coaching topics, Self-reflection, Work-life balance

Balance, blend, whatever! A blog for Work-Life week 2021

In 2019 I wrote about work-life blend rather than work-life balance. I was moving towards recognising that flexibility and agility were important for me rather than a totally strict split. However, it was still pretty much work or everything else because working days and school days dictated certain patterns and separation. Wind forward 5 years and so much has evolved both in my own life and in wider society.

Personally, becoming self-employed was a really big change. It took a while to adjust and I have generally found it helpful to stick to some form of day to day working hours. But because I was working from home, it became too easy to just log on and check or do a little bit more. Yes, I was doing little “home admin” bits during my coffee breaks from work, and loving being able to visit the gym in the middle of the day, but overall the work was creeping into more of the total time than I felt comfortable with. So I’ve had to put the phone and laptop away and out of sight. My brain may still be churning away thinking about work related stuff, and I may be reading a book related to work (I alternate because there is so much to read in the diversity and inclusion world), but I’m not on social media or on my laptop. So the boundaries are not hard and fast but they are there. It’s more like merging at the edges.

I’ve also realised that experiences at work add understanding to my personal life and vice versa. This is why you will find me talking about work and personal life in posts – it just feels like both are a part of me and therefore a part of what I bring to coaching and consultancy. So my work and life blur a bit on social media too – though I am careful not to let myself make that decision for others to any large extent. Yes, I will talk about my family (even on LinkedIn), but in fairly general terms. I do still have a couple of places where I have more personal stuff and don’t bring work in, but some people know me on both, and that’s fine. I guess I am learning to be more relaxed about identifying different parts of my life and therefore removing any stress about keeping them separate.

3 images, one with a balance made of pebbles, the second with rows of red marbles weaving into rows of blue marbles and the third a swirl of red and blue inks.
Balance, blend or fluid

I often get clients asking me to work with them on work-life balance. It’s such an emotive subject as there is usually a lot going on. The first step is to say that everyone’s work-life perspective and experience of balance or blend is different. I’ve shared mine above but that will be different for everyone else. Maybe it is a clear balance for you – maybe it’s more merging at the edges with a bit of flexibility, or maybe, as in the image, it’s a more fluid messy but beautiful and unique creation.

Whatever it looks like for you now, the key is whether it works for you, or whether you’d like it to be different. Your balance point or blend will be different to mine, but the steps we take to find it may be the same. Where do you spend your time and energy? Is that how you’d like it to be? What recharges your batteries? When are the times and situations where you are likely to be most vulnerable and least resilient? Even if you can’t change the pattern now, knowing what you may be aiming for and taking tiny steps might help.

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching, coaching tools

A Coachee’s Guide to… Metaphors

Metaphors can be a powerful tool in coaching. I know to some people that sounds a bit of a stretch from the solution focussed coaching they may be expecting, but our lives are full of metaphor so it makes sense that it would be useful in coaching too. Now metaphors are highly personal, but this week brings two metaphors that resonate with coaching for me – Balloons around the World and World Yarn Day.

A fleet of colourful hot air balloons float in a blue sky above a landscape containing mountains and forests.
Hot air balloons

Balloons are often bright and colourful. They can soar above the clouds and access the clear blue sky offering a different perspective and a different view. That’s why I chose a balloon for the logo of my coaching practice SendThemSoaring. If you follow the metaphor a bit deeper, balloon pilots have some control over where they go by heating gas and releasing weights, but they are also to some extent at the bidding of the wind and the thermals. That’s a bit similar to a coaching session or programme in some way – we might have an idea of where we want to go and how to start the journey, but along the way we may meander through a variety of different topics and approaches before we find a place to land and move forward.

There’s an image that’s around that describes working with a therapist or coach as taking a tangled mess of yarn in someone’s head and rewinding them into tidy balls. As a crocheter I know there is a great deal of satisfaction in restoring neatness to a jumble of threads, but the real excitement is that having sorted it out, you are then ready to create something new and beautiful. That’s true in coaching – a coaching session gives you the space to sort out the complex and get ready to make something brand new.

A thought bubble containing tangled yarn connected by an arrow pointing towards a thought bubble containing multi-coloured neatly wound balls of yarn
Coaching as untangling

When I was training, a couple of coachees volunteered their own metaphors and I learnt to go with them when they showed up, but explicitly directing coachees to use metaphors felt a little awkward probably because metaphors are so personal. However, as a coach I undergo supervision and I recently attended a session where we were asked much more explicitly to use metaphor – describing our life and coaching approach in terms of a journey – choice of mode of transport etc. I didn’t feel awkward at all as the image of a river came into my head with a small kayak or canoe. So many dimensions in terms of changing pace, size etc of the river, being carried along at some points, and free to explore and control direction at others. It was fascinating and really powerful in understanding myself and I got an insight into how being asked about metaphor feels and it wasn’t as awkward as I expected. Whilst I might not ask explicitly in a first session I do think it might be useful when a different perspective might help. Which brings me right back to my balloon.

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A Coachee’s Guide to.. Finding your strengths

Although we often think about strengths in terms of skills and tasks or activities that you feel you are good at, the broader idea of Strengths, or Character Strengths, comes from Positive Psychology. They are described as “built in capacities for particular ways of thinking, feeling and behaving”.  Identifying your relative strengths and weaknesses can help you develop more self-confidence and self-awareness.

Let’s think about strengths in the broadest sense: Think about someone you admire – a friend, family member, colleague or anyone that you know reasonably well. List all the personal and / or skills-based strengths that you believe this person has (are they brave, wise, funny, caring, loud, a team player, take charge, great with numbers). Now list their weaknesses.

Now repeat this exercise thinking about yourself.

Did you list a similar balance of strengths and weaknesses for yourself as you did for the other person?

Most people find it easier to list strengths for other people and weaknesses for themselves.

Listing your strengths and weaknesses can:

•          Build your self-awareness

•          Help you understand other perspectives

•          Allow you to identify areas for improvement

•          Increase your positive vocabulary and positive self-talk

•          Bring greater appreciation for areas you may have previously undervalued.

So let’s focus a little more on your strengths. Positive Psychology theory (Seligman, 2002) suggests that we all possess distinct character strengths that are associated with one of six “virtues” as shown in the figure.

Actually finding your Strengths can be done in several different ways. One way is to use an online toolcalled the VIA Character Strengths Inventory. It is a short questionnaire, made up of a series of statements to which you respond. Your results then rank the character strengths in order of your strongest to your weakest. Try to answer with your “gut instinct” – don’t overthink it.

Find the VIA Institute on Character at viacharacter.org You’ll need to “Take the Free Survey”. Now, it does ask you to register to do this but you can opt out of the newsletter etc. There is a screen at the end of the survey where they ask for more information about you but this is optional so skip through and get your results. They will try to sell you a detailed report – YOU DO NOT NEED THIS!

Remember:

  • What is unique about your profile is the position of each strength. Strengths near the top are likely to be those most representative of the “real you”.
  • Everyone has all 24 strengths, just in different amounts.
  • In this context, the strengths near the bottom of the profile are not weaknesses. They are strengths that come to you less naturally and require more effort to use.

What did you come up with? Do they make sense? Are there any surprises? Do you utilise those strengths in your life?