By Sharon Pearson, CEO The Coaching Institute
There once was a man who wanted to live an extraordinary life. He did many courses to learn what the masters could teach him. He read many books to learn what others had done to live their own extraordinary lives. He wrote his goals down... wonderful goals that included joy and happiness and love and success. One day he was with a friend, telling him about the latest seminar he had attended.
"It was amazing," said the man. "Everything just came together. It was like the speaker was speaking to only me. I wrote tonnes of notes. I spoke to the speaker afterwards and learnt even more. I got so much out of it I've redone all my goals. This is fabulous!"
The man's friend looked at him and smiled. "It's great that you loved it. I can see you got a lot out of it. Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course," said the man, smiling because of his new-found knowledge. "Anything."
"What has changed for you?" The question was asked quietly.
The man frowned, momentarily lost for words. "Everything! How can you ask that question? Everything has changed." The man felt a grumbling inside of him. How could his friend ask such a question? Couldn't he just see the difference about him? Couldn't he tell how everything was different, now?
"Yes, I can see you're happy. But what has changed? Specifically, what are you now doing differently?"
The man frowned again. What was his friend talking about? "I've told you. It changed everything. The speaker just knew what he was talking about."
"Yes, and I'm sure the speaker could talk about how he had applied what he taught you," said the man.
"Yes. He has done some amazing things. Truly inspirational."
"And I bet he had examples of how other people had gone on to do amazing things with what they learnt, too?"
"Yes..." The man was feeling a little less sure of himself. "Yes, there were many stories."
"And I'm sure the speaker said that this would be true for you, too..."
"Yes!" The man's eyes lit up. "He did! That's what I love."
"Yes, I can see that," said the man's friend.
The man looked at his friend. "I'm glad you see," he smiled, his equanimity restored.
"But," his friend persisted, "What is different for you now?"
The man felt himself getting annoyed. "I've told you."
"You've told me what is possible. You haven't told me what you have acted on."
"I've written my goals."
"Yes. The same as you did after the last seminar."
"I learnt how to manage my emotions," said the man.
"Yes, the same as you did when you read that book a year ago."
"I know how to feel totally motivated whenever I want to," said the man.
"Yes, like you did five years ago at that NLP seminar."
The man thought for a moment. "But it's important to repeat these lessons. We're not perfect. Repetition helps."
"Yes, it does. Repetition through action is great. My question is..." He paused, knowing that if his friend got this, everything would change. "...what action have you taken?"
"Well," said the man, smiling, "I need to learn all of this before I can act. I don't want to make a mistake."
"Hmmm. What would happen if you did... make a mistake?"
"I'd get it wrong."
"And what would that mean?"
The man frowned. Confusion clouded his eyes.
His friend smiled gently. Confusion meant his friend was about to learn something, if he was ready. "Imagine a circle around you, and it's your comfort zone. Imagine within it is everything that you've learnt. All the wonderful things you've discovered on these courses and in these books." The man nodded, visualising the circle full of knowledge. "Now imagine everything outside of the circle is what you don't know."
"Yes," said the man. "I can see it. So much to learn..."
"Now imagine for a moment," said the man's friend, "That to learn what is outside this circle you must go outside the circle..."
The man nodded, picturing that step. He felt something in him stir as he saw it happening. Something like fear, perhaps? Or was it anticipation?
"And imagine," his friend continued, "That when you step outside the circle you will discover what you are capable of..."
"But I already know that," the man protested.
"You know knowledge. You know what others are capable of."
The man thought about that for a moment. "I'm confused."
"That's okay, this is where you need to be." His friend leant forward. "As long as we seek simply to gather knowledge within our circle of comfort, we think we have certainty. Certainty over our environment, over our lives."
"Yes, I feel that."
"But what we don't get to feel is everything else."
"Like?" The man frowned. He was getting a glimmer of what his friend meant. Hadn't he been seeking that one thing all these years that would give him certainty? That would give him control? That would let him feel less fear? What haven't I been experiencing? he wondered.
"We can't feel courage within our circle of comfort because we don't risk anything. We can't feel compassion for ourselves, because we don't allow ourselves to stumble. We can't feel true joy because we have cocooned ourselves away in safety." The friend stopped, wondering how this, final lesson was being received.
"But I've learnt so much..." The man thought about it, and shook his head, seeing the truth. "No, I have only gained knowledge."
"So how can we learn?"
"By action." He felt his body react as he said those words. "But what if I fail? Shouldn't I wait until I'm sure I'll be able to do it?"
"You have waited. Certainty doesn't turn up in with the mail. We have to act, to test ourselves, to experience the knocks and bumps of life. When we experience this and cope and learn how to do it differently next time... only then does certainty turn up."
"But what if I'm afraid?" And he was.
"Fear plus action is where you discover courage."
The man thought about it. "So I must act..."
"You cannot discover courage in what you are certain of. You can only discover it when you are tested. You have spent a lifetime gathering knowledge like nuts for the winter. Start eating them." The man's friend laughed at his own joke.
"Eat them? How?" Realisation dawned. "I must apply what I have learnt."
"But what if I don't know what to do?"
"Then you will discover how you learn."
"What if I make a mistake?"
"Then you will discover how not to do something."
"What if I get scared?"
"Then you will discover your courage."
"What if it doesn't work?"
"Then you will find another way that does."
The man nodded. "I have to go," he said. "I have to go and eat some nuts."
"Have fun," said his friend.
"What if it's not fun?"
His friend smiled.
The man smiled too. "Then I'll choose to think differently about it. And if it's not ideal, I'll change what I do. And if I get lost, I'll discover how to find myself."