Following my very first coaching conversation, I had gone home and googled Ontological Coaching. In doing so, I came across an Ontological Coaching and Leadership course, which sounded amazing. My excitement was short-lived when I realised that the contact person for this course was my coach. That just felt weird; stalkerish, almost. So I closed down the possibility of ever considering the course, and focused on applying what I would learn from our coaching conversations instead.
I believe that I have quite a fatalistic approach to life: Everything happens for a reason. If it is meant to happen, it will happen. What will be, will be. I don’t know where this came from. Sometimes I wonder whether I am living life from a mood of resignation and just don’t realise. Other times I wonder whether all of those sing-along sessions with my Dad, where we belted out Doris Day’s version of “Que Sera Sera” as a family, have had an impact on my approach to life. Whatever the reason, I believe that if something is meant to happen, it will happen; everything happens for a reason.
And so, about 5 months into the coaching process when my coach asked me whether I would be interested in attending the same course that had previously popped up in my google search, I “knew” that this was happening for a reason. I saw it as an opportunity, and grabbed the brochure.
The course wasn’t due to start until March, and I submitted my application in January. I was so excited. This felt awesome. Apart from my coaching conversations, it was the first time that I had funded a course of significant cost to myself that was purely for my own benefit. This was for me, and I was doing it.
I was feeling a little challenged in the couple of weeks leading up to the course. This was about the time when the bullying at work had been quite strong and obvious, and I’d had a few interactions with my manager where he had sworn at me or belittled me. However, on the day before the course, I was offered a new job, and it felt like another sign that everything was coming together for a reason.
At this point, I feel it important to mention that I had only ever attended IT Training Courses previously. I was used to everyone sitting in rows behind desks with computers on them. I was used to being able to arrive early enough to find a seat where I was towards the back and not obviously visible to the course instructor. I was used to yes/no answers that required no personal insight. I was used to a level of participation that involved working alone on a keyboard. I was used to being able to sit alone and manage the high level of anxiety that I usually felt in new situations.
On day one of the training course, I walked into the room, where I was greeted by three fellow course attendees and three instructors, one of whom was my coach. As I looked around the room, it hit me: There are no desks! It was actually worse than that: the seats were arranged in a semi-circle, all facing the instructor. There was no back row. Avoiding participation was not going to be easy without it being obvious.
I told myself that it was all part of the experience. I really wanted to take learning from this course, and I was going to do that, whatever it took.
The course was amazing. We had the opportunity to immerse ourselves into the ontological work, and to really experience it. I loved every second.
And then, there was the conga line.
So here’s the thing: I have never been great at hugging or touching people to whom I am not close. I can give out as many hugs as possible to my immediate family, and I love doing so. However, outside of that circle, I’ve previously declared the whole touching thing, except for shaking hands, out of bounds. In the past, I have had huge personal space issues. I grew up on an 80,000 acre property; I am not used to things or people being physically close to me.
Our instructor announced the next exercise: “Stand in a conga line. You are going to massage the shoulders of the person in front of you…” From there, “Blah, blah, blah…” was pretty much all that I heard, as I tried to deal with the anxiety that came from learning that there was actual contact with other people involved in this exercise.
Far. Out. My worst nightmare had just come true. To be honest, I think I would have preferred to just hug everyone; it would have been over and done with in a much shorter time frame.
We started to get organised for the conga line. It was then that I realised that this could get worse, and it did: I had to stand in a conga line and massage my coach’s shoulders! I felt physically ill for the whole exercise. I was dying of embarrassment, self-judgement, and so many other things all thrown together and landing in the pit of my stomach. At the end of the exercise, we had a break for afternoon tea. I chose to spend my afternoon tea break locked in a toilet cubicle, taking lots of deep breaths and regrouping!
I can’t remember what learning this particular exercise was aimed at providing. Perhaps it was listening; I can’t remember. Whatever it was, at the time I remember thinking that the exercise was very relevant to the intended learning. I want to make it clear that the issues that I had with it were totally mine and nothing to do with the course or the exercise itself. The people leading the course took great care of us and, had I divulged my anxiety, I know that I would have been supported.
Regardless of the intended learning, the learning that I chose to take from this experience was different and quite significant for me: Participation in the course activities was an invitation, and I had not given myself permission to accept that “no” was a suitable response to an invitation. In hindsight, I think the reasons behind this were twofold:
- Saying no when I felt that “the right thing to do” was to say yes, was not something that I had access to.
- I was pushing myself so hard to get results from the ontological approach that I wasn’t listening to my fears and hesitations; I was not holding myself as legitimate and I was not necessarily taking care of myself.
Apart from the conga line experience, which I can now laugh at, I loved that course and learned so much. Through a self-coaching exercise, I learned that I was giving significant authority to the assessments that my manager was making. I learned that, because I would never say “You are sh*t at doing your job” to someone, I had decided that I must be a really bad person and totally not worthy, if my manager was saying that to me. It occurred to me that perhaps a more useful interpretation was that my manager and I had different standards for engaging people; just because it was outside of my standards to say something like this to people, didn’t mean that it was outside of his standards. My further learning was that his assessments and his unkindness actually said more about him than they did me.
This course expanded on and/or clarified some of what I had learnt through the coaching process. It was amazing. Although the course is called “Ontological Coaching and Leadership in Action”, it can be applied to all situations, even everyday life. I have done the course twice now, and I think it gives something new every time. It really is amazing. (As a side note, although I prepared myself extensively for the conga line exercise when I did this course a second time, we didn’t actually do it in the second course. To be honest, I was disappointed about this. I had really wanted to see how a different way of being would serve me in doing that exercise a second time)
Apart from expanding on my existing knowledge, this course also did something else. It led me to wanting more. It led me to wanting to be the absolute best that I could be. It led me to wanting to explore the possibility of coaching. One day.
I think that the biggest piece of learning to come from this is around the legitimate self. That is, holding ourselves with deep respect, understanding that our actions come from whatever is made available by our way of being at the time, and understanding that our opinions and needs are valid.
In the case of the conga line exercise, I had anxiety about completing the exercise. This was legitimate for where I was in my way of being at the time, and yet I didn’t hold myself as legitimate. Like everyone else on the course, I heard the instructor say that everything in the course was by invitation. I then proceeded to remove the possibility of it being an invitation for me, telling myself that I had to do it, because I had to seek the learning.
How often do we do this to ourselves? How often do we force ourselves to go on, ignoring our needs, because we think that is “the right thing to do”? What would happen if we introduced some self kindness into these situations?
As I progressed through my journey, I became more aware of how I treated myself in situations such as this. I am still not always as kind to myself as I would be to others in similar situations. I can now, however, notice this behaviour and choose how I continue to treat myself.
Points to Ponder…
Think of a situation that may not be working as you would like it to:
- Where are you holding yourself as legitimate?
- Where are you not holding yourself as legitimate?
- How would adding some self-kindness help you?
- Where might saying no or making a counter-offer be useful for you?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.