Conversations at the Crossroads.

The Magic of Metaphors

Earlier this week in a session, a client described some of the challenges he has been experiencing since the start of this new year. He and his wife had aligned on a 2013 financial goal, and this self-employed client had translated that goal into a set of personal responsibilities and business objectives. During our call, he shared anecdotes of recent struggles to accomplish his self-assigned “to-do’s,” and he expressed worry that he might fail to contribute his portion of the financial goal, letting down his wife and their dreams as a result.

It was apparent that this topic was a painful one for my client—we’ll call him Ben—as it would be painful for most of us. Fear of failure is one of the most significant barriers we face when we endeavor to create change or step outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes that fear is powerful enough to shut down the whole operation. In Ben’s case, fear of failure was causing him moments of paralysis—concerned about whether he was focused on the right tasks—followed by frustration about low productivity. And the cycle had been repeating itself for a few weeks.

At one point in the conversation Ben decided he could better tell his story through metaphor. It was like he was about to run a race, he said, and he felt he had more preparation to do before the gun goes off. He believed it would take a lot of energy to run this race, and that there were many challenges in store on his way to the finish line.

Use of the metaphor served our conversation well. Ben was open, honest and articulate when talking about “his race.” It seemed easier to talk about a situation that was like his situation but not precisely his situation. As a result of this shift, we were able to