I’ve been immersed this week in a friend’s book – a memoir of a marriage that turned out to be anything but what she thought it was. It’s so far unpublished, though I truly hope it finds a publisher to do it justice. It’s been a heart-in-mouth read as a story I’d seen only from the outside becomes laid out, across decades, continents and through relationships I’d either seen or knew about. And even more heart-stoppingly, I’ve been discovering the inner world and story of someone I have known for years. Not intimately – we met through work, and have always lived on different sides of the Atlantic – but we’ve spent relaxed, fun time together, we’ve stayed with each other and worked closely on various projects.
But a book is an entirely different experience. This is a whole new level of what I know about my friend and her life. And it makes me think: how often do we really, truly get to enter into another person’s inner world? How often do we take enough of an interest, or build up the trust and relationship where we have those conversations?
In my relationships with coaching clients, I do get to hear and see inner worlds, often as we uncover them together. I find it always powerful, humbling, and a huge privilege. And as a coach, much of my work is about helping people articulate and shape a story about themselves that allows them to choose the work and the life that is most powerful and relevant to them.
But most of the time, we shape our stories to meet the needs of other people. We present what’s comfortable for us all. And we want to hear what’s comfortable for us too. We are amused at or mildly disapproving of the over-sharers who present intimate details of their life at the least opportunity. We know that social media presents only the shiny and successful side of life, though we still somehow believe it’s the whole picture. Somehow we don’t mind it when we we only hear the sanitised version of other people’s lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for our creative work to be rooted in our inner world: our experience, our emotions, our perceptions. What if we began to listen more, to ask more, to give other people a safe place for their stories? And what if we began to trust more, to admit more, to show up as fearful or sad or even joyous? I know that it can be transformational within coaching. So on a daily basis, if we set out to have one more conversation each day, or week, that uncovered or revealed stories, how much could it impact our ability to create authentically and powerfully?