On a warm Summer’s day last year, I opened the door to one of my coaching clients who literally burst into the room proclaiming ‘elbows!’. Grinning from ear to ear, he could barely contain his enthusiasm and repeated the ‘elbows!’ proclamation a few more times with added dramatic effect. I must have looked a little shocked as it’s not every day that someone announces their arrival by naming a random body part and what’s more, this was absolutely not the same man I had encountered on the previous four occasions. Perhaps sensing my slight alarm, he went on to say, in a rather calmer tone of voice, ‘I get what you have been trying to show me. I see it – it was all in the elbows’.
Just to be clear, at no point had I ever mentioned elbows to my client, but it transpired they had indeed been critical in finding the answer he was looking for. I’ll give you the potted version. He had come seeking help to make what seemed like a life-changing decision. He was the owner and leader of a successful business and the time had arrived to consider stepping back – to put the succession plan into effect. The man I met at our first meeting was serious and seriously stressed. He didn’t want to carry on as things were now, but the future also looked fraught with difficulty. It was hard to see what frightened him more: the status quo or the path ahead and the result was frustration, self-judgement and by his own admission, misery – for him and those around him. How was he going to make the right decision? How could he be sure he wasn’t about to make a huge mistake?
A major part of the problem in this instance was that as is so often the case, my client was unconsciously and innocently living in to his conditioning on who he should be, on how he and the world around him should be and finding it wanting. Like so many of us, this man’s idea of what it means to be successful, to be happy, to be respected, to be loved even, was based on a complex matrix of rules which had largely been inherited, absorbed and accepted, rather than being of his own creation. Try as I might to point him in this direction, I wasn’t convinced he was seeing it.
Until…my client was having dinner with both his own and another family when his friend, the father of the other family, asked one of his children to take their elbows off the table. Initially, my client silently and automatically supported this request – it is considered bad manners, after all. And then it struck him: ‘I was always told never to rest my elbows on the table and I’ve spent years telling my own kids not to do it, but I have only just realised that I honestly have no idea why! Why on earth am I practising something and telling my children to do the same, when I have no clue as to the reason?’ And then…’Hang on, what else am I blindly following, assuming and living with just because I’ve been conditioned into believing that it’s what people like me and people who I aspire to be and people whose approval I think I need, do?’.
And so it happened: elbows opened the door to the possibility that my client could create his own rules for his own life. Once he managed to free himself from the constraints of how things/people/circumstances are and how they should be, the way forward was clear. We all can do this…when we see it.
You may be wondering why I have chosen to talk about a man on International Women’s Day? Well as someone who has spoken widely about and campaigned for equality in the workplace, I come back to what I have said time and time again: we need a ‘whole system’ approach – one which addresses all genders simultaneously and equally.
Regardless of gender, we all have, albeit completely innocently, our own ‘elbows’ examples. We all have unconscious biases and rules which create the reality that we live into. If we want to see a different reality, if we want to see true parity, then we need to start with us – with ourselves. When we live into familial, cultural, corporate and societal expectations and definitions of success without questioning, not only do we compromise our own potential, but inadvertently we risk perpetuating the inequalities we are so desperate to end. Instead, when we help people to wake up from having slept-walked into the collective unconscious construct of how things should be, we allow them to think for themselves, we release them from restricting beliefs and we free them from outdated constraints, which include harmful gender stereotypes.
This is one of the most dramatic shifts I have seen in any client and it’s a beautiful example of how a simple insight – a new view of the world from within – can make all the difference to a human being and as a result, the human beings around them. On seeing the possibility to define his own path, not only is the succession plan working like a dream, but my client is truly and finally becoming his most vibrant self. He is happier than he’s been in years and in the process, enjoying vastly improved relationships with all around him. Imagine the possibilities that his colleagues, his wife and his children are also now be free to explore. And you can be sure that none of them will be told to remove their elbows from the table, unless of course the underlying reason actually makes sense!
The Vibrant Company specialises in liberating our clients to become the most vibrant version of themselves and reach their biggest goals. If you want to explore how we can help you, get in touch.
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