April 26, 2024

Is life just "one damned thing after the other"?

In Solution Focused and Narrative Coaching, we often invite the client to notice and describe, for example, what they would be experiencing if they made progress, how other people might respond and then how they would respond to that. Another example of an invitation to describe would be us asking our clients what they have noticed in situations that were a bit like what they wanted. We invite clients to describe, not analyze, or evaluate.

“Noticing” gained new importance for me when I was in a big city, staying in an AirBnB with a host. The host was lovely – interested in many things, artistic and kind. We shared a few breakfasts talking about the books we had read recently, what we liked about them or not and a few stories from our lives. Wistfully my host shared that she used to love to travel like I do but can no longer as she has failing kidneys and is waiting for a donor organ. She had been waiting for a long time, getting weaker by the day and was hopeful that it would happen in time.

The next day, she knocked on my door excitedly: a kidney was there! My host was all flustered (understandably), packing her things, ordering a taxi, doing the needful to get herself to the hospital as soon as she could. When she told me about the possible transplant, I was the one crying, asked her to give her a hug. As I did not have a million things to do, I could let myself be touched by the momentous occasion: someone passed away, someone will have a new life.

When we ask our clients to take time to notice and describe meaningful instances in their lives, we invite them to slow down and to “be” in the situation they are describing, even when they might not have been able to be present in the situation as it happened. In the “retelling” of these situations, clients can generate meaning or understand what they were able to do and extrapolate from there going forward.

Clients can also gain a different understanding of their identity through descriptions of meaningful instances. I remember that my first response to almost drowning in the tsunami of 2004 was action: locating my family, finding baby formula, creating a makeshift backpack etc. Later, I was able to reflect on what I liked about myself in that instance: I did what was needed. I learned about myself that I am resilient and can trust myself to keep me safe. Inviting clients to pause and retell their stories, too, can help them see themselves in a different and empowering light.

There is a quote attributed to Steve de Shazer that (surprise!!) I don’t like: “Life is just one damned thing after the other.” While at the surface this is true, the sentiment of the quote may negate meaning making. Maybe life does not “have” meaning but we can create and chose our meaning by pausing, noticing and describing important moments to each other. In coaching, I think this is one of our most important “moves”.

If you would like to explore this or other thoughts, join us for a demo session, learn about our courses or engage with us, why not join us for one of our free meetups and exchanges?

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