In the summer, before the busy-ness of fall sets in again, I learn many
of my coaching lessons from working with my horse. It may be odd to
say that my horse teaches me a lot about working with coaching clients,
but it is true. It may be simply because the horse is so full of raw
emotions, and has no qualms about letting me know where she is at.
When she is calm, her body language shows it. When she is afraid,
she shows it, too. No excuses, no pretenses. What you see is what
People are a lot more complicated. Sometimes, they feel afraid but won't
say so. Sometimes, they are happy but feel it would be inappropriate to
show it. Maybe that's why I find it so valuable to work with the horse, to
learn about the body language of emotions, and to get immediate
feedback on training techniques that make things better, and those that
make things worse. More often than not, what I learn with the horse,
applies to people as well.
I tried to take my horse to the beach the other day. I normally just ride
in the riding ring and haven't yet bothered to take the time to teach
the horse to be comfortable outside the barn. So, it shouldn't have come
as much of a surprise that, as soon as my friend and I started to leave
the barn, my horse got to the end of the driveway, realized that she
would be asked to go away from her comfortable home, and she put
on the brakes. Not just that, she put on the reverse gear and backed
up. I turned her around a few times but she always got to the same
spot and reversed from there. There was a very clear line of how
far her comfort level extended.
Thankfully, my friend was riding a horse that was used to being used
as a pony horse. When you go to a racing track, you will see a person
on a bomb-proof horse, holding on to the hotblooded and spooky
racehorse with a tiny jockey bobbing up and down on the way to the
starting line. The calm and experienced pony horse provides a sense
of comfort for the young, fearful racehorse. My friend held on to
one of the reins for my horse, close to the horse's mouth, and we
walked down the road - my horse close to her horse. We turned
around fairly soon to get my horse a chance to get back to her sense
of safety. We'll do this again, and again, and again - until there
comes a time when the pony horse will not be needed at all. One
step at a time.
Aren't we people just the same? Sometimes, we have our own
comfort level about something and, as soon as we reach it, we put
the brakes on. Sometimes, we even go into full reverse gear. Imagine
a person terrified of public speaking. They will go to any length to
avoid getting in front of the group. How about the salesperson who
has had a streak of bad luck and no sales, and is afraid to pick up
the phone to talk to the next prospect?
Most of the time, when we hit our limit, we seem completely
unreasonable to everyone around us. Obviously, there are no
monsters hiding on the public speaking stage. A sales prospect
may say "no" or even be mean, but usually they will not get out of
their seat and write a nasty front-page headline to the New York
Times about a bad sales presentation. But fear is not about being
reasonable. I could have talked to my horse until I was blue in the
face to try convincing her that none of the houses down the road
contained horse-eating aliens, but reason wouldn't have cut it.
Sometimes, it just works better to have some grizzled old veteran
to kindly smile and say, "hey, come along with me, I'll show you
it ain't all that bad."
Who do you have in your life who can take you beyond your limits of comfort? When you have reached all that you know on your own,
and you are afraid or unsure about going forward, what will you do?
Will you put on the brakes or even reverse, because you don't know
how you could accomplish where you want to go? Or will you ask
someone with greater experience for advice, or to even take you
by the hand and take you by the hand as you go through your first
few steps. All of us had that when we were young and our Moms
held us by the hand as we were learning to walk.
It has been said that people are like apples, "either we are growing
or we are rotting away." Growth is often uncomfortable and it often requires a pony horse to take us through the tough spots. It is
rather unfortunate that our society rewards the Marlboro Man
personality (you know, the lone wanderer who can do it "all by himself").
Typically, the presence of other, more experienced people can
stretch us further and more quickly than we could ever dream of
doing on our own. Whenever you find yourself at the end of your
driveway, with your foot on the brakes and your hand about to
switch into reverse, look for a pony horse! Good chances are that,
soon enough, you will be wondering what all the fuss was about
in the first place…
"It is never too crowded along the extra mile."
Dr. Wayne Dyer
"You cannot play symphonies until you have first mastered the notes."
Dr. Edward L. Kramer
"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it."
Henry David Thoreau