Dancing With The Coat of Fear

I’ve noticed myself being a right miserable sod sometimes, of late. In small interactions I’ve been bemoaning others’ success, questioning positive actions, doubting intent. I’ve not been kind, at times. And it’s not a state that is nourishing me.

Along with this has been an urge to withdraw. I peer at Twitter or Instagram and have this sense of woeful inadequacy: look at all the things I don’t know how to do, or comment on or change or contribute to. Everyone’s wiser, better, more. There is so much nastiness out there. I have no power.

I want to run and hide. I want to bicker at the world as it shows itself to be: unfair, imbalanced, unjust.  When I’m in this place, I slowly, slowly lose my sense of hope and purpose; my optimism and willingness to be in the world well. So I get miserable and small and I moan. 

And as I do this, My sense of my own smallness increases and….oh hello to a joyless cycle.

It’s an old thing. A coat I wore for ages and know well. The coat is bit manky and not very appealing to see or be around, but in it, I’m safe. Wrapped up in fear and inadequacy, I can look a bit rough and mutter hexes or malicious incantations and keep the world away. It has some power. Splendidly miserable isolation. Fabulous life choice. 

But it’s a heavy coat, it takes effort to lug the damn thing around. It’s a bit stinky and leaves me feeling I need a refresh. Sometimes, I don’t notice myself wearing it– then I realise I’m all tensed up and snarky. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in it, I can’t figure out how to get out, wrestling with the damn thing like a kid in a cagoule with a broken zip. By the time I get to that point (probably before I got to that point, to be honest, but I’m a slow learner, at times) I know I need help.

Help comes in various guises and last week, it came in the guise of Playing at the Edge: Dancing with your Inner Critic, run powerfully and compassionately by Steve Chapman and Simon Cavicchia. When I signed up for it, a large part of me was rolling my eyes at myself – why must I always pick the mad stuff?  Proper people with proper concerns don’t choose to do stuff like this. I am the wrong type of consultant and coach. No one will ever take me seriously. The foolishness of me. The folly and self indulgence. Etc etc…

Yeh, well… that’s as maybe… and I don’t want to keep wearing this damn coat. I’ll never be free of the judgement and fear it’s made of, but if I must carry something of it on my person, I’d rather it was pocket hankie sized and not quite so all encompassing. I don’t want to be swathed in stink and smallness. No-one – neither myself nor my clients – does well when I’m there.

So how about I step out of the coat, dance with it a bit, see if I can’t get it a little cleaner, or chop it up a little – make it less huge or more appealing or something.

So I did. We did. I have been running scared of human contact for the majority of this year, so showing up without my ugly coat to protect me and then getting it out in public did feel…somewhat counter-intuitive. OK.. so actually it felt terrifying and stupid and exposing… It is, therefore, a testament to the skill, the warmth and the care of Steve and Simon that I (and others) felt able to look at, work with and start to re-configure our versions of an ugly coat.

Theirs is a masterclass in navigating emotional landscapes with compassion and wisdom. Every time I felt off-map, I could look up and there were two guides, with compasses going: yeh, you’re alright. You are roughly here someplace… want the compass? It meant I was able, willing, to keep going.

It was a profound two days. I left with a sense of knowing how I react and respond when I’m critical or when I feeling under threat.. and a sense of how to shift that, so I’m not so in the grip of the fear. I left with a different sense of my ugly coat – it’s a little prettier, a little less stinky than I think – it and I still have some work to do.

Turns out when I’m not coating myself in judgement and fear, life is more free, richer and I have a sense of ease in the world. Like I belong more. I can be warmer, bigger, more trusting, happier. I can challenge with less fear. I can stand in the heat of clients protecting their status quo and hold for a few beats more, keep the opportunity for difference open for a longer stretch. I’m more compassionate to myself and that bubbles out to others, which generates trust and shift….

What’s not to love?

So as I brush the lapels of the stinky old coat and whisper to it that I’m going to be wearing something with a bit more colour and freedom and joy, more often, for a wee while, but that I know it well and I know how well it can protect me; I’m thankful for being able to see the stinky coat and for places to take it to dance.

The photograph is entitled “Fur Coat on the Run, Tunisia, 1983” by Richard Young and can be purchased here

I don’t know what to write – #21daysofwriting – Day 13

Today’s topic is from the delight that is James Wilson – verse 8, particularly, is his.

