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The Context of Coaching

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This essay was originally published in the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations (JCO) as the lead essay in an issue focusing on “Developmental Perspectives and Organizational Coaching.” This issue of IJCO was co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, California. We were honored to present a statement offered by Frederick Hudson—founder of the Hudson Institute and one of the leading figures in the field of professional coaching. Published in 2008, this essay is still quite relevant to the field of professional coaching, as well as the broader field of adult development and life transitions. We invite you to identify and explore the many ways in which this work of considerable insight seems to be quite timely (and perhaps prophetic). And in what ways have things changed since 2008. We suspect that Hudson would anticipate many changes and would have invited us all to learn and develop based on these changes.

Prefatory Statement to the 2008 Essay

It is becoming more and more difficult to connect the chapters of our lives to one another—from childhood, through the adult years, to elderhood. Likewise, it is more difficult than it used to be to navigate through careers and marriages and community connections. Our adult lives used to be programmed by more or less stable, linear convoys—careers, families, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations—that connected us as individuals to our entire life cycle. Our careers used to be linear progressions from apprentices to experts. Our organizations and communities used to feel “permanent”. Today our lives have increasing amounts of instability, tentativeness, discontinuity, transitions, and cynicism about the future. The 1998 movie “Pleasantville” depicted a town that evolved from a one-dimensional, Donna Reed environment of innocence and rules to a sophisticated, multi-dimensional city of diversity and complex choices. Today, as Frederic Hudson notes in this article, everyone on earth is being drawn into increasing amounts of diversity and complexity. This sets the stage for new and challenging professional coaching strategies.

We Live Between Eras

For most of the twentieth century, the world we lived in seemed fairly dependable, uniform, and evolving—and so our lives took on those dimensions. The professions or work fields we entered were organized around the assumptions of a stable culture: perpetual progress, centrality of authority and control, following the rules. Today we are vividly aware—through interminable media coverage of every crisis on earth—that the world we live in is turbulent, unpredictable, and fragile—and our lives and communities are now internalizing those qualities. Compared with life in the mid- twentieth century America, our lives today are more complicated and tentative, and we are less optimistic and expectant. How could it be otherwise? The central force that shapes our consciousness today is change, change, change—coming at us from every direction, and in every aspect of our lives.

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