To me, she embodies creative living. Her ability to think into blank space and see an opportunity that doesn’t exist, and then breathe life into it, is almost the dictionary definition of creativity. She makes vision manifest with every business she’s started. And yet, because she doesn’t paint or craft, make music or write, she feels she’s not creative, a misconception that I think is really common.
My earliest memory is of standing in front of an easel at nursery school, in my pinny, paintbrush in hand. I must have been about three. And I remember viscerally the fear of being presented with a blank sheet of paper and thinking, “I can’t do it. I don’t know what to do.” Lord knows where that precocious self-doubt came from, but I like to think I’m a trailblazer. I experienced young what many of us come to encounter in our lives; a point where playful, joyous, spontaneous creativity becomes plagued by thoughts of comparison, self-doubt and insecurity.
“When I started the research on shame, you know, 13 years ago, I found that 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – 50% of that 85%, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So 50% of those people have art scars. Have creativity scars.”
Brené Brown on “Big Strong Magic”’, (2016) Elizabeth Gilbert: ‘Magic Lessons’ Podcast
As coaches, we’re well aware of the lingering and insidious impact that limiting beliefs can have on our lives. And here are many of us, according to Brené Brown, wandering around with creativity scars. But here’s the good part: whilst we may believe ourselves to lack creativity, creativity doesn’t actually give a toss. It doesn’t need us to know that we are creative – it avails itself to us anyway. Cue my friend living a phenomenally creative existence whilst firmly believing that she’s not.
And how does all this relate to coaching? Well, I wonder how many coaches out there think that they’re not ‘creative types’ and yet have chosen a profession that requires them to sit in the blankness of nothingness and hold the space for something to emerge.
Nick Bolton, former CEO of Animas, describes coaching as the act of, “embodying radical unknowing” and I really love this description. Part of the art of coaching is to tolerate the discomfort of unknowingness – of what the client needs, of what we think we know, of how things are going to go. The space before the session starts is akin to the blank page, and anything we do to mitigate our discomfort around the unknowingness will remove the full creative potential from the space. If we approach a session with outcomes in mind, tools to support the accomplishments of those outcomes, or a need to perform and deliver a ‘good’ session, we close the client’s creative process down and the space between us becomes transactional; potentially productive, but missing the chance for real magic. In short, we rob the client of the opportunity to write their own story in the moment, on that blank page.
Creation has to happen from uncertainty (otherwise it’s simply replication) but uncertainty is not only hard; from an evolutionary perspective, we’re designed to avoid it. “Is that a woolly mammoth I see before me?” pondered our ancestors…and they needed to be certain FAST or risk being woolly mammoth dinner. Uncertainty was not good when it came to our basic survival, and we all still carry those ancient triggers in our mammalian brains.
Feeling nervous before a session is entirely natural, as our brains engage in the unconscious act of firing stress hormones in the face of the unknown. But here’s what neuroscientist Beau Lotto has to say about uncertainty. “Evolution’s solution to uncertainty? Play.” Without play, our ancestors would have had no inclination to go exploring beyond the safety of the known boundaries of their camps. Play is curiosity in action. Play is ‘what if…’ and wonder and innovation. Play is a bridge between not known and newly discovered. It takes us to unexplored places. So, for coaches, a mindset of play is one of the most powerful tools in our toolkit – maybe it is the toolkit?! Play helps us show up in the way that best supports our clients in reaching their breakthroughs.
What does this mean in practice? It means holding the whole process lightly, for the client and ourselves. It means giving ourselves permission to bring all of ourselves into the space, so we can be wholly responsive to what the client might need in the moment. It means allowing ourselves to access a wider range of expression than we may experience in our coach training. To take one’s work seriously, but not hold the session in a headlock of seriousness. I believe coaching can be fun, and I laugh a lot in sessions with my clients. This isn’t about being frivolous or ‘matey’ but rather giving levity permission to be there with us in the space, as and when it serves the client’s thinking.
When I embody a playful mindset, I might use my body to point to, ‘hide’ or animate a client’s thoughts; or I might amplify or mimic their negative thoughts and inner chatter so the client can see their inner worlds brought to life. The whole space becomes available to us, and I or the client may move around the room, or rearrange the furniture, or create constellations from scatter cushions! I’ve even found myself singing with clients, as song lyrics helped to express the inexpressible, and moved the client from fear and frustration to laughter and release.
This is less about what you try and more about an openness to experiment; about building enough of a rapport with the client – and enough of a relationship with yourself – to be able to trust your instinct in the moment and take a risk. About understanding that in the spirit of play, there really is no way to get it ‘wrong’.
It’s my belief that the greatest gift we can give our clients is our full selves (some days, easier said than done; we’re only human after all!) And the way we cultivate our full selves is to live our lives through the lens of discovery and curiosity. After all, isn’t the evolution of our selves the most creative act of all? By maintaining a curiosity for who we are, we continue to enrich the field of potential insight available to our clients. When we drop the safety of performing from behind the label of ‘Coach’ we co-create the most wonderful space of potentiality with our clients. We help the magic happen, and help our clients write the next chapter in the story of their lives.
Find out more about The Unstoppable Artist here.
Read ‘Seven Creative Gremlins: Write Your Way Through Doubt And Fear To Claim Your Creative Life’ here.
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