the space between

“I am not sure what I am supposed to do now.”

It is not uncommon for my clients to start out their coaching journey with a statement like this. My talent is helping people to pare down and slow down so they can get to what matters most to them. Typically over age 45, their heads have popped up after a big shift in their lives, such as the kids have left home, they recently got divorced, or they want to change careers or retire. My clients want to simplify their world so they can engage with their day-to-day in a more meaningful way.

Throughout our younger years, many growth points are laid out for us by society. A few obvious examples are to start a career, buy a house, get married and have children. Although we may not have taken all these steps, or we did them at different times, we drove through our early adult years, steered by expectations and assumptions. And then a time comes when the vista is a bit foggy, with only a few signposts in view.

Who do you become when you are no longer shepherding children through school? What can be expected to happen on the way to menopause? And what does retirement mean? The media seem to broadcast on a quieter frequency about life over age 50. In coaching, a common theme is ‘redefine yourself’ and this makes sense – we will not travel over the same road ever again. For each of us, this is new ground.

Our wisdom informs us about the value of the journey, not the destination. With self awareness comes wonder, and sometimes fear, when we slow down enough to assess that life is getting shorter. So what to make of it? I feel an interesting power in getting comfortable with uncertainty, to hang loose for many moments and look at the space in between our actions. It is here that we listen to our bodies and our hearts, and this inspires us to re-contextualize our existence.

Coaching is certainly about taking action, but it is important for my clients to really sit in their experience so they can tap into their internal compass to guide them. This is often accomplished with visualization techniques. One such activity I created was inspired by a long drive along a highway at night, heading back to our town after an event. I was reminded of how I feel when I am in between places, with ‘deciding’ and ‘doing’ suspended as I stare out a window.

The scenario that a client conjures up during this exercise can be used to bring pause to that moment or to inspire some future goal. My question could be as simple as imagine a travel experience that made you feel the most at peace. They may remember being on a train hurtling through blowing snow at night, gazing out into the mundane darkness, spotting the occasional farm house lit up with holiday lights. Perhaps I would ask for a travel story to describe how it would feel to downsize from a large home that has become burdensome. The reply might be a story about travelling light on an airplane, suspended in brilliant sunshine, a fluffy white cloud blanket stretched out below them. 

Often after a few minutes of exploration, the lens has shifted and a client can begin to contemplate letting go of where they were, and draw out of themselves a satisfying new perspective. Depending on how stuck they were in notions about how things ‘should’ be, it make take awhile to rewire the brain for change but creating options and making choices becomes easier when they connect with their needs deep down during these meditative moments.

It is exciting when they get to a place of wonder: “Look who I get to be!”

(Originally posted on LinkedIn)