September 2015

You know how it goes: three steps forward and two steps back (apparently abandoned in 1947 as it created too much chaos in the actual procession, vivid images come to mind). It is a similar feeling to what you may experience when you need to retrace your steps. It happened to my husband and me during a summery bike tour a few weeks ago. We had planned a route, using the fantastic cycle junction network. Everything went smoothly and the end of our tour was in sight – a welcome prospect as my leg muscles were starting to protest. Suddenly we found ourselves in a village centre where a party was going on, with a local singer who was not doing too bad a job crooning Flemish tearjerkers. We were at a crossroads with no cycle junction sign anywhere to be seen. It was very tempting to continue and try to find the next sign. But on second thought, you know that in those cases it is best to retrace your steps to the last sign you saw and determine your route from that point onwards. But especially when you are already tired, this feels like adding extra useless miles while the end is so near. Continuing our ride (and probably end up doing more miles than when we would have gone back) would not have been so dramatic in this case. My husband Mark, who is an ardent hiker, reminded me that a similar decision in the mountains most definitely ends badly. Retracing your steps in the mountains when you have just completed a steep climb feels ten times worse – but pushing on stubbornly to prove your point can end in disaster.

The same holds for the journey of your life. Sometimes you continue in a direction that does not feel right. You feel dissonance from all sides. You don’t feel good, you experience a deep sense of dissatisfaction, stress is all around, you are constantly tired, you can’t sleep,… signs that you need to change direction. Deciding to change is very difficult, as it may feel like a standstill or failure. You have come so far already, so you consider what you stand to lose. As a result you ignore all the warning signs. It happened to me – I also pushed on stubbornly in a dead-end street for too long. But at a given point I stopped, turned back, looked for another direction and found it. Quite a few people congratulate me on my courage to do so at my age (I’m 55!). But believe me, in the end it does not feel like a sacrifice or a huge effort at all – quite the contrary, it feels liberating. It did take me a lot of time and I’m sure that if I’d had a coach by my side earlier, my change of direction would have been quicker and easier.

Do you recognise yourself or someone you know? Take the first step and contact me for a free introductory session.

Together with our grandsons Delano (7) and Livio (2) we spent two weeks at the Belgian seaside during the summer holidays – thankfully the weather was splendid. We enjoyed the sunny beach days I had hoped for, bringing back nostalgic memories of my own childhood spent at the coast (in those days, the sun always seemed to shine). We built sandcastles that tried to resist the tides, we jumped into the waves, caught crabs and fish on the pier, watched the boats go by… and played flower shop. You may be familiar with that apparently exclusive Belgian tradition (even dating back to my mother’s childhood!), where children trade multicoloured paper flowers for shells. I was thoroughly enjoying myself making the flowers (the nicest in Nieuwpoort and far beyond, according to my grandson) and Delano was managing the shop. I was watching his trade from a small distance and gave him commercial advice where needed: when you buy a flower for 50 shells, you need to sell it for at least 55 shells, for example. Or you do not sell one of granny’s most beautiful creations (if I say so myself) for such a ridiculously low price! Delano couldn’t care less about the laws of capitalism. He’d rather give a nice reduction ‘because that girl seemed so shy’. And he immediately agreed to the suggestion of another buyer to lower his asking price… he gave a 60% reduction without any further discussion! Of course he is still too young to appreciate the fairness of a reduction or to understand the art of bargaining. But it was mainly his empathy that was stronger than his pursuit of profit. Once I had swallowed my own commercial disappointment, I saw the charm of Delano’s way of trading. He’d rather invest in good relations than in growing his shell collection.

Empathy is a beautiful strength and is not always acknowledged for its true value in our society. But too much empathy can be detrimental. Delano still has plenty of time to experience that, but he will also need to learn to guard his boundaries. Having difficulties to say ‘no’, effacing yourself, keeping your opinion to yourself for the sake of peace, doing or avoiding things in order to be loved,… you can only go so far until it becomes too much.

As a coach you often meet clients who are struggling with this. It is a trait that you can change, no matter how old you are. A coach is there to help.