I’ll be honest with you English was never my strongest subject. English lessons at school seemed to pass me by, I cannot remember reading Chaucer or Shakespeare or even Enid Blyton, although I’m sure I must have. I did get my English GCSE, so I wasn’t a complete failure, and my knowledge of grammar, spelling and reading has just about got me by in my 46 years.
That was true of course until my eldest son came home from school with his English homework, asking to list personifications, hyperboles, metaphors and similes (to name but a few). Every Friday he would look up at me trustingly and ask me something along the lines of,
“Mum is ‘like a lion’ a simile or a metaphor?”
“Mum is ‘lightening danced across the sky’ a metaphor or a personification?
“Mum is ‘seriously silly’ an oxymoron or an alliteration?”
“AGH….” not a flipping clue! Whatever did our parents do without google? I genuinely cannot ever remember learning these terms at school. I’m going to go as far to say they didn’t teach these at my school, and they certainly did not educate us on the difference between them!
So, when our tutor on Barefoot said we are going to work with metaphors my heart sank a little, and I’ll be honest, I went back to google to remind myself what exactly they were…
Alert to my understanding it began. We tackled a number of different metaphor exercises, using a variety of technics and tools and then we practiced them on each other in coaching sessions. I found myself totally drawn into them, the magnetic attraction and the ease of which they came alive in coaching. A completed Rubix cube, became a message to my 12-year-old son, a photograph of me and my youngest an anchor to my 5-year plan.
However, one of the most impactful experiences came from a walking session we were to do. It was raining outside, but only slightly, and I was keen not to miss out. Let’s face it, if we let a little rain stop us in the UK we’d be housebound most months. The exercise was to practice Derive Coaching. Which is basically walking outdoors whilst you coach, encouraging the client to ‘notice’ their surroundings, and then possibly find metaphors in what they see.
We were paired off, swapped phone numbers, and agreed to call each other in 5 minutes, after finding shoes, keys etc. Headphones in, I rang my partner. She was living in Milan, and I was in Kent, so we were to have very different views as we walked our derive.
I left my house and we started chatting, not really knowing where our conversation was to go, nor where we were each wandering to. I set off down a road I have often used and turned left through an alleyway. We both stopped and as instructed asked each other what we were noticing. Initially we were both quite down on our surroundings. Me thinking this was just walkway with houses, near an estate that wasn’t that nice, and her a little uninspired being in a big city, longing for the expanse of the countryside. But we carried on walking and talking and then started noticing…..
This passageway takes you alongside the front of three little houses before offering up a right turn and leading you into an estate. As the initial discomfort of the exercise began to wear off, I started to see how pretty the alleyway was. Until this moment, I had always just hustled through it, on my way somewhere else. But now as I stopped and looked, I really began to ‘notice’.
It was fantastically quaint and very English, with flowers and natural colours in abundance. I described this briefly to my derive companion, who was immediately envious of my very British countryside surroundings. As we walked on further, she in Milan and me in Kent, I found another smaller path to the left which I had never seen before. I turned down it. I was now completely, and deeply aware of my new-found surroundings. Seeing everything for the first time, like a kaleidoscope of images materialising in front of me.
I felt newly awakened to this completely unfamiliar world right on my doorstep, a doorstep I’d been living in for eight years! I then hit upon a huge house with a very old car in the front yard. I described what I was seeing as did she and we started swapping photographs.
Seeing her pictures and listening to the description of her walk allowed me to be mentally transported to Milan, I could almost smell the little coffee bar she was going past. She felt the same about my English countryside. It was such a soothing experience, both of us settled into it, and then we really started to enjoy ourselves.
To my left I saw an entrance to a cemetery. I knew the cemetery was there, but I had never ventured in. Fortunately, I had no one’s grave to visit, and because of this had always felt that I’d be intruding, but today felt different. As if the cemetery was inviting me in, whispering,
“Come on, take a look, see what we have inside….”
I turned left.
It was unreservedly beautiful. I realised the rain had ended, and the sun was now creeping out. The vast, decorated space in front of me void of another living soul (excuse the pun). Pure silence. Stillness, calm, quiet. I stopped walking and described what I saw. My walking partner heard the shift in my voice, the peace wash over us both, and at that very same time she noticed an impressive, and entirely blue building in front of her. She’d never seen it before, yet she walked this road near her house more than frequently. Again, we swapped pictures. It was oddly magical, but more than that we were sharing special moments 500 miles apart.
As I walked coolly through the spread of gravestones, memorials and flowers, I saw large stone angels bringing even further tranquillity to my space. Heading back towards home, our derive session coming to an end, I realised in the short space of time, I had discovered a wonderful new world, right on my doorstep. I’d found a special place of utter serenity, somewhere I could come to gather thoughts, or prepare myself for a big presentation, or perhaps simply to ready myself into a coach state for a client.
Therein lies my next lesson in becoming a ‘real’ coach. By allowing your client time and space to notice their surroundings, whether walking or simply sitting in an office, magical things happen.
I actually used it the very next day. Someone I was career coaching looked out of his window and noticed a willow tree in his front garden. He described how he’d pruned it right back earlier in the year but was now impressed by how much it had grown in those few months. Without me even asking him to, he associated this to how much he personally could achieve in a short space of time and having found his own metaphor in his own garden, coached himself one step closer to his goal.
So I want to thank you metaphors; I feel my school did me a disservice not introducing us properly earlier, but you are a new found jewel in my treasure trove of tools. (That’s a metaphor and an alliteration (ish) btw!)