The unexpected gift

It seems to have been raining, muddy and cold for weeks now – I can barely bring myself to watch the news or look beyond what we’re having for tea that day. It’s pretty bleak in the UK right now. But it’s not all bad and holding onto the positive outcomes and possibilities definitely helps me. 

Last year I learned a new technique for finding those ‘silver linings’ that we all need to keep us going on a pilot for a new coach training programme based around the Positive Intelligence model.

It’s very simple, and old as the hills, but we are simply invited to find the ‘gift’ in an apparently difficult situation by asking one of the following questions:

‘If you could take something good – a gift – from this situation, what would that be?’

‘For you to be able to look back on this situation and in hindsight to have learned something new, what would that be?’

Simple, not new, but useful.

Positive thinking isn’t a panacea and doesn’t change that sh*t happens, but it offers us a tool to motivate ourselves to keep going when the going is tough. 

I’ve started using the ‘gift’ question in some coaching sessions recently and have been humbled when clients who’ve been made redundant find the courage to find a gift of pursuing a better work/life balance or more creative fulfilment in their next roles. I’ve also seen a possible gift enable fresh thinking about what is possible in a situation which felt hopeless. 

Positive thinking has served me well in the past. Many years ago during one of the endless restructures that happens at the Arts Council I experienced a major career disappointment; I had been acting Team Leader for around a year but when the post was advertised internally I was not appointed to the permanent role. Adding insult to injury I had been acting up alongside doing my original job so was working ridiculous hours, and continued to be expected to ‘act up’ whilst the post was externally advertised. It felt like a very public humiliation, as well as big disappointment to me personally. Going into work each day those months after my unsuccessful interview felt really tough. But I managed to focus on supporting my team through the restructure as best I could and when I was interviewed for a dream job at British Council a few months later I was told by the panel that experience of leading change helped me land that role. 

In terms of CV19, I was reaching a bit of a low spot earlier today looking at the relentless rain outside and wondering when I’d ever get out of these four walls. So I started to think about what ‘gifts’ I have been offered by Lock Down that I want to keep after restrictions are lifted and I came up with a few, as follows:

  1. More time with my children in the evenings as I’m travelling less
  2. Wild camping in UK last summer after my hiking trip to France cancelled
  3. Working with a wider and larger range of coachees
  4. Opportunities to run more training and facilitation online in future
  5. Time spent birdwatching with my daughter on our daily walks to the allotment
  6. Chance to (almost) complete my Wainwrights in 2020 
  7. Discovering a new favourite corner of the Lakes after rescheduling our summer holidays

Those seven gifts came up for me quite quickly, and I know I’m not alone in finding some ‘gifts’ in Lock Down – time and again I hear coachees tell me there have been unexpected upsides to the disruption (notably for many greater flexibility for home-working) which they are keen to hold onto.

But the real power in the ‘gift’ technique is to look forwards, not backwards, and to find an opportunity in what first seems like a bad situation. So right now I’ve got a minor running injury that’s meant I’ve had to pull out of my first race of the season, but the ‘gift’ I’ve found is that I can focus on doing a period of weight-based conditioning instead which should prevent injuries in future and enable me to do more running later in the season. In a work context, I’ve got some time on my hands as I’m doing less training delivery than usual due to CV19 but finding the gift of researching new materials and redesigning my training resources so the course I am running will be improved quality.

I’m not suggesting it’s easy to find the ‘gift’ or that these gifts offset the bad stuff, but I find it helps. So – what gifts could 2021 offer you? 

2 Replies to “The unexpected gift”

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