16th November 2018

If you’ve kept up with any of my posts recently, you’ll notice I am fascinated by how coaching provides a space for someone to explore their meaning and purpose in today’s hypercomplex, volatile, choice-ridden world. And I am, essentially, very optimistic about the role that coaching can play in helping people to shape their lives and make sense of themselves in today’s world.

But I’m also not blind.

In many ways, the world is in a pretty bleak state.

You only need read a book like 10 Billion, by Stephen Emmott, to get a sense of the scale of the horrifying challenge facing both our planet and us as a species. The individual seems to pale in the face of this.

I read 10 Billion, a short and intensely powerful book, in one sitting on the train home to my modest flat in Folkestone. I felt rather good about myself for a moment as I reflected on how I had extracted myself, largely, from the relentless pursuit of more, more, more. But then I started questioning myself. I’m part of the Western world from which coaching has emerged, and I run a coaching school, and coaching is, in many ways, built on the paradigm of individualistic progress and change.

I hope, though, that we are helping people to look inward and to act outward in a way that makes a positive difference. I also hope that coaching, as a whole, is moving away from a focus on the pursuit of more and towards something more profound and meaningful.

But is it all too late? Is coaching simply rearranging the Titanic’s deckchairs, to use the common analogy?

I don’t have the answer, and I guess nobody does. But I was reminded of the story of the boy who, upon seeing a beach covered in thousands of stranded starfish, started tossing them back into the sea so they would live, one little starfish at a time. When questioned by his grandfather, who told him he’d never save them all, he answered, “No, but I saved that one!”

Is that a good enough reason to pursue coaching and transformative work? Is helping one individual at a time enough?

I really can’t say whether it’s good enough for you. But it’s good enough for me.

I’m conscious that every era has had its doomsayers, and that every generation has bemoaned the state of the next. Perhaps, finally, the doomsday prophets are right. All I can know for sure, however, is that, all over the world, people are trying to make a difference. Whether as coaches working to support individuals to live well in the world, or whether as any other kind of change-maker working to support the natural world, through progressive technology, medicine or some other human endeavour, we can only do our best to make a difference in the world we are in right now. Not the world as it was, or as we wish it was. But this one. Right now and right here.

And that has to be good enough as a starting point.

I don’t pretend that this is a truly satisfactory answer, but I think it’s a less unsatisfactory one than that we can’t change the world, so why bother doing anything.

Coaching may be focused on the individual, but its impact is anything but individualistic. Every client we support has family, colleagues, friends and communities, and we know that the impact ripples out. Sure, I sometimes question coaching and my life and purpose as the founder of Animas, but, in the final call, I am proud of what we are doing and believe that coaching contributes enormously to helping each person currently struggling on the starfish beach to take a fresh gulp of life.

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