 

Today I’ve tried some Haiku ( 5-7-5 syllable) poems. They can be deliciously descriptive, but the form means they can be…bloody annoying, frankly….you should try to write one though… the form kind of holds you as much as it restricts.

The creation of these required much taping and counting-of-fingers to figure out the number of syllables in a word. Anyone sitting around me on the train must have thought I was a little odd.

I’ve gone with 13 Haiku for 13 days – the original plan was to write 12 verses  reflecting on each of the 12 posts so far, with a 13th to finish… that just got too complex. Went back to what felt simple.

-1-

I don’t know what to
write except I seem to find
The words from somewhere.

-2-

If I seek words they
Slip through my grasp like water
My job is to wait

-3-

This challenge has been
more giving than it would seem
I have found joy here

-4-

I said I would do
Topics allocated to
Me from all of you

-5-

Writing Haiku is
Deceptively slippery
Each word is loaded

-6-

Now I think I am
Trying to write sentences
Not “proper” Haiku

-7-

So let me try to
Be more artfully wordy
In the next verse here

-8-

V&A London
Artist in Residence found
Making giant shells

-9-

A poem can hold
All of life’s meaning in it
Magnificently

-10 –

An empty bottle
Holds the possibility
Of liquid to come

-11-

I’m trying to find
Luscious, evocative words
And trying too hard

-12-

Each morning begins
With publishing written word
Scary satisfaction

-13-

Thirteen days so far
I can see an end in sight
Beginnings start there

 

 

Trust #21daysofWriting – Day 4

This one is inspired by the very marvellous Kathryn Sheridan – whose work is focussed on “credibility consulting, assessing credibility and building credibility”

———-

This one has been surprisingly difficult and sprawlly… but here goes:

Part of me wants to write about Trust in a work context. 

Part of me doesn’t even know where to begin.

For a long time, I didn’t trust myself, so writing about this stuff is weird.

I think I do now, more or less…. It’s an ongoing relationship…not always easy… but I know, mostly, how to re-build trust with myself when I arse up these days. I know for certain Life’s better when I do.

I look back on the early days of fuchsiablue and I know I felt hollow; under pressure to be successful … trying to seem good.. and fundamentally, elementally hollow. I knew the basics. I flew by the seat of my pants, which was fun..and exhausting. I was surface and a bit shiny.. meaning when anyone knocked me, I was fairly quickly tarnished and damaged. Those who know me from back in the day know how it was for me. A lot of worrying, rictus grin where a daft one would have been better, a bit bubbly, a bit caustic…

I see that same look I used to have in others, sometimes. Typically it’s when folk have just left 20 years of working in X and they are setting up by themselves.. there’s a brittle fragility to some, faking it ‘til they make it… determined… sometimes a little desperate…lots of shiny, surface stuff happening. I don’t mean that in a mocking sense. I just see it. Lots of affirming public proclamations. Mild private panic behind the eyes. Oh. I know that look.

It makes perfect sense. In this context, Some of the things you trust and rely on don’t exist anymore. That Trusted Internal Reputation. That Trusted Title, showing your Trusted Status. That Trusted Salary. This is Organisational currency.. and we can be wealthy within that… but it tends to flatline outside of Organisational Systems. That which was professionally meaningful is socially a bit more “meh”… it’s a kicker… and unless you face into that – the loss, the doubt, the possibility of different – and have a good old look at what’s kicking – it can take you down.

In my coaching life I’ve met variations of this Identity Arrest. Those returning to work after a health episode, for example, feeling changed & suddenly less invulnerable. Their place of work has been fairly static – their personal journey, transformative. It’s disconcerting. Sometimes they no longer trust themselves.. to be well, to be energised, to function, to be as they now are. Sometimes they no longer trust the organisation. Sometimes both are true and fair. The work here, I think, is to build trust in the new self… getting the person to know and understand themselves as they now are – being less fearful, getting familiar with themselves again. The story running can be one of fear: “I might break” 

Yeah. You might. But we are here, now. You didn’t. You haven’t. Trust that. Work within the new world bandwidth.

We talk about “building” trust because it is just that – small incremental moments. Big risks and small ones. Action. Trial and error. Realisation. Putting stuff into practice in our own way… over and over.

