Isabella woke up early knowing. Knowing that she needed to be creative this morning. She was wise from the day before that warm water was a scarce commodity in her hotel room. As a resourceful coach she had found a workaround. Every UK hotel room she had ever been in had a way to make tea. So she made hot water there and poured it into the wash-hand basin thus creating a real possibility to actually wash her hair. Unfortunately she had not arrived at the almost compulsory need to cut her hair short at the reached age of forty so she still had hair below her shoulders. But she followed the latest international hair trend and usually assembled it in a pony-tail, only changing the elastic band colours to match her clothes. Isabella had a tough time washing all her hair in the basin but did her best “kettle water wash” she could and dashed down to get breakfast. Just a coffee with plenty of milk to break the acid, a piece of dark bread with some marmalade on and she was ready for another day in coaching paradise.
In the Swedish morning paper Svenska Dagbladet that was opened at that very moment in Stockholm you could read that in this Year of the Tiger, eleven tigers had actually starve to death in China. No paradise for tigers there. The reader created an introvert smile. “Hopefully this tiger will do better.” It has always been apparent that the tiger was the perfect image for describing someone in three-striped shoes on the hunt for something. An endangered species too. The smile expanded into a quiet laugh.
In Victoria Plaza Isabella smiled too. David had sent her an SMS saying “dad can’t make breakfast – come home”. There was sadness in the smile of course – not on the fact that Marcus was so absent minded that he always burnt food but because she longed for her son. “There is always a price to pay!” She was not really in agreement with the thought of making her son’s life miserable but she had realized that keeping the relationship with Marcus would have made David even worse off than now. Now he had in a way both his parents without seeing them in conflict. And she thought that Marcus in this way got a better contact with David than before when she was there competing. Isabella had understood that she had also made it more difficult for Marcus to be a loving parent to David being more extrovert in her feelings towards David than he could ever be in her presence. That space had not been available to him then. But now David and Marcus are much closer. And amazingly enough in some quaint way Isabella liked Marcus better now as he now is becoming a great father. “Perhaps he will learn something from this and will come out a better man. Perhaps I have actually made him more attractive to women.” Life surely is strange. Like so many times before a bad thing might lead to something good. At least for Marcus. It is not always attractive for a man to find out that the woman he is attracted to is divorced with a child. On the other hand men should get acquainted with the reality of today – the divorce rate in Sweden is about 55 percent. So half of the women and half of the men are divorced. Chances of actually meeting someone around forty who has no children and who has never been married are very slim. Perhaps if you meet someone like that you might ask yourself “What is wrong with this person?” The modern family consists of you, your children from before, your present spouse and his/her children from before, the possible children you have created together and all the people involved in all the children mentioned before. Quite a complexity. It must have been less complicated before when one life was enough. It seemed to Isabella that we tend to “wear and tear” your relationships as we have also done with clothes and our whole planet. It had to change one day.
As she arrived at the Plaza she went directly to take a seat for the first speaker of the day. And it was on sustainability. Isabella had already had those thoughts a few minutes ago. We do have to take care of our planet. The keynote was delivered by a guy named Sir John Whitmore. Sir John was right of course in that coaches has to keep the big picture in mind at all times. Amazing that everyone seems to be competing to be most “sustainable” these days. Isabella thought that we need to talk a lot before anything real comes out of it and that we are now still in the “talking phase”. This was not only true in the coaching profession but in the business community as a whole. There is talk on every website on sustainability and corporate social responsibility but not all companies really live up to what they preach. “Sustainability boiled down to marketing.” Isabella clearly saw the irony in that. Sir John on the other hand meant business.
After a break it was time for a Keynote speaker – a woman called Veera Johnson. Her topic was “Success lies in Diversity and not Perfection”. She was one of those “happy witnesses” that confirmed that coaching actually works as one of the tools to develop leaders and organizations.
Veera’s topic gave Isabella a few thoughts to take home, but perhaps not the thoughts that Veera had intended. Isabella connected “diversity” not only with different abilities and talents but also different sexes, cultures and skin tones… Many connotations to be found there…The word “perfection” lead her to imagine all the clients dreaming of the “perfect” jobs, relationships, educations and homes. A shining dream, quite impossible to reach, but clients were still willing to die trying for it.
“Part of the human dilemma – longing for perfection knowing that if you find it, you will no longer be human.” Isabella had learned that lesson many years ago, trying so hard to be a perfect daughter, a perfect lover, a perfect wife and a perfect mother. Isabella knew that she would always fall short if she tried that. She had found the perfect reminder never to fall into that hole again. She hums the theme to “Mission Impossible” and imagine herself being married to Tom Cruise. “Cute but too short in both body and mind. And who wants a boy who is over forty-five anyway?” Isabella preferred a man, perhaps someone like Harrison Ford who could carry Melanie Griffiths up a steep staircase or so. “As women obviously are just as intelligent as men, the only apparent reasons for using them would be to use their strength to carry the bags and their libido to create kids.” Isabella smiled at her joke, knowing that she was far too modern to have those kinds of primitive, old hard-core feministic views on men. She knew perfectly well to see every person for who she or he is and not to put anyone in a ready-made little prejudice box.
