Coach’s Challenge for 2/23/09

Good day, team,

I’m reading a wonderful book, “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship,” by David Whyte. Here’s a quote that best describes what the book is about.

“We have the remarkable ability as human beings to fall in love with a person, a work, or even, at times, an idea of ourselves.” He asserts that our current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. The ways in which we think about our work, relationships and inner selves seem to frustrate and exhaust us. Whyte argues that it’s impossible to sacrifice any one of these aspects of our lives without causing deep psychological damage and invites us to examine each marriage with a fierce but affectionate eye. He explores these three parts of our lives with profound observations and conclusions that I’m finding eye-opening and provocative.

The conclusion Whyte comes to in Chapter 6, “Opening a Tidal Gate: The Pursuit of Work Through Difficulty, Doubt and Distraction,” is at the heart of this week’s challenge. He writes, “In building a work life, people who follow rules, written or unwritten, too closely and in an unimaginative way are often suffocated by those same rules and die by them, quite often unnoticed and very often unmourned.”

This conclusion spoke loudly to me as a coach. Many clients have come to me for guidance in finding a life, as though they’ve lost the life they had; they tell me they can’t remember the last time they felt any joy in their lives or that they’re feeling a depression so deep they seem to be completely lifeless.

One man has asked me to share his story in hopes of helping others. When I began working with him, he was no longer able to get out of his recliner. That is, he had reached a point in his life where all he did was go to work and then come home and return to his recliner in front of the television. His wife served him his dinner there, and he slept in it all night. He was beginning to worry that he might wake up one morning and not be able to convince himself to go to work, that he might stay in his recliner 24 hours a day and one day not be able to get out of it at all.

When I asked him questions about his work, he would often say, “Well, I just fly under the radar. No one really notices me, and I just go about my business and always follow the rules. I don’t make waves, and people just leave me alone.” And when I asked him what made him happy, he couldn’t remember.

This experience is not as unusual as you might think. By living our lives without any real desire, the fire within us dims and, eventually, can go out. If we’re always following the rules and not allowing our imagination to challenge the status quo, we disengage and our lives become stale.

It took my client awhile to remember when he had last felt genuine joy and happiness. These memories had become locked up and hidden under layers of always being responsible and reliable, always doing the right thing. As we worked together, he began to remember the joy he experienced when he went fishing as a young boy. When he spoke about those days, tears formed in his eyes and a smile spread across his face. I could see his desire begin to reawaken his heart.

My client began to use his vacation days to go fishing. At first, he went by himself, but after awhile he began to invite friends and colleagues. After awhile, he brought pictures of the fish he caught to put in his cubicle at work. His wife started learning about fish preparation and wines that go best with certain fish dishes. He even made up a sign at work that read “Gone fishing” when he needed quiet, concentrated time in his cubicle and didn’t want to be disturbed. His colleagues laughed at his quirkiness, but they were happy to see him re-engaged and no longer depressed. My client began to connect his work, his relationship and his inner self around his love of fishing, and it reignited his joy in life.

Today, he is semi-retired. In the summer, he works at a children’s camp where he teaches the kids to fish. During the rest of the year, he writes articles for fishing magazines when he’s not out fishing himself.

Your challenge this week? Don’t be afraid to build a work life that includes those things that keep your inner fire alive. Maybe you haven’t spoken your mind lately and feel the need to disagree and have your views heard. Experiencing a moment of your own courage can light your fire in an instant. Perhaps you love flowers: Make sure you have them on your desk where you can see them each day. How about challenging yourself to use your creative imagination to improve a project you’re working on, or suggesting to your team members that you all try taking a different approach to solving a problem? How about allowing yourself to fail or to be wrong just for the sake of experimentation?  If necessary, spend some contemplative time figuring out what used to make you really happy and try incorporating that into your daily schedule.

As a child, I used to spend many hours in the basement dancing to all kinds of music. I made up steps and tried them out. Sometimes I would just turn circles; other times I would pretend I had a handsome dance partner who whisked me across the floor. Now when I’m feeling depressed, I plug in my i-Pod headphones and dance a few steps to lighten my load. It always works, and even if people see me, they don’t seem to mind.

“Follow your bliss,” counseled Joseph Campbell. And I say, once you know what it is, find a way to live it.

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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