I think this is where Belief comes in. It’s integral part of trust, in my view. If you don’t believe in an outcome, a future, a person, Trusting it or them is slightly fantastical. If I don’t believe I can shift my perspective, if I allow my stubbornness to write the story – if I haven’t got my heart in it, then I’m half-in and suspicious… and things are rarely peachy from that place. When you are trying things out, taking risks, building a picture, it’s wholeheartedness, red-blooded “give it a go”, blind faith and courage that allows you to see how far you really can stretch – and somewhere along the line, you realise you trust yourself to do stuff. 

The good news is you can outsource Belief. A good Mentor, friend etc can hold the belief for you for a while – willing you on, believing in your potential, your fabulousness, your talent, your ability. It only works for a while – it be can exhausted – but if you are willing to take on a pinch of that belief…and then a spoonful, then a ladle-load, then a bucket load, then embody it…. You find you trust yourself, in time.

My way to a place of reasonable self-trust was long and circuitous. I don’t learn quickly. I’m mule-stubborn at times. I used to want everything fast, so lost patience rapidly. At the core, though, I was in a state that some part of me knew sucked and I wanted…no, I needed to be more secure…because the state of constant self-doubt was paralysing and miserable. I went seeking something deeper, more stable and rooted…That’s why it’s about “Personal Development” ….Oh. I have to develop my Person?Yup – and the person I needed to develop was one I trusted.

The Book I Want to Write #21daysofWriting

Thanks to Martyn Clark for the topic

The book I want to write is a long way off. In my head it’s “yet to arrive”.. and of course, it’s not going to arrive, fully ready and publishable, it’s going to take work. It will, in stages, be awful and off-beam. It will be heart-made and contain delicious words – words like unctuous and sizzle, discombobulate and scrumptious; words like agony and ecstasy, like magic, spell-bound and love. 

It will be expressive, full-throated and not everyone’s cup of earl grey.

And as I write all of that.. part of me thinks: Book? Me? Really? the way I use my words? And this way? That’s not proper.

Oh. To be improper.

And of course, such a thing won’t actually “arrive” at all – I’ll have to go find it. The creation of any book, be it fiction or fact, business or sci-fi, cookery or computing, is an act of exertion. Passive speculation doesn’t create pages. Imagination alone does not forge a narrative. Anyone who has published something out in the world has worked that thing to the bone (from fiction to PhD to the “Bloody Annual Report”).  It takes care. Commitment. It takes, I suspect,  research, practice and editing. For me, I also suspect it takes cups of tea and long walks…. Patient friends & family and many pairs of warm socks. 

Such a thing takes self-management, discipline and focus… oh..and a topic.

The #21DaysofWriting challenge I’ve set myself really isn’t about writing a book – it’s about practicing in the foothills before having a hack at a mountain – and perhaps a book or some semblance of something book-y or bookish might tumble from all of this. Or perhaps not. Perhaps my path is to write often. Perhaps mine is a voice of vignettes. Maybe I’m a columnist. Maybe I’m a blogger, not a “Proper Author”. Maybe I’m afraid & I just need to get off my arse and start… oh hold on… maybe I have…

None of that really matters, at this point. What matters at this point is I write. And I write about different things and different thoughts. That I accept the words and topics put before me and I turn those into readable nuggets. This challenge is about that only, for now. For now I’ll be patient and focus on what is in front of me. In 14 or 16 or 21 days from now I might be asking: What next? But for now it is simply: What now?

I set myself a thing. Let me find the joy & the beauty in the thing for now.

I digress. 

The book I want to write? Has something about power in it – not formal, forced power.. not the power of being able to beat another down – literally or intellectually…  but the power of connecting, of yielding…relational, convening power. The power of encouragement. The power in seeing a situation as it is – not as it ought to be – and bearing that enough to see through it without outrage. The emotion that the act of bearing can generate on the other side of outrage.

And something about the feminine – curves and sensuality, gorgeousness and intimacy. Quietly owning a space utterly, in the face of being silenced. The power of creation, the ability to speak out with heart about injustice, stupidity, lack-of-connection…watching the puff and the jostling and the small daily offences that add up to wanting to numb-out and run away.. finding the heart and the wisdom, the patience and the energy to stick with and stay.