Speaking of boxes. In a little shop in the Old Town of Stockholm someone had just purchased a small wooden box. A box just right for containing a number of small objects. The store keeper had imported lots of junk cheaply to sell off at double price to tourists. He treated this customer no different from any tourist from any of the numerous countries coming here. Many of the things he offered were associated in one way or another to Stockholm, Sweden or the Old Town. The German partiality to elk objects he could never understand, but didn’t really care as long as they paid for them. His latest customer was no German. Other statistically good guesses would be a Finn or a Russian, but no. The customer had not said even a single word so guessing was hard. The store keeper loved the challenge though and kept on guessing. He noticed that the customer had both Euros and Swedish Crowns in a small stack of bills so he assumed he could rule out Denmark and the UK. But anyone could purchase any currency and keep the home currency at the hotel, making it just as possible for any customer to originate from anywhere. This made it of course even more fun to make a guess. Almost like shooting dice, but the dice being slightly modified in favour of a certain result. But this time the shop keeper could not find a proper image to fit his client.
In Victoria Plaza other images were on. Isabella was attending a workshop on using imagery in coaching lead by the quite legendary Stephen Palmer. His idea was to spread the word that using images could change the outcome of coaching sessions and make coaching able to produce self-confidence, energy and stamina in coaching clients. Isabella was all for images, as she herself came from the journalistic profession and had close encounters of the third kind with at least one architect. Architects usually had no idea on how to use words, but images were their home turf. As the workshop went on she again felt the familiar longing for home and David. She would run for Gatwick as soon as she ever could. It was nothing wrong with the workshop at all but it could never compete with her son. Isabella sighed as she realised she had one more workshop to attend before getting released.
On the other hand she was curious about the subject: Emotional Intelligence. The lecture was held by one of the pioneers of emotional intelligence – Dr Reuwen Bar-On. He made a most powerful point: “Listen, observe, understand and only then give consultation, but really listen!” Isabella smiled as she thought “Typical – a man speaking of really listening. Most men could not even spell the word.” And still there that man stood on the stage, obviously knowing something to say about it. And with a background both from the military forces in Israel and also formerly living in South Africa he should know something about a “not listening culture”. She imagined that being a major in the armed forces of Israel for eleven years would be extremely challenging for a man really interested in listening. Or an extreme learning experience, as you can learn as much from the thesis as the anti thesis. Something close to how a Buddhist would approach something bad happening or when meeting a bad person. What is the lesson to be learnt? Perhaps war produced a man interested in communication? Just like everything in itself has the possibility to turn into its opposite? Or that you sometimes need something really bad to wake up and really do something good? Isabella had read something on Taoism a few years back and did not understand much of it but had picked up that they always said that something at face value looking bad not always was entirely bad and vice versa. And that everything always changes. It was some kind of comfort in that, Isabella thought. And the man was really into listening.
He showed the Chinese character for “to listen”, which he said consisted of a combination of “heart”, “eye”, “ear” and “undivided attention”. He meant that we should all listen with both our ears, but also read all the visual expressions, use our heart to feel what is really said and focus on nothing else when we are listening. Isabella reflected that it was something of a crash course in coaching. Coaching is so much more of course, but really listening to your client is a good starting point. Isabella found it, however, more and more difficult to focus on Mr Bar-On. He went on to explain more on the science of Emotional Intelligence, but Isabella thought “I can get that from a book later.” She decided there and then to make herself scarce and make a run for the airport, giving her more time to look for another gift. David was to be well materially compensated for her absence. She knew that something from “Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars” would be hugely appreciated. David was turning into a boy now. He was not just a child anymore. A special transition time for him, being in two worlds. Both needing soft animals AND hard swords. Isabella remembered the other day, when David had shown her that his teddy bear knew Kung Fu moves. He had seen Kung Fu Panda of course. Amazing, but in such a film you could actually find things worth using in coaching. I a scene we are taught the saying “Yesterday is History. Tomorrow is a Mystery, but Today is a Gift! That is why it is called the Present.”
So being here now is a key. Kind of the Mindfulness teachings which are so popular today. Mindfulness has of course “borrowed” that notion from LaoTzu and Tao. Same coat, new box. Isabella thought that the wrapping does not matter as long as it fits. Only infants are more interested in the boxes than the contents. When David was a baby he could play with the boxes for hours, completely disregarding all the very thoughtfully chosen toys he was presented from within them. Perhaps we all have an internal infant showing up at times. Perhaps that infant loves the free space inside the box and the abstraction of the outside. With those two the infant can imagine anything, making anything possible. The thoroughly designed toy can only do one already defined thing. A car is a car and a doll is a doll. A bit boring for a creative infant. Perhaps even boring for anyone. Isabella knew of course that David expected a bit more than just an empty box.
Just hours ago our mysterious client left the store with just that. An empty box. The new owner had every intention of filling it with objects. Just a minute after leaving the store one small object was already put in there to mark triumph.
Isabella ran like crazy to board on time. The search for David’s present had taken longer than she had expected, but now she saw the staff about to close the gate in front of her very eyes. She yelled “Stop! Please! Wait!” – And all other possible shouts that might catch the staff’s attention. And yes – they saw her just in time and let her onto the plane. “Sometimes you are in luck”, she thought. After a few long deep breaths she calmed down and mumbled to herself: “Yes, Steel Eagle – Take me home!!