“So, I just need to learn to relax!” Ivan stated. “Really?” I asked incredulously.
This brief moment of conversation came about half way through our coaching session. Ivan was sharing with me that he plans to take a sabbatical from his job as a Managing Director of a medium size Silicon Valley corporation. He wants to transition into work that is more fulfilling and less stressful. The sabbatical is supposed to be a time for him to find himself and hopefully lead to some creative ideas for more meaningful employment.
Ivan described what those three months off will look like; taking care of his children and wife, as well as taking care of household chores, buying groceries and doing laundry. His description indicated that there would be very little time for him to actually be alone and quiet with himself.
“I get anxious when I’m alone.” Ivan said, when I inquired about this whole sabbatical thing.
“Then how are you going to create the space and time you need to find yourself and perhaps meaningful and fulfilling work?” I asked. I was curious about how he set up a sabbatical and then intended to fill all the time up with busyness, leaving no time to truly be present to himself. This is when Ivan stated that he just needed to learn to relax.
“Really?” I asked incredulously. (Now you are up to speed).
“Ivan, every time we’ve had a session in my office, you seem to be relaxed. Are you relaxed or do you just look relaxed.” “No, I’m relaxed. It’s one of the few times in my life that I really am relaxed.” Ivan shared.
As a coach, I’m always curious when a person says they need to learn to relax. Rarely is this true. They know how to relax – like Ivan; they just don’t know that they know how to relax. My inquiry empowers Ivan to realize not only that he can and does relax but that he know how to relax.
“So, Ivan, what is it that’s happening in our sessions that allows you to be relaxed?” Ivan responded that because he feels guided and trusts me, he can let go of the normal worries he carries with him. Then there was a long pause.
“You know,” he said. “What’s really true is that I’m most relaxed not during our sessions but after our sessions – for about an hour or so. The only other time that I’m relaxed like this is after I’ve played piano.” Another long pause.
“So, what is happening in our sessions and while playing piano that has you be so relaxed afterward?” I asked. I wanted Ivan to realize how he is choosing to be and what he chooses to do that leads to relaxation.
Ivan went deep in the experience of what it’s like after our sessions and playing piano. Though this was a phone session and we were a thousand miles apart, I could feel the quality of presence he was giving to this process.
Slowly, Ivan began to talk. “In both, our sessions and playing piano, I’m immersed in a process of self-expression. I’m absorbed in being connected to me, more than any other times in my life. I’m not worried about other people or what they think about me, which is usually what I’m thinking about. I’m only connected to me.” Another long pregnant silence followed. Ivan was connecting the dots of his personal and professional life.
“I am so stressed out about a presentation I’m giving in a couple of days. I keep thinking about what I’m supposed to present and what people are expecting of me. I’m always trying to anticipate what my team and my boss are wanting from me. I’m wondering how I can bring this relaxation into this process. What is it I’m doing that I can bring to my job?”
When Ivan is self-generating, he is most relaxed, most himself, and probably most effective as a Managing Director. For him to design his presentation from what he believes to be most valuable to his audience will be key to staying relaxed, grounded and effective. He is already known as a terrific speaker and leader in his company. He just never realized he could do it differently, from a place of self-expression, from his own wisdom and knowledge. He as a specific intention in mind and he just needs to stay present to this, bring it to the event as his and he will have it made in the shade.
There is this amazing dilemma in the corporate world. On one hand corporations need employees to rigorously attend to the needs of direct reports, bosses, HR, mission and vision statements, other departments, stockholders – you name it! On the other hand corporations need employees to be creative, leaders, assert new innovative ideas. How can you do both? This creates incredible stress for every human being in that environment. It’s a no-win situation. Stress, burnout, resentments, apathy, illness, etc., leads to ineffectiveness on everyone’s part. What’s impossible given this dilemma? Bottom line: everything everyone wants!
Shifting the paradigm of stress management is essential and I believe this is what’s occurring. It is becoming self-evident that corporations are run by human beings, essentially for human beings, yet we forget that this is true. It may seem insurmountable to actually acknowledge the humanity of every individual employee and give value to not only their gifts and talents but to the human struggles each brings with them. What seems very clear in our current state of affairs, though, is that what we’ve been doing isn’t working.
How do we recognize and acknowledge every individual and provide opportunities on a daily basis to experience the profoundness of personal self-expression, as Ivan did, and still move smoothly as teams, departments and whole corporations? Our human bodies do it; so do our planet, our solar system, and, as a matter of fact, so does our Universe! What does it take?