Such a book has no clear narrative, I suspect – no neat arc. Chapters might kill it… or they may contain the content enough to hold it all together….I guess the job of a writer is to find that stuff.

But in the coming days – when you look at a book – any book ( and maybe the annual report) think about the sheer will and commitment that has gone in to the bringing of that book into being.

#21daysofWriting

Reflective note:

Blimey. That was a bit more of a Start than I intended.

Biggest fear is my clients will now think I’m slightly unhinged, refuse to work with me etc. High expression. Loaded words. I’m colouring outside the lines more than I intended.

It wasn’t easy to write, in some respects…mostly because I was worried what folk would think.

I also think I might want to lighten up…

It’s going to be more of a challenge to publish it – might hit the button and run… 

21 Days of Writing – topics

Right then. I put a shout out on Monday for topic areas as I begin a #21daysofWriting Challenge – starting on 10th May this month until the 31st.

The list of topics ( and those who requested them) are below – I’ve tried to capture everyone & have contacted anyone who missed the 21. The point of this is more about trying to write daily, well-ish and with difference.. the topic areas will hopefully inspire some good stuff….and I’m open to the possibility of tat, too.

At the end of each “piece” I’ll do a wee “writer note” to say how it was for me to write that day.

If you join me for any part, or all of, the 21 days, I’m eternally grateful…and no pressure. This could be seen to be a vanity project… and for me it means something much much more.

So. Have a look at what the coming days have in store:

TopicAsked for by
1The book I want to writeMartyn Clark
2My relationship with my trusted bikeMike Collins
3Better Listening to Random PeopleSarah Sniderman
4TrustKathryn Sheridan @Kathrynsheridan
5What ifAlison Monkhouse
6ColourChristine Locher
7What could we learn from our pets Kez Smith @Hr_Kez
8The ebb and flow of creativityAnnette Hill
9The shift/ day I will never forget@vicki_mallows
10ProcrastinationMichelle Parry -Slater @MIPS1608
11I am from/ Voice/ The FearLesley Moorhouse
12Bees & ButterfliesFiona McBride @fionaMcBride
13I don’t know what to writeJames Wilson @Jw_consults
14Finding your voice@ChayneDaisy ( Gina Chapman)
15The Power of Music@MarkCatchlove
16Exploring the outdoors for facilitationRuth Dawson @ruphusDebelius
17Redundant Apostrophes and how they’ve changed the world@Liz_Kentish
18LoveNeil Baker @NeilBaker
19Dreaming the ImpossibleKrystyna Gadd
20Nature is in dire straits, how do we communicate this to others?Jacqueline d’arth
21ChopsticksAnne-Marie Garner
22Day 22Rhona Graham

I’ll see you on Friday #21DaysofWriting

Shifting

As she steps from one space into another, I am struck by how beautiful she is.
For a moment, I feel my throat catch and my breath shorten.
She is stepping into her future self.
It’s an oft-used coaching exercise – we hang out with the old, move into the here-and-now, step into the future.
We move physically, as well as mentally, verbally, emotionally.
We take our time.
At the start, she is hesitant – looking to me to reassure – is this right? Permissible? Am I saying the right thing? Thinking the right thing? Good Coachee?
Others react differently. They jump in and complete the task. They are sure. Unthinking. Certain. They tell me decisively How The World Is… Oh. OK then.
She is much more tentative, more hesitant.
We all start from different places, I guess.
But now? She’s up and running.
She is almost talking to herself…
And she moves.
Determinedly. Quietly. Furiously.
It’s a hell of a thing to behold.
She’s not some 6ft supermodel. She’s not high flyer have-it-all go getter. She’s not special. She’s not beautiful. She’s not quite right yet.
(She defines herself as what she is not – and she is sure about what she isn’t.
Very sure. Defendedly, properly, rudely sure.
I’ve been abruptly put in my place a few times for my questions…)
Me? I’m less sure. I’m deeply curious about the story she has set for herself – the excellent, binding narrative. The “I am/ I’m Not” story. It’s been written over years.
Carefully constructed and edited…the one that has brought her here.
Half-formed. Half permitted. Half certain (but very certain of the half)
As I watch her resolve to shift (maybe dissolve?) something, I am moved beyond measure.
Eventually, after a long time of silence, of talking to herself and to the middle-distance, she looks at me.
A little shy, a little embarrassed, a little defensive, perhaps – I’ve seen her unguarded.
I don’t say anything….
Then I realise I’m grinning and I might need to explain myself….
And we begin a different conversation.

