I have been coaching Sam (name changed) for about a year. The main stated objective of the coaching engagement was to support him become more strategic and less involved in the day to day fire fighting,
However, a constant theme that underscored our conversations was his dissatisfaction of his performance in his current leadership role. He often made strong commitments and action plans to ‘get out of the weeds’ by delegating more; and even succeeded so some extent.
But the refrain was loud and clear –
“I am not good at my job…..and I kick myself for this.“
Exploring Personal Values and finding Satisfaction
In a coaching conversation in November, we explored his level of satisfaction/joy in his past jobs. What emerged was that Sam had never truly enjoyed or felt he excelled in any of his past jobs over 20 years! And he had constantly berated himself all through that period.
We then went back to his ‘personal values’ – an exploration that is typically conducted at the start of a coaching engagement and revisited ever so often. And the penny dropped for me!
Basically Sam’s highest personal values were spending quality time with family and seeing himself as the primary provider. Honesty, diligence, being considerate of others and contribution to society were next.
Aligned with Personal Values, yet dissatisfied
When one looked at his life, it became very clear that he was indeed living a life that was in alignment with these values. He found great joy to be with his family and time with them was sacrosanct.
He was a capable general manager and earned a good living to support his family. But there was a noise in his head – a constant chatter about not being a ‘type A’ leader and not having the cutting edge technical skills he thought he ‘should’ have.
As we explored further, it became apparent that these were actually not important to him, but rather very powerful social expectations that he had personalized and made his own.
This self-berating was a source of constant suffering for him.
Narratives in the mind not aligned with Personal Values
Something had shifted within me during this session. I started to look at my own mind – what are the similar narratives playing out for me that are not in alignment with my personal values and hence causing me constant pain? And lo and behold, a theme became quickly apparent.
A search for legitimacy as mainly seen by others. This played out as wanting to be seen as having higher impact – both in the number of people I reached and also to reach more ’senior’ folks. This yearning for ‘more’ was in many ways contradictory to my personal values of independence, flexibility, spaciousness, and deeper connections.
After all, if I wanted to do more, I would need to be more structured, partner with others and sacrifice depth for width. By grasping for ‘more,’ I was causing self-inflicted suffering that was counterproductive.
And so, the insight deepened!
My current life and a Metaphor
My current life style is actually quite in alignment with what is truly important for me.
Simply accepting this has brought me peace.
If I ‘grasp’ at growth from a sense of inadequacy, it is a distraction and will likely lead to suffering.
Yes, I would like to contribute more. But, I am better served if I look at this from a position of abundance and not scarcity. In other words, let me fully accept and embody that life is indeed wonderful as it is now.
Any growth will be from one wholeness to another and not from incompleteness to completion.
As this insight settled over the next few days, a visual metaphor emerged. About 15 years ago, Lata (my wife) and I were on a boat on the river Siene in Paris. I was looking at the people frolicking on the banks. They seemed to be having a lot more fun!
I recall making an insensitive comment about this to Lata. This was indeed grasping at its worst. At that moment, I had forgotten all that I had and was solely focusing on what I believed was missing at that moment. And I let that grasping colour my entire perception.
So, here is my reframed metaphor: I am on a river, floating in sync with the waters. I am doing so of my choice. Ever so often, I notice something pleasant on the banks of the river. I watch my tendency to ‘want’ it and smile inwardly.
I am at peace. I wave at the people on the banks and they wave back. . At some point, if I choose, I too could frolic on the banks. But for now, each of us is complete and in sync with what is truly important to us!
My invitation to you to explore
So, here’s an invitation to explore these questions:
- What are some of the recurrent narratives in your mind that cause you pain?
- Are they important (in alignment with your personal values)? If yes, what would you like to do going forward?
- Or are they a distraction that needs to be managed? How might you reframe them to gain greater peace of mind?
Please do this introspection and share your comments below if you wish; or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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