Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm
I grew up with three siblings, and I remember whenever we were shopping for clothes or shoes, Mom always encouraged us to buy a size larger than we needed, so we would "have room to grow." I do the same thing now when I’m shopping for my grandchildren.
Many of my clients enter coaching because they suspect they are settling for careers that are "too small." One might have a hankering to expand his or her business big-time, yet gets stuck pondering all the obstacles, all the downsides of upsizing.
We Americans are usually depicted as adventurous, bold risk-takers. Certainly our ancestors who settled this land gambled everything on a vision of a bigger, freer, better life. Those adventurous souls heading West in the Conestogas reached out, almost into thin air, aspiring to a broader horizon.
So, I’m puzzled about why so many people in this country "settle" for such a small version of the life they truly want. I’m intrigued by the attachment to safety nets, even safety nets of language. So often, I hear someone speak of an extraordinary move toward a really inspiring goal. Then, the qualifying statement, the safety net, emerges: "Well, who knows, I’m probably only dreaming." "It’s pie in the sky talk." "Yeah, that might have been possible 20 years ago." Stuff like that.
While training coaches within an organization, my partner Sandye Brown and I used a model to help people achieve extraordinary results and move beyond the need for safety nets, step-by-step.
The first step in the model is to describe, in painstaking detail, that extraordinary goal they’re after. In this step, they produce a "well-formed outcome"-specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and including a time frame. This must be a goal that is energizing and gutsy – able to inspire your inner core and light up your eyes.
The second step is to craft a commitment statement. This is the process of taking a stand for the outcome. It has to be real and it is just the opposite of the safety-net talk.
Next, together, we identify all the obstacles, everything that is in the way of achieving the big outcome. We next teach a process of using "design questions" to overcome the obstacles.
The next step is to brainstorm possibilities, letting the creative juices flow. Out of that, we move to winnowing down those possibilities into the ones we want to pursue. Then we build an action plan to work those possibilities, and voila, we’re on our way to achieving that extraordinary result.
Sounds simple, right? Well it is far from that.
What it is, though, is a process that moves us into action; one that keeps our attention fastened on the extraordinary goal and eventually provides tools for realizing the goal. Even while teaching this process in the "laboratory" of organizational training, it takes months to move through all the steps.
In my experience working with clients who are honing their leadership skills, the first two steps in this model are the trickiest. Usually that long-desired goal has been held as "pie-in-the-sky" and never clearly defined. If there is that fear, that hesitancy to bring the dream into one’s "real" life, keeping it out of focus prevents taking it in your hands and examining it as a possibility. While the goal is blurry, most people don’t even mention it out loud to anyone but perhaps a close confidant. In coaching, we spend whatever time is needed to bring it into focus, taking the gauzy wish and molding it into an outcome that the client can see and feel. When the goal is defined meticulously, the client has already made a significant shift.
The second step that I see as break-through work, is taking a stand for the goal. The client searches his interior to find the commitment that is juicy enough, strong enough, enduring enough to provide the extraordinary inspiration necessary. Taking a stand is dramatic. We all love that moment in a movie or play when the lead character rises up to take a stand. "We’re going home." "Frankly, I don’t give a damn."
We love it even more when we’re starring in our own lives.
Yesterday, I was reading an essay entitled "Speed," by Oliver Sacks, who has achieved a few hundred extraordinary goals himself. In the Aug. 23 issue of the New Yorker, Sacks writes about the varying perceptions of time passing. He described a few reports from people he interviewed who survived near-death experiences. At the very peak of the crisis, whether flying through the air after being hit by a car or whatever, they report an enormous expansion in their perception of time. Sacks is studying the neurology behind this, and suggesting that, in peak experience, the brain shifts into an incredibly efficient mode. Interesting!
I believe, with no empirical evidence but lots of observation of human beings transforming the impossible into reality, that our systems do shift into a different gear when we are crystal clear, fully engaged and stretching toward a goal worthy of our finest talents. And in this mode, we are inspiring countless other fellow humans to dare, to honor their dreams.
Sure beats sitting around saying, "Well there’s no use even thinking about it. It’ll never happen." There is gold within your reach.
Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay and can be reached at (414) 332-0300, or email@example.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com.
September 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI