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Mind the gap..

Having chosen to be a coach, I have entered into a world of perpetual change. I signpost, facilitate and support the changes my clients choose to make, and I change, and am changed through every coaching conversation, every new connection and, not least, through the continual learning that comes with the badge. I must confess that a couple of years ago, I would not have seen myself occupying this space. I had achieved professional comfort, I delivered with relative ease and my ego was suitably massaged by being sought out as the “go to”.

Take a moment here and consider if this is you too. If it is, can you identify the why? Your inner critics may now be jumping into action and doing what they do best, but there is no judgement here, only curiosity. Your why may be because you love this space, you worked hard to get here, you experience joy, fulfilment and challenge here. Your why may be because you also worked hard to get here, because here you know what you are doing, because here you feel respected, you feel like the expert (or perhaps you feel there is less chance of being “found out” here), because here is probably better than there and it’s a sensible place to be. Your why may be a million combinations in between.

None are wrong. None are the wrong place to be. How can where you are, be the wrong place? That makes no sense – you are there – it is the right place – for right now. It changes, evolves, every day and you do the same. And where you are now, right now, is not where you were ever before. Where you will be tomorrow, or at any point in the future, will be based on a million different choices that you make throughout each day.

I see frustration in many people and in some of my clients at wanting to be somewhere else to where they are, sometimes to be different themselves – I wish I was more - whatever characteristic they feel they lack.

So, here’s the apparent juxtaposition I want to explore here: I help people with change and yet I try dearly to highlight and champion acceptance, being. The latter can mean slowing down and really tuning in. We really do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Change does not need to be seismic to have seismic effects in you and in your life. I coach some people who want a new job, new career. Awesome! I also coach people who don’t want to change their job, or their career, but they do want something different. Awesome! Both require change, both require choices to be made and both require compassion for yourself.

From an early age we are conditioned to “mind the gaps”. Those subjects at school we have a natural aptitude for are praised, and then swiftly we move to focus more time on discussing those subjects that don’t come easily, and what can be done. Move to your working life – skills gap analysis, development plans (and of course I generalise), where do you need to do better? Rath and Conchie turned it on its head and sought to mine for strengths not gaps (StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Strengths based Leadership). I completed two such strength finder activities, with some variance in result over the circa four year period (perpetual change remember… all of us). It felt such a novelty, really focussing and celebrating what I was great at already, skills that came naturally. I have to confess the application of this learning into tangible people development strategy, fizzled. Not through want of enthusiasm, more through lack of experience and direction (self included as one of the leaders) in how to translate this into the corporate machine of personnel reviews, standard development plans and trajectories and, critically, the heavy workload of a busy department who needed everyone to provide output efficiently and consistently.

But what would it be like, both in our professional and personal lives, if we did celebrate our strengths, while at the same time embracing our gaps? What could be different for us if we were able to lessen the battle to change ourselves? If instead we were prepared and able to look at such a “gap” squarely and acknowledge – this is not a strength of mine, this I find difficult, this requires more effort from me if I am to use it, and that’s OK. How much more creative could we be, if instead of beating ourselves up and cramming ourselves into boxes and applying labels to ourselves, that just don’t work for us; if instead we looked in our bags and said, OK I’m not so great at: being the spokesperson, the party animal, the confident one, the quiet one… but I am great at ….. how can I use this here, what will this bring (which incidentally no one else can bring ever!)? How much easier, less stressful? Because when we are being ourselves, we are at ease.

Understanding, acknowledging, accepting, embracing our strengths and our gaps and flexing to meet what’s ahead of us, using our whole selves and not battling to use tools we don’t feel comfortable with – well that takes learning, self-compassion. And that is change in itself - to grow, to learn, to accept, to move into ease. Some changes are outwardly big, others come from time spent reflecting internally and choosing to think and act differently than before. Sometimes the largest change we can make is to acknowledge, this is me, and between my strengths and my gaps, I have what I need. Change is change – we are all doing it.

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