The Coaching Journey
[Warning: contains a protracted journey-based metaphor]
Recently I was complaining about the over-use of “journey” as a way to describing everything.
Weight loss journey.
Personal growth journey.
But despite cringing at it, I use journey-based metaphors in my coaching a lot. I like thinking about things in terms of mapping, and schema, the paths chosen or un-chosen, cross-roads, and culs-de-sac, enjoying the ride, and taking an unexpected turn.
So, I’m going to embrace the journey metaphor. And own it. And wear it with cringey pride.
Goal & Options: Where are you going and which route will you take?
I’ve been on Instagram a lot lately because of work. Goal setting is a big thing on Instagram. And many people on Instagram often seem to think that the goal is the thing. Especially at New Year. The goal is the magic panacea, and if you set the goal, then the getting there will override your wanderlust, your map-reading challenges, the way you want to take an untrodden route, or that you are out of juice (already labouring the point?). But this kind of focus assumes that striving is valuable for its own sake. And here’s the thing. Lives aren’t just about destinations. Success doesn’t have to be defined as moving from A to B in the quickest possible time. Lives are as much about exploring the map as they are about reaching the end-point.
So you have to pay attention to the circumstances of your journey, and your mode of transport as much as to the destination. You have to know what you want that journey to be like, and you don’t have to take the quickest, clearest, most direct route. Sometimes the point is not destination, but the exploration. And while either is ok, you need to know which one you want.
And, here’s the thing, coaching helps you decide which map you want to use (i.e. one that only has the main features, or the one with all the quirks of landscape and weird place-names); it helps you decide which route you are going to take; it helps you to decide whether you are exploring the terrain or racing to your destination. Coaching helps you to get to the fine-grained answers to questions like these:
How do you decide on your destination? How do you know you’ll like it once you get there? How do you choose the best path? Do you take the direct route or the scenic route? Will you travel by train, by car or by donkey? Will you recall the way in which modern maps fail to show old paths or interesting details? Will you use the standard map which focuses your attention on specific features like motorways, or do you want to walk the coastal path? What do you hope to experience once at your destination, and is that realistic?
So, you see, in journey terms, setting your destination is as much about deciding why you want to go where you want to go, and how to get there, as it is about the destination.
Reality: What is Your Current Situation?
Once you know the kind of journey you want to take, you have to be mindful of the limitations of your circumstances. And circumstances cover everything, from your mental, emotional and physical aptitude to do a thing, to the external resources you possess, to the time that you have.
Lots of coaches will tell you that if you have the will to do a thing then you will overcome any obstacle to get it. Which, yeah, ok, might be true. Sort of. But not really.
Say for example you want to publish a book but you have no knowledge of the publishing world, you are at a significant disadvantage in comparison to someone who has intimate knowledge of that world. And while you may still be able to get your book published, you will need to take a different route to get there than the person who knows some short cuts.
Likewise (back to the metaphor) if your options are limited to driving an old banger to your destination, it will take you more time and significantly more discomfort to get there than your counterpart in a new luxury car.
And what if, unbeknownst to you, you chose a route with a lot of bridges, and you have jeffirophobia: a morbid fear of bridges. So every time you have to cross one it takes hours to psych yourself up to it. And afterwards you are mentally and emotionally depleted. It is more costly to you to reach your goal than someone that loves a bridge.
And what if your banger is not allowed on the fast roads? What if that’s prohibited? What if your car draws unwanted attention? What if your car gets a puncture? What if you run out of fuel?
I’m definitely labouring the metaphor here. But what I’m saying is that the playing field is not always level. There are obstacles for most people, and some people have more obstacles to overcome than others. Internal ones, and external ones. And they have to be accounted for realistically in your plan. Which is not to say that your plan can’t or shouldn’t go ahead – it absolutely should. But if we pretend that limitations and hindrances don’t exist then we can’t mitigate for them.
And in case the metaphor obscures the message, I want to be unequivocal in saying (and I’m going to say it in bold like a shouty internet warrior) that effort can’t remove systemic injustice, inequality, unequal starting places, prejudice or social barriers. It is important to me to coach with a full awareness of, and attention to, the very real differences in opportunity and luck that people experience.
Will: how much do you want it?
Bear with me a little longer with this metaphor… because this next bit’s a good one.
Let’s think about your destination. It’s going to take some effort to get there. Will it be worth it to you? Will the thought of getting there sustain you through the tough spots?
The answer is that you have to really want it. Deep down in your soul. The desire to reach the destination has to be enough to smooth the bumps in the road, and to find ways around fallen trees.
So you need to ask yourself: Why do you want to go there? Did you hear it was nice from someone else, and figured, why not? Is it the place to be seen where everyone goes, so it must be great? Is it one of the places on your bucket list, and once you’ve ticked it off you’ll go to the next place? Do you know that you’ll find some of your favourite things and favourite people there? Have you sought it out because it is known to be the place to go to get something that you love? Do you figure you’ve not been before and would like to learn what it’s all about?
We make choices for lots of different reasons. And while none of the reasons preclude you from having a good time when you get to your destination, you are much more likely to enjoy it and want to stay there if you know that it’s a place that can cater for your preferences before you arrive. (for example not many people love a remote soggy Scottish winter holiday. Personally, I love it. But no amount of positive vibes and raving on from me is going to make somebody else enjoy a bleak landscape and no wi-fi, if that’s their idea of hell. I mean – it’s not inconceivable that they could like it: I did actually convert a die-hard sun worshipper to rainy British hols, but there’s no denying that it’s a risk).
So where are you going?
If you had to map out your own journey, what would it look like? Could you answer the question of why you want to reach your destination and how reaching that place will be exciting and fulfilling and fun? Are you aware of the obstacles you need to overcome and do you have plans in place to get past them? Is the possibility of the destination compelling enough for you to want to go to the effort of getting there? And if not, where are you going instead?
If you are not clear on any of this a coach is a great bet, because a coach is like your travelling buddy helping you to figure out where you want to go and supporting you along your journey to get there. If you are staring at a big map of possibilities, or can’t see beyond the tried and tested routes, or if you want different things from your journey, working with a coach will help you get clear, make plans and get to your destination with so much of the uncertainty removed.
This month (January 2021) I am offering free 45 minute tasters so that you can embark on your journey to clarity. (I actually groaned at myself when I typed that). All you need to do is e-mail or use the sign up form and we’ll arrange a mutually convenient time. I can help you get really clear about what you want and exactly how you want your journey to be.