Come, bear witness to the theatrical delight of a poxy magpie pecking a blackbird to death over a measly scrap of bread. And savour the continental ambience of brutal, grey concrete benches, smashed and striated by a thousand joyriders, all cowering under the watchful gaze of tower blocks and antisocial housing.
Welcome to the Grebes housing estate, people – a dilapidated, bin-themed fairground near where I live in Yorkshire, sure to inspire that Monday morning feeling any time of the week. Helplessness, existential dread and lingering despair are never in short supply here. And grebe is a state of mind.
I found myself traipsing morbidly through Grebes estate one morning not all that long ago, en route to the office. The previous day, I’d knowingly avoided all the things I knew I ought to do. And today I’d resolved to get them done: finding and mingling with changemakers I long to serve, as I built my coaching business.
But, like the billion dog eggs bejewelling the Grebes estate road, so many unknowns lay in my path. What problem am I solving? For who? How do I help? Where are they?
And if there’s one thing the mind doesn’t need on a stroll through the Grebes estate, it’s uncertainty. I tried my best to walk purposefully, but that familiar treadmill of doubt span and creaked in my mind, slowing me down.
What began as slight hesitancy soon revolved into full-blown, existential panic. I’d resolved to take action, I just didn’t know what or how. So why bother even trying?
Then, right on cue, came feeling bad for feeling bad
I cowork in a converted flax mill near the Grebes estate, where poor young nippers were literally mangled to death crawling beneath heavy machinery, so that toffs might have more comfortable socks.
Comforting thought, I thought. Now we’ve lost perspective too, and replaced it with post-industrial class guilt.
If you’ve ever built a business from scratch or launched any ambitious project, these feelings might sound familiar. It’s not unusual to feel beaten before you begin, and kicked when you’re down, over and over and over again.
That’s what you get for chasing your dreams, when grit isn’t your forte
I used to cope by diverting my attention to well-defined, achievable tasks, like bleeding a radiator or buying some screws. Until brute force or resignation eventually showed up, forcing me to confront the unavoidable, those tricky tasks, with frustration and disappointment.
These days the stakes are higher for me. While it’s OK to feel what my clients feel, it’s deeply inauthentic to not practice what I preach as a coach – meeting challenges like these with a more helpful attitude.
So this article is my reflection upon new ways of coping and getting motivated. Of how a black day turned grey, then off-white, and eventually yellow. Yellow being good, because it’s kind of warm and sun-coloured like golden sunlight (another colour alien to the Grebes estate).
Maybe they’ll work for you too?
First, de-tangle and de-escalate
When I worked with naughty boys and girls at an inner city school (ineptly I might add), we were taught to de-escalate if a scrap looked imminent. That means bringing heightened emotions down to a manageable level, so our brains act a little less reptilian.
One way to de-escalate alone is by journaling (or morning pages). It doesn’t resolve unknowns, it just downloads them, so they’re out of your head. Doodling or wittering works well too.
Journaling helps identify what’s really going on and what’s really on your mind. It breaks lumpy thoughts into individual nuggets, giving them coherence. With the brain less dark and muddled, threads of ideas and options emerge, like pulling earphones from a cat tod.
On that fateful morning, journaling revealed five or six different themes in my coaching, possible lines of enquiry for the whole ‘who and how do I help’ problem. Too early to answer, but they were jammed in there all the same, throttling valuable CPU time.
Journaling bought relief and space. It was kind of exciting too, to know creativity was in there somewhere. Playfulness was emerging; laughing at the ridiculousness of sipping an oat milk latte inside a former temple to the crushing forces of ruthless capitalism.
How might you step back from the brink, and maybe even enjoy a laugh with yourself?
Second, join something bigger
Coincidentally, I’d applied to join a group called coaches helping coaches a few days earlier. So, after braving the toxic cross-fire that is Facebook, I discovered my membership was approved.
Isn’t it funny how doom halves when you hear others feel equally doomed? Perhaps this works best when we aren’t looking for answers, like how-to explainers. Although we might think we want to be told the right way to do something, what we really need is understanding and connection from others.
I tried that and felt a little better still, as well as empathy and compassion.
Although still unresolved, my concluding remark here is that this business development stuff is tricky as fuck. Yet everyone goes through it, there’s no avoiding it or quick fix.
But could it be that the very thing you’re up against – effort and persistence as a barrier to entry, is what distinguishes you from those who give up?
Third, tune in
With my mood lifted, I had a good hard stare at the canal through a mill window. A grey wagtail balleted purposeful on the frozen water, flashing its yellow underbelly while scrabbling at fags and empty cans of Galahad lager.
Nature is so restorative, isn’t it?
Feeling more objective, I wondered what all this resistance might be telling me. Strong feelings are often signals. Perhaps I was doing too much saying – wanting to rush straight to market with a fully formed idea of the whats, who, hows and whys of business.
So what would listening involve? Asking? Talking? Would that be a more appropriate, agreeable way to connect with people? What would that look like?
After realising I’d just coached myself with some magnificent questions, I resolved that getting into conversation with people as an exercise in market research (“hello what’s your world like? Would you like some help with that?”) is a splendid way to shape a business.
What would it take to lift your mood?
In my experience coaching, when people have calm and perspective, their questions answer themselves. When I felt less defeated and morose after this remedial action, creativity came back online and suggested five specific things I could do to find my kind of people to coach.
That would never have happened, had I let the Grebes estate mentality shape my day.
What’s especially notable is that the three things I put at the heart of coaching others – playfulness, compassion and curiosity, are the very same three things that lifted me out of this particular rut. Who’d have thought?
Maybe there aren’t any boundaries between career, business and life? Perhaps it’s all one big adventure? Perhaps there are clues to what lifts your mood, in what you already give others?
Bum days are inevitable
When you’re in a bleak mood, how might a little less urgency and a little more ‘working up the levels’ towards a more useful state of mind, like I did, help you?
Attitude is the perennial blocker of many, if not all, routes to where you dream of being, and back on the Grebes estate mine was all kinds of wrong. If that dreadful feeling of doubt and inaction is all-too-familiar and all-too-tiresome, then maybe it’s time we worked on new ways of showing up in the world?
Ever had a sluggish start to the day. What happened? How did you recover?
Photo by sunrisesoup