Can you imagine what it would be like to live somebody else's life? I don't mean some sort of body-switching scenario, but rather to spend your years doing everything that everybody else expects of you -- even if their expectations don't match your desires and needs.
What would it be like to invest all of your time and energy becoming somebody you're not?
In fact, what if as soon as your talents began to reveal themselves, the people around you started to label those talents with negative and judgmental terms? Then, whenever you would get a glimpse of those talents, you'd quickly stifle them to fit the mold of what others wanted you to be.
If this were an actual storyline, would it be the truth of fictional heroes like Harry Potter, Spider-Man or Katniss Everdeen? Or could it be the very real experience of our own lives based on our socialization and internalized expectations?
The answer is "yes" to both -- and that has powerful implications for our work as coaches.
Although we may not be locked in the cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive or attract the attention of any number of supervillains, it is not always easy for us to come to terms with our unique talents and to showcase them to the world. Too often, we either experience or imagine scenarios where we become known more for the limitations and vulnerabilities of our talents than for the incredibly positive potential of those talents.
Everybody needs a coach, and every hero needs a mentor.
As a coach, I have been using the hero's journey as a developmental model for years. In the hero's journey, the hero challenges her status quo, confronts her fears and ultimately changes her world.
Isn't this model applicable for every one of us? We see something in our lives that we want to change. It could be any element of our lives, from our careers to our physical health, from our involvement in our community to our relationships with others. To accomplish those changes, we have to overcome some obstacles, many of which reflect some sort of fear. Then, once we triumph over those obstacles, we earn a new, upgraded sense of self.
One of the earliest stages of the hero's journey, immediately after the hero chooses to depart from the status quo, is when the hero meets the mentor.
When you have had challenges and struggles in your life, did you have somebody who guided you in your journey? It may have been a person you know, an author of an influential book, a character in a movie or any source of perspective beyond yourself.
We have the power to be that person for others on their journeys. And didn't Spider-Man's Aunt May say, "With great power comes great responsibility"?
Our job of coaching and mentoring does carry great responsibility. So, how can we be the best mentors possible to help our client heroes complete their journeys? Let's see why mentors like Albus Dumbledore in literature, Obi-Wan Kenobi in film or Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in real life are known as some of the best. Three things:
- The mentor sees potential in us before we see it in ourselves. They may accomplish this through something as specific as StrengthsSpotting or as general as a belief that every person has unique talents that the world needs.
- Mentors may not show us the way, but they show us there is a way. Many people come to coaching because they're "stuck," and they don't know how to move forward toward a goal. Before they can even begin a journey, they have to have faith that a path exists for reaching their goal. The coach's acceptance and enthusiasm for bridging the gap between the current reality and the desired reality accomplish this.
- The mentor identifies and points out the golden vein in the mine. Often as coaches, we may know the opportunistic place for our clients to "dig" before they do, but we also recognize that their discovery is most valuable when they find that treasure for themselves. So rather than digging for them, we point to the promising place to start.
Once we see that the hero's journey is more than a pattern for storytelling, we can use it and the examples of outstanding mentors before us as blueprints for mentoring clients toward the completion of their own hero's journey.
Chad Ellsworth's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Connectedness, Harmony, Learner, Responsibility and Context.