Opening to development and change brings energy and excitement, and sometimes growing pains. Here’s a 5-minute read to share my own recent experience and inspire you to blossom into spring.
April openings: blossoming inside and out
The name of this month, April, comes from the Latin ‘aprilis’ meaning to open, and a Roman almanac writer once observed that “seas open, lands open, flowers open”. During an intention-setting day undertaken with the wonderful Sandra Hilton at the start of this year, I committed to notice and appreciate the changing seasons, and as the clocks have gone forward I am welcoming the lighter evenings, warmth in the sun’s rays and sense of possibility as the year unfolds into spring.
Since learning this meaning of April a week ago, I’ve been reflecting on different kinds of openings, and how being open to our inner thoughts and feelings can enable outer growth and change. What am I open to doing and being at this time in my life? What, through awareness, am I open to within myself? What am I open to giving to, and receiving from, the outer world?
Saying ‘yes’ to new beginnings
Some of you reading this know me, and know that I am just six months into a new phase of my life, having chosen to become self-employed. In the outer world of work and money, I have left behind the security of a monthly salary for the liberating yet terrifying prospect of charging fees directly to clients for my time, skills, knowledge and experience. While I identify most strongly with my work as a coach and coach supervisor, I have made sure to stay open to a range of partnerships, associations and alliances. At the same time, my partner Rob and I have agreed to open our home to strangers through offering our guest room on Airbnb.
This has meant saying ‘yes’ to things that will stretch me (agreeing to give a lecture to over 100 super-skilled coaches), things I haven’t done for many years (assessing leaders while role-playing and writing at the speed of speech) and things I do because they are necessary, but really don’t enjoy doing repeatedly (cleaning the bathroom – three times in a week as we had three sets of Airbnb guests during the Cheltenham festival).
Pushing my boldness and flexibility is yielding positive results – I’m utilising more of my skills, contributing to larger projects, extending my impact and appreciating the hard work of cleaners everywhere. Being open to a wide range of interactions with the outer world and the different ways I can earn from my personal and physical resources is giving me energy and a sense of adventure as an entrepreneur, and of course helping balance the books as I get established in this new way of working.
Facing up to doubts and fears
My new relationship with the outer world has in turn caused some unexpected and uncomfortable feelings and experiences in my inner world. After the initial euphoria of independence came a flood of guilt at what part of me felt was the ‘irresponsibility’ of ‘giving up’ a well-paid and respected job, for ‘playing’ in the ‘indulgence’ of focusing on what I enjoy, while drawing my living costs against hard-earned savings and inheritance money gifted by my very kind and very prudent great uncle who lived modestly all his 92 years.
At times, the nagging voice of doubt about my worth, self-discipline and competence to build a business from the value I bring has shouted loud. With the support and compassion of family, friends, my partner and my coach, I’ve been able to reach beneath the feelings to confront my fears: of failing, of being called out as a fake and laughed at, of being rejected or ignored by clients and peers who have already ‘made it’, of jeopardising our financial security – and I’ve found that by being open to naming these fears, their power has lessened.
Deciding to be open-hearted
Instead, I’ve gradually decided to be open to all of the learnings and lessons my current path has to offer and I’m choosing to follow my heart, honour my values, ask for help when I need it and recognise the value I bring. I’m choosing to believe that even if I ‘fail’ in some of what I do, or decide later that self-employment isn’t for me after all, I’ll still be liked, loved, respected and OK – as the old saying goes, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Most of all I will still like and respect myself for being brave enough to set out on my adventure. And for the record, despite my fears it’s actually going great – I’m doing work that I love with people I like and respect, while feeling strengthened and truly blessed by the support and encouragement I’ve received. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the journey so far!
‘When you are ready’
I wouldn’t have been able to write about these fears and put them into the outer world without crossing the threshold of being open to their presence as part of my inner landscape. Returning to the theme of April and the openings of spring, I recognise that I’ve only recently been truly ready for this part of my journey. Even a year ago, I was closed to some of my inner fears and feelings like the tightly furled leaves around the buds on the cherry tree in my garden. Somehow the tree has known that it was not ready, it was not yet the right time, for it to open fully and let its delicate blossom flower. In other places the daffodils have burst open already, bright and cheerful and defiant of the lingering cold. Each is following its own path in its own time.
Working with openness in coaching and supervision
I’m also reflecting on the theme of openings and openness in my coaching and supervision work.
Exploring some stuckness in their wish for yet resistance to a new romantic relationship, a coaching client bravely opened up to past hurts that had been locked away. Voicing what had been unspoken, unrecognised feelings led to recognition of their impact and a distinct shift in identity: “I hadn’t realised how big a thing the fear and vulnerability were, and still are, for me… who on earth was I at that time to allow that in my life?”
We went on to find compassion for the person they had been in the past, and power in the person they are now, building confidence in their desire and ability to attract the wonderful relationship they very much deserve.
Earlier in this conversation I caught an image of a drawbridge, just at the edge of my awareness. Noticing it had nearly slipped away, I offered the image with my thought that a drawbridge can only really be fully open or fully shut. The image resonated and was then transformed to a sliding door that could gradually open to let someone in as trust and safety in the relationship built over time.
In supervision, a coach brought a client they were finding ‘confusing’, admitting to feelings they found hard to own: “Sometimes I just don’t like her! Afterwards I feel like I need a shower.” Staying with the honesty of their experience, the coach gained clarity on how the client’s apparent aloofness and arrogance could trigger feelings of judgement, despite a wholehearted intention to maintain positive regard. Reconnecting with many things the coach liked and valued in their client opened the way for positive feelings to surface: acceptance, respect and admiration.
The coach also recognised feelings of being ‘zipped up’ at times by the client’s over-talking, so I invited them to state the positive qualities they bring as a coach. These included organisational knowledge, the ability to create safety, bravery to challenge the client and strength to keep the client accountable for doing their own work.
Openly stating these strengths was stretching in its own way, and important in balancing the coach’s positive regard for themself as well as for their client. The movement in underlying attitudes, with the takeaway actions to re-contract for permission to give in-the-moment feedback and to work on underlying issues as well as pragmatic tasks, look set to result in a more open and powerful coaching relationship.
What openings are there for you?
Yesterday the clouds opened in April showers and sent a rhythm of raindrops onto the skylight in my office. Today it’s bright sunshine and I have the skylight open for the first time this year.
As the season grows, I leave you with these questions:
What do the seasons of your life mean for you – is it your time to wait, or to flower?
What openings are there for you?
What feelings, thoughts, fears and hopes could you open up to within yourself?
What are you open to giving to, and receiving from, the outer world?
Wishing you all the joys of spring,
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This article was inspired by hearing Lia Leendertz, author of ‘The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018’, in conversation about the month of April with Cerys Matthews on BBC Radio 6 Music on 25 March 2018.