This is a collaborative case study based on one coaching conversation between Kirsty and myself. I am coaching Kirsty, who is thinking through a decision she has to make.
Below you will find a letter and an essay by Kirsty describing the impact of our coaching conversation.
[Read this text on a white background here]
I have settled to try and write this letter several times, and each time I have struggled to find the words. On different days, I have thought about various aspects of our coaching conversation and found it almost impossible to choose one to put down on paper. However, when I thought about all of the strands together, they all pull in one direction – that our
coaching conversation helped create some much needed clarity.
I say this with kindness, but you didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
Your questions helped me articulate some things outside of my head in a way that I hadn't before. And now that I have said it out loud - I can't unknow what I know. I found your questions helpful in creating clarity.
Here are some things I appreciated about the questions you asked me:
• The questions were short and direct and asked as an invitation to answer - not an obligation or demand. I was in my head and didn't have space for a lot of words or demands.
• Your questions were generous and expansive - they helped me think about my stuff from multiple perspectives, which was very helpful for me. I could feel your positivity and a sense of ‘in this together’ through the generous nature of the questions you asked.
• The questions were not new, but they were big and significant. You didn't duck out of asking the difficult questions and made everything feel manageable.
It was a life-affirming experience to have my 'stuff' held carefully by another while exploring it and working out what I needed to do. Thank you.
I have also done some of the things I said I would, and that is equally life-affirming. I needed time to think, and your questions helped me to do that. The right question, asked in the right way at the moment, can be transformative.
David Whyte's poem, ‘Sometimes’ describes this experience and I thought it might be nice to share it with you. I’d love to hear what you think.
Sometimes by David Whyte
if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
Thanks for the questions Iacob and I look forward to our next coaching conversation.
The Catch-22 of Creating Clarity
By Kirsty Elderton
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a famous anti-war novel. Even if you have never read the book, you will be familiar with the Catch 22 concept. It's a situation where no matter what choices are made, the outcome will be bad. In one famous scene, Yossarian (the books leading character) reflects on the Catch 22 concept with the platoons doctor, Doc Daneeka:
"[Pilot] Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.
[Pilot] Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to, but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.
Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 'That's some catch, that catch-22,' he observed. 'It's the best there is,' Doc Daneeka agreed."
Unlike Yossasrian and Doc Daneeka, many of us have these conversations in our head, with ourselves. For a long time, my husband and I considered the move to Australia. We wanted a better life, to leave the UK and our nine to five jobs behind and experience a new environment, a different place with new opportunities. To do this, we would need to leave our family and friends. And here's the Catch 22 - how could we possibly have a better life without our family and friends?
A good Catch 22 can get you stuck for a while. Throw in a little bit of catastrophising, procrastination and a healthy dose of worry, and suddenly there is no way out of a Catch 22.
Recently I have been in my head, creating scenarios for a decision I needed to make. Each scenario came with risks and had the potential to make things worse. I was stuck in my head running through the options and physically stuck in my apartment due to the lockdown- slowly losing perspective and tying myself up in knots.
This Catch 22 was a doozy, and Iacob met me right in the middle of it. A good coach will do that. They will meet you where you are without judgement or agenda and walk through it with you.
Iacob is skilled at this, offering questions and reflections that helped me discern possibility rather than fixed truths. With each question, reflection or intervention, I slowly retreated from 'all the outcomes will be bad' to a place of possibility and options.
Suddenly I wasn't stuck. Iacob's questions clarified the areas I needed to think further about, where I was worrying unnecessarily and together, we unearthed some alternatives I had previously not considered.
Brene Brown says, "clear is kind, unclear is unkind". I find it hard to create clarity for myself. From time to time, I need a thinking partner who can dive in there with me, who will ask me questions to gently test the validity of Catch 22's I have constructed.
For Pilot Orr the Catch 22 was real and a matter of life and death. Most of mine are of my own making and come with little consequence in comparison.
Thank you, Iacob, for helping me realise that to decide, I needed to think clearly. And to think clearly, I needed to stop thinking about all of the things I was thinking about.