What’s Possible

What’s emerging as I continue to ask myself and understand for myself What Matters to me in the work I do (see here and here for more) and how I do it is the importance of possibility. I like having choice ( even if it is only the illusion of choice) and I like it when I can see, or magic up, or work to create choice with clients.

Where there are no options, the work feels deadened and empty, stifling and stagnant …. Where I or we can see different ways to do stuff, there is energy, liveliness, the possibility of newness or movement. It’s generative. Guess where I’d rather be?

Working this way requires more, personally, professionally – you have to be invested differently if you are going to create or commit to working with stuff that isn’t the “norm” – you have to recognise and tackle strong stories, well-established personal and organisational narratives, it doesn’t happen on the sidelines, you kind of have to get involved….and possibly that’s not for everyone. You run the risk of being annoying, or wrong, isolated or scapegoated… or knackered… so, you know.. there’s that…but what if you make a difference? Well.. there’s that too…

How it shows up in practice is through questions & hypothesis – Is that really how it is? Really? Really-really? According to who? What if we….? What would happen if…? What if we could…? And then through action – showing alternatives, doing things differently, taking up or creating space otherwise occupied by certainty and establishment, encouraging clients to see possibilities, challenging what presents itself…

So much of the change work – be it with coaching clients or in organisations and systems – is about really getting into the long-held narratives and what they do for folk….genuinely understanding how a position or a story has come into being and why it is so tightly held and so defended (because more often than not, the story is defended passionately: it IS this way. You CANNOT see this situation any other way. You DON’T understand. I AM ONLY permitted to do/say/be THIS way)….and of course, there is a possibility that that is true.. and there is a possibility that it’s just one interpretation and there are other worlds out there to explore….

And in all of this, the creating and realising of possibility, is the need for articulation and repetition. You have to clearly offer alternatives, to show the possibility in multiple formats and languages and they need to be worked through before they will take hold.. otherwise it’s just flaky dreamer stuff…. My working partner, Claire Marie Boggiano, holds firmly to the belief that you have to say or discuss or show a thing “seven to twenty one times” in an organisation before it becomes regarded as possible. Whilst we are not sure of the actual science behind this, we work on this basis and prepare ourselves for have the same conversations, or raise the possibility for alternative narratives time and time and time again until something opens up…

Perhaps this blog is mostly because I’m reading the Art of Possibility by Rosmund Stone Zander and Ben Zander Good summary here – it’s a beautiful read and is helping me see how I can contribute differently in my work…. So far, it’s the story of the Taiwanese Student that has most touched me.

At the beginning of a Semester, Ben Zander (world renown conductor with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestera) is working with the best-of-the-best-students in a special programme at a Conservatoire. He wants to get them to produce the best possible performance, to get them to commit heart and soul, beyond the technical requirements of the music, their instruments, their current state. He wants them to make mistakes – and in doing so, overcome and grow – he wants them to lose their fear of errors. He makes the decision to award every student an “A” at the beginning of the semester – he tells them: Every one of you will get an A in this class. Now I need you to go and write me a letter telling me, in detail, why you have earned this A… what you do , how you feel, who you are now as this A student. This is a letter from your future self to you now… what more does that person know? What are they doing or how are they being differently from you now?
How delicious….how compelling…. What a terrifyingly wonderful invitation.

The Tiwanese student is confused by this “getting an A” for seemingly nothing. He writes to Zander:
“In Taiwan I was Number 68 out of 70 students. I come to Boston and Mr Zander says I am an A. Very confusing. I walk about, three weeks, very confused. I am Number 68, but Mr Zander says I am an A Student….. I am Number 68, but Mr Zander says I am an A. One day I discover I am much happier A than Number 68. So I decide I am an A”

There is the possibility – a lifetime of an owned narrative of being number 68 good enough, turned into something else entirely by the possibility things might be better/ different for you than that and then the active choice to embrace the possibility…It’s a beautiful thing. It’s powerful as all hell.

No wonder this is part of my What Matters in my work.

image thanks to https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-art-blur-bokeh-285173/