainbowCompassion is key in coaching – for ourselves and for our coachees. If we or our coachees berate ourselves because of who we are and what we can or cannot do, we will never be able to accept the beauty and opportunity residing in “where we are” and “what we have”. Being compassionate means we have empathy for ourselves and others, for the frailties we all have as human beings. In recognising these frailties and accepting them, we can move from a place of judgement to a place of mindfulness – mindfulness of our reality, warts and all.

How can recognising our reality help us move beyond fear of where we actually are and what we actually have? Because in recognising who we really are, we can recognise what we really want, related to opportunities that really exist for us to work towards goals that are really accessible. We all start from different positions in life. We all have different experiences. In being fixated with the positions and experiences of others, we may be blind to our own.

All of us have opportunities, however small they may seem. They may seem small only because we are looking through the wrong end of a telescope. If we turn the telescope round, we will see bright shining stars. Stars that with work and a step by step approach might sometime be reached, because they are in our firmament rather than someone else’s.

Compassion is the combination of empathy with the taking of step by step action. With compassion we can gain the strength to move forward authentically. Some of our coachees may be in the right place to move forward in this way too. But our compassion will lead us not to push those who are not. Everyone has a choice and an insight into what she or he can or cannot do at any particular time. It is not our place to become another ‘must’, ‘ought’ or ‘should’ in the mind of someone else…

So, we can all benefit from remembering Jim Rohn’s wise advice. Pondering upon the implications of starting from wherever we are and with whatever we’ve got can help us as well as our coachees move beyond trying to live out other people’s dreams, beyond the fear of facing the reality of who we are and what we would really like to be.

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