I doubt that anyone becomes a parent with the intention of holding someone back. That would be a pretty laborious way of scuppering the human race. But as parents (and coaches, teachers, employers) it can happen that in our earnest desire to help someone we end up doing the opposite.
I know that in pretty much every role I have in my life that involves other people, I have unintentionally got in their way. I also know that, despite my sometimes worse than useless interventions, my kids, clients, students and colleagues will have found their way through regardless…
As I become clearer about the innate wisdom, health, resilience and joy of every individual on the planet, the far less inclined I am to do anything that points them in any direction other than inside them.
Here is how I have been well-intentioned but far less than brilliant over the years (and in all cases it is still work in progress).
I helped them put so much ‘on’ an idea or a desire that we choked the life out of it
We are born to live a beautiful life of curiosity, creation, exploration, learning, fun and love.
But in the well-intentioned attempt to build up a child’s (or client’s or pupil’s or employee’s) motivation to do something, we point them in the opposite direction. We load up the doing with meaning. Misguidedly, we make it about their self esteem or their value. We bring in what we think other people will think of them. We make it important and worthy, about success and failure, about awards and titles.
If they were stuck and weighted down before talking to us then the chances are they will become even more stuck as a result.
It is in creating the quiet, honest space, in which it is clear that all meanings and beliefs are arbitrary and transient (yes, even our own…), that we point people back to their birthright.
I took out the fun
There have been many times at the dinner table when I have wanted one of my children to finish their dinner. I have got cross them, my voice has got tense. I’ve stopped smiling. They become sullen and defiant. Not only are they not eating but we are all miserable. Then their Dad turns it into a game and soon we are all laughing and they are eating or not eating and either way we all know that it is OK .
When I make life about bringing something in – discipline, mind over matter, duty or showing character, I take the focus off what we all have already – our innate well-being and wisdom.
Now I use that sense of heaviness in the air as a sign I am creating arbitrary reasons why this matters and I look for a way to remind all of us of the free, joyful, creative beings that we really are. That is where the fun is.
I worried about them
Imagine I am in a room with a client and I’m smiling away and keeping my voice nice and light but underneath I am thinking ‘What a disaster. How on earth are they going to get through this?’. No prizes for guessing what they’ll take out from that session.
Worrying about someone is all about us and nothing about them. When we worry about someone we communicate to them that we have no belief in them to find their way through. And it is all about our beliefs and fears (which come and go) and nothing to do with the reality of their own access to intelligence and inspiration (which is always there).
I see now that my child or client could be telling me the most difficult situations they face and I can be with them in the full knowledge of their resourcefulness. If I have the slightest doubt about this I am living in a make-believe world of my own.
I took my fears seriously and lied about being afraid
I used to think that being responsible meant showing no fear. The result was that I took every fear extremely seriously, saw it as weakness, tried to squash it and ended up a quivering wreck.
What I’ve seen now is that fear is just part of being human. We can pay to experience it on on a roller coaster or do anything to avoid it in a presentation.
We can welcome or resist fear according to what we think it means. This takes us to the strange conundrum that we never have to take our fears seriously AND we don’t have to deny or resist them.
It means I can tell my son and daughter when I am queuing up with them to go down the death slide that I am absolutely, can-barely-stand, terrified. And still go down the slide with them. Or I can show the guests at my first public talk that my hands are shaking. And still do the talk.
This way I am using myself as a sign post towards the transience of thought and the reality of feelings. There are few things more powerful and honest than that.
I believed that I was essential
I know of a therapist that has been seeing one of his clients every fortnight for the last 30 years. Thirty years. The therapist is quite proud of the fact that if he goes away or has to postpone a session, his client goes to pieces.
Over twenty years ago, Steve Chandler started working with a coach, Steve Hardison. A coaching relationship that continues to this day. Since then, Chandler has changed the lives of thousands of his own clients, written over 20 best selling books and is now on a mission to help everyone on the planet suffering from addiction.
The first scenario is about keeping someone small, stuck and dependent on you. The second is continually reminding someone they have everything they need to thrive and contribute at ever more profound levels of clarity, service and love. And seeing it for them, when they really can’t see it themselves.
In any situation or role in which someone is looking to me for guidance, my focus can be on making myself inessential as quickly as possible.
It is the difference between my child coming to me to be told what to do or coming to me because I remind her that she knows what to do. Or between a coaching client coming to me for a pep talk or coming to me for the space to find their own inner knowledge.
Being a parent, teacher, coach or boss is never about flying with a permanent apprentice.
It is about teaching someone to fly a plane and having the privilege of watching their unique, one of a kind airshow that you could never have predicted. Maybe you’ll get a big ‘thank you’ written in the smoke-trail and, if not, the spectacle itself is always reward enough.