Is the ability to dream a pre-requisite for coaching?
July 12, 2006
The disclaimer at the beginning of this piece is that I coach – I work primarily with people in business contexts, I have also worked with people in a personal capacity and as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen another side of what I’m about to write about.
So many coaching services are predicated on helping people achieve their dreams – be they wild, moderate or down right sensible. There are lots of approaches, tricks, methodologies etc – but at the end of the day it’s largely about one thing – achieving the dream. I’m sceptical…and the reason I’m sceptical is that many, many people don’t know how to dream. And if you don’t know how to dream – how can a coach or a strategist be of use to you? How can you progress your life if all around you you are getting two messages (1) You are responsible for the choices you make (2) You can make a dream come true –if you have one, that is.
I grew up not knowing how to dream. In my case it was the result of living in a household where one parent suffered from depression. My survival mechanism and what I learned early on was that to dream meant disappointment so it was better to modify that disappointment by not dreaming – therefore I could be in control of what was going on around me. And it worked very well for me. Until I realised that all around me people were achieving, and targeting, and dreaming and promoting and getting help with progressing themselves – I simply didn’t know how to step into that world. I hired a coach at one point who simply tried to bully me through what he thought was my resistance – but I simply didn’t understand how to take that next step and he didn’t have the skills to help me. So I get it when people say they don’t know how to dream.
The desire and expectation cycle looks something like this. When there’s a depressed atmosphere (and this doesn’t have to relate to clinical depression it can be related to a “glass half full” kind of position) there’s a modification of expectation (like I outlined above). It’s simply pointless to want so you have to make alternative arrangements. Then there’s a reluctance to dream anything at all because…well, you never really know if this is going to fall through again. This leads to an ongoing absence of desire – people become self contained and can sometimes end up with a depressed or glass half empty sensibility themselves (thankfully, in my case I avoided this!). Possibilities become limited – have you met those people who no matter how often you make a suggestion can come back with a “that’s not good enough” answer? And as a result you learn that there is no point in dreaming and to live without desire. Now that’s a pretty bleak picture and a cycle like this can be broken but it means a going back to basics approach and not a “here’s an action plan” approach. In many cases people feel guilty for desiring – because they feel they “shouldn’t”.
Helping people dream means giving people permission to “live”; to “succeed”; to “stand out” and ultimately to rediscover who they were before they started to put someone else’s emotional welfare before their own. In business contexts it’s working with underachievers; the anxious and neurotic; the worriers; the perfectionists – holding a space for them while they work out how to connect with their inner sense of “good enough”. It’s poignant and very meaningful work and each time I meet someone who’s confounded by trying to dream someone else’s dream I smile because I know what that feels like and I know how much work it takes to connect. So I don’t offer magical solutions to achieving goals in the absence of inquiring into how it might be that my clients don’t know to dream. It’s only starting from that point that we can move forward together.