The more I coach people, the more I realise how annoyingly humble and dismissive us humans can be about the very things that define us.
I’d even go as far as saying that there are things about you – inclinations, experiences, stuff you’re capable of, that are so intrinsic to who you are (and what makes you interesting) that you’re practically blind to them.
Let me give you an example
On a typical coaching call, a client and I will meander the psyche in pursuit of ways around an obstacle, when all of a sudden, apropos of nothing comes: ‘that reminds me of the time I got interrogated by the FBI… ‘Next week I’m launching a satellite’.
Hang on… What? I ask, taken aback. There’s no way I’ll let a glimmer of gold like this get shovelled aside, when we’re figuring out what really makes someone tick.
So I press them: go on…
Cue a passionate eulogy, a deluge of enthusiasm about their current obsession or tinkering project. Or a curious tale from their chequered past – a man-hunt, a mysterious benefactor, a lost love in a war-torn city. Then along comes the censor to put truth safely back in its box:
‘Anyway, weird, I know… not sure what that’s got to do with anything… not that anyone’s interested.’
To which I scream (internally), are you kidding?
What you take for granted is a clue to your place in the world
These things that seem quite ordinary, having been part of our lives for so long, are often useful clues about which direction to take our careers in. Anything we hastily dismiss as irrelevant, historic, or too weird for everyday consumption – these are indicators of ourselves in our natural, uninhibited, creative state.
Wouldn’t you like more of these passions and interests in your life? How about meeting like-minded people who are equally fascinated in your experiences and worldview? What if you could get paid for indulging them?
I’m no stranger to springing this trap myself. For years I’ve secretly been drawn to railway archaeology – disused stations, trackbeds, tunnels, and industry departed. If ever I cycle over an old bridge with ‘BR’ chalked on it, that’s me lost for hours on a curious reverie into the nostalgic mists of time. And don’t get me started on the metropolitan ghosts of Leeds Tramways.
Yet I’d filed all this under ‘miscellaneous/other’, content to stare longingly at old maps of transport networks, imagining lost souls conveying themselves through familiar, abandoned locales. I never sang about it in case I came across as a trainspotter (I don’t own a jotter and couldn’t give a flying scotsman about trains). It all seemed too odd and niche, almost workaday, to be relevant to my coaching.
That was until my own coach recommended I practice what I preach. I haven’t quite worked out how urban mass transit and abandoned railways integrate with my coaching practice yet, but I’m enjoying the process of picking out the bones, in my curious podcast.
It seems some of us organise our lives into boxes
Perhaps it’s just my kind of people; the people I coach, but I see this thought-process a lot:
This is professional… This is personal…. F*** knows what this is, but that can go right to the back of the cupboard – out of sight out of mind.
When we treat our lives like this, it’s easy to assume one characteristic is more important, valuable or accessible than another. And generally, the box labelled sensible, professional, commercial takes precedence over all others. It’s the box we think others want to see when our cupboard door is opened.
Yet it’s the combination of everything in there, in balance, that makes us interesting (and valuable) to others as whole, rounded human beings.
When you talk down your stories, the world’s poorer for it
That satellite you’re launching on a home-built rocket – do you know how mind-blowing your tribe will find that?
That story of mistaken identity by an FBI convinced you were a spy – pull up a chair!
Believe me, there are people out there who’ll deeply value your insight, even pay you for it.
I recently stumbled upon a blog, curious to see what an acquaintance had been up to. Within minutes I fell down the rabbit’s hole – they too love tinkering with low-cost Linux computers!
Indulging my curiosity, I found myself doing what every prospective follower of yours will do; wishing I lived more like them. I was drawn to them.
Trust and intrigue grew
To those of us on the outside looking in (humans have another bad habit of thinking everyone else leads more exciting lives than our own), this stuff is deeply compelling. We see your worldly, inventive, adventurous value through your interests, hobbies and stories. They draw us towards you, and make us imagine new ways our paths might cross.
Curious nuggets of humanity are what people really hope for when they stalk you online. Sure, they want to check you’re legit, but really they long for something unusual, unique and personable.
A peek behind the curtain.
Because fundamentally, humans are drawn to novelty, especially when presented through the lens of those who share our values.
Your curious hobbies, your stories, your idiosyncrasies are irrepressible
Here’s another phenomenon.
When I press my clients about their apparently minor hobbies and irrelevant stories, often an opportunity emerges, some change in fortune, or paid work. It turns out some fellow enthusiast found them on the internet, and invited them to collaborate on a project, or funded an experiment.
So I press yet further – my responsibility as a coach. Don’t you think there’s something interesting going on here?
‘Maybe’, comes the reply, ‘but it was just an accident. I doubt there’s enough of this kind of thing out there.’
Really?, I ask, do we know that for certain? What would it look like to test that theory?
Think about it like this: perhaps the real challenge is scaling up what you already do?
If things are already happening after a handful of sporadic blog posts or tweets, imagine what might happen if you regularly updated a Youtube channel with stuff like this. Or wrote a book about it?
‘Oh I’d love to do that,’ comes my clients’ reply. ‘In fact, I did, well I wrote half a book anyway…I make videos about this all the time with my kids…’
By this point I’m usually gripping the table with white knuckles, trying to retain a semblance of professionalism.
‘Maybe I could take this somewhere?’ comes the realisation.
Do you think?!?!
Your curious hobbies, stories and other idiosyncrasies are irrepressible
Whether you like it or not, it seems our inclinations and experiences always find a way to express themselves. Maybe it’s leaked onto a blog somewhere. Or you allude to it in your bio on your favourite social network.
Take a look now. What clues have snuck into your online footprints? Or if they haven’t, what do you avoid mentioning professionally that you’d rather be doing personally?
Which boxes, full of intrigue and passion, can you delve into at the back of your mental cupboard today, and show to the world, unashamed of your enthralling geekiness?
Because your tribe is out there, waiting to hear all about it.