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The Context of Coaching

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Slowly but surely, our perception of the world has shifted from a stable, orderly, steady-state model to an unstable, disorderly, change-driven one. Yet most of us live “as if” the steady-state model was fully operative, and we rage or whine when we find it isn’t so. Most of us want and expect “life plans,” “careers,” and “work organizations” that will lead us with assurance toward definite “security, happiness, and financial prosperity.” We expect to arrive at these three realities as if they were destinations that had lasting power. Instead of learning how to fulfill our lives within the change process that now dominates our lives, we tend to view our lives as “declining” from the promises the generations before us lodged deeply in our minds. Its time to change the paradigm.

The Four Old Rules

The Linear Rule

This rule promised progress for those who are honest and work hard. According to this rule, our lives, careers, economy, and culture are supposed to get better and better, year by year, generation by generation—if we do our best and followed the cultural rules. In the world before television and wide-spread travel, most everyone believed in this prescription: stay put, follow the dictates of your leaders and elders, and remain committed in whatever you are doing (career, marriage, family, community roles).

The Steady-State Rule

This rule promised that if we work hard, we will each arrive at a steady-state or plateau of security and happiness for the rest of our lives. That was the deal, like a cultural reward for falling into line. When I was a boy, I saw the adult years as a steady-state period of stability, achievement, and devotion. Everyone I knew thought that there was an automatic and permanent shift when the searching childhood stages of development ended and the steady-state, adult years began. “Progress” was the only cultural direction that was thinkable. Everyone I knew had one marriage, one career, and, for the most part, one geographic location.

The Outside-In Rule

This rule said our personal lives are defined and determined by the directives of the society around us. From this point of view, the boxes of life around us shape and determine our personal choices. Nobody talked about “life planning” or “coaching” because people thought their lives were already planned and secured by the larger society. According to this rule, to succeed as a human being, you need to follow the cues of your marriage, schools, religious organizations, jobs and careers, and laws of the land. The containers of your life will keep you, as a person, happy, successful, and secure—according to the outside-in rule. The forces that surround you are more stable, permanent, and reliant than you are. Follow the dictates of the fathers and mothers of your local community. To be a winner you are supposed to live up to the expectations of the roles of your life, and your inner self will then find its own fulfillment.

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