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What Iffery, What Mightery, What Issery … and the Dutchman’s Pipe.

Recently I had cause to reflect on self-awareness and the importance of a coach having the opportunity to be coached themselves.

A couple of months ago we were on holiday in Las Alpujarras in the south of Spain. As always we spent a lot of time walking around the mountains and villages of the region. One day we decided to walk around a small village situated on a valley floor, a location we had previously eschewed given our preference for altitude! As per usual we made a picnic and loaded up our walking gear involving more layers than usual given a turn for the worse in the weather. A drive of around 45 minutes had us arrive above Puerto de Juvile under fairly leaden skies, parking up and the beginning the OCD sequence of key checking and locking. On this occasion the question of ‘have you got the house key?’ was met with shakes of the head from both of us accompanied with the very physical sensation of getting a knot in the stomach that so often partners the dawning realisation of something bad happening! As we both had a clear memory of shutting the door the undeniable fact was that we had locked ourselves out.

Our immediate reactions to this were intriguing. A bit of embarrassment at the perceived stupidity of our actions, a whiff of the blame game and then a moment or two thinking about how to manage. Anyone who knows my wife will know her as a positive force. In situations such as these she will sometimes look back and do a bit of ‘what iffery?’ although on this occasion the relative importance of being locked out, compared to other worldly woes, was way below her threshold for to start ‘what iffing?’

I tend to be very good at not doing the ‘what iffery?’ but am a master of looking into the future and computing all possible alternatives, indulging in what you could call ‘what mightery?’ I could feel the pull to do this very strongly at the time: Would I have to break the door down? How would we arrange repair? What would be the consequences on the remaining day or two of our holiday? Would Encarna think her neighbours even more bonkers than she already did? Would I be able to dredge up the Spanish work for screwdriver, sledgehammer? and so on (and on).

It was at that moment a memory activated, one of a conversation I had overheard a few years before between a very experienced coach and one of their novice trainees. The trainee was talking about a personal difficulty she was having trouble managing. After some discussion on the topic she turned to the coach and said ‘of course, given you help other people to meet their challenges you wouldn’t have the same problems as I am having?’ The coach replied ‘Goodness me no, just because I am able to support others to help themselves doesn’t mean I am able to do it for myself’. At the time I think I smiled at the interaction but over the next few days (and ever since) I have become much more aware of the truth of this. Whatever our levels of self-awareness there will be times when our subconscious behaviours will dominate and it needs an external view to help us achieve a balanced perspective. As well as this being a basis for the value of coaching and being coached it is a call to action to all coaches to ensure that their practice is supported by having coaching supervision.

Anyway, to return to Spain. The memory jogged my self-awareness enough to make stop me doing ‘what mightery?’ or at least to quieten the voice! As a consequence we were able to concentrate on ‘what issery?’ and enjoy the countryside that we were walking through. We walked through swathes of orchids and other wild flowers benefiting from the absence of the scorching sun. While at our ease we watched others working: a masterclass in ploughing a field of olive trees, and a group harvesting the Spanish reeds that can dominate the riverbeds and which are used as a traditional internal finish to the ceilings of local houses. Having been turned back from crossing the deep and turbulent river waters we scrambled along the valley sides and found the highlight of our ‘what issery?’ approach to the day – the so called Dutchman’s pipe vine, considered a weed in some parts of the world but a thing of beauty to us!

So ‘what issery?’ paid off for us in that the mindfulness associated with it ensured we staying tuned into what we were actually doing. Had we not done so we would have missed some delightful sights and experiences. That is not to say that ‘what iffery?’ and ‘what mightery?’ are only distractions. The reflection involved in ‘what iffery?’is part of a healthy learning process and the forecasting in ‘what mightery?’ is a significant skill in strategic and visionary thinking, if kept in check. As always, it is about being aware of when we overuse or overextend ourselves in either of these approach and the impact this has on self and others.

What was the conclusion to our day? We arrived home refreshed from a new experience and from seeing things new to us. In addition, we did find that we were locked out. What played out was that I remembered screwdriver in Spanish is destornillador and Encarna was at home and able to source a range of screwdrivers and chisels. Happily I did not have to either translate sledgehammer, never mind use one! With slightly alarming ease (there I go again!) we were able to get into our house with minimum damage. So all of my ‘what mightery?’ failed to turn up the actual outcome from my problem laden selection of possible futures – that everything normally works out okay in the end!

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