Plateaus Are Normal, Not Fatal, and Worth Our Attention
As adults, we’ve forgotten that taking risks and falling down was how we learned everything. Now, we don’t risk. We protect the image of competence, looking good and fitting in. For many, a point comes when playing it safe is dissatisfying. We tap into our courage and will. We choose to act, to move out of our comfort zone and pursue a new dream. As if awakening from a long slumber, we are giddy because our vision is so compelling. Ideas surface fast and furious. We feel the adrenaline pulse.
Then, we make choices so far out of the norm that we separate from our group; we’re exposed, vulnerable and maybe even terrified.
At this moment, our original hypothesis is proven right. The risk to learn and dream and reach for the stars is dangerous. We pull back and step off the path into a safe zone, away from other people and the visibility of our compelling dream, which we likely abandoned. We build our emotional barriers that prevent being and feeling vulnerable. Mental blinders to taking the risk, especially, interpersonal risk, are the habits we develop. Those habits stop us from ever perceiving an opportunity for change, allowing our life to continue to unfold, secure.
I know your experience with clients has surfaced some or all of this internal scenario. It’s an intimate experience not usually shared with others. We must rely on external symptoms to recognize what may be occurring for the client. Some familiar symptoms clients report include frustration, disappointment, apathy, fatigue, annoyance, anxiety, anger, deference, addiction (work, food, sex, alcohol, drugs), loneliness and, for some, sadness or depression. These symptoms are real.
We also recognize that for some people, the symptoms are a sign that support for mental health and well-being is in order. In a quiet moment, most people hear some inner voice that initiates the trek off the plateau. Soft as a whisper, that voice says, “Maybe, just maybe someone will see me and invite me to remember that I am more than this circumstance and the associated feelings. I want something else.”
The moments when I feel the deepest gratitude for our profession occur when a client allows the vulnerability of not knowing. The client notices the pain from tolerating the mirage of security and no longer accepts this way of living. Even the most prideful C-suite executive, highly satisfied and successful parent, college graduate or, truthfully, any human being awakens to the hollowness of achievement without enlivening relationships.
So many myths and stories express this archetypal journey because it is the human development journey. It doesn’t matter what context you choose as a professional coach. These symptoms apply to all of those: personal, professional, spiritual. The experience is inclusive, meaning it does not discriminate based on gender, culture, economic status or any other criteria we identify. In this way, the moment of the plateau is perfectly normal and rather than fatal, it signals that we are alive and ready to move beyond secure and flat toward vital sovereignty.
On the path of becoming a human being, we engage in professional endeavors. The practice of coaching is an endeavor for being useful to another, in a peer-based relationship dedicated to creating awareness. Awareness leads to insights that fuel a person to choose a new way forward. Whether that new way is a mindset, a method, or, an alternative action, a breakthrough occurs. Clients experience renewal and then the courage to shake off the doldrums and pursue what is uplifting. Witnessing this process over and over has an unintended consequence that is worthy of our attention. We experience a plateau, wondering if we are vital in our work and choosing beyond our comfortable habits and practices toward our aspiration to serve, fully and generatively.
As the question arises, it is easy to believe we are immune; we are coaches. We are role models for balance and wholeness. Then one day, we remember the old saying, “What we resist, persists.” That day we realize we are living on a plateau that doesn’t match our vision for the world. That dream is real and vital, and the only thing in our way is our courage to continue becoming, to living sovereign.
Janet M. Harvey, MCC, will be exploring this topic more in-depth at ICF Converge 2019, which is taking place October 23-26 in Prague, Czech Republic. Join her session “Mental Blinders and Emotional Barriers: Discover Your Breakthrough” in the Practice content group on Friday, October 25 at 9:00 a.m. (local time). By attending this session, you can earn 1.5 CC in Continuing Coach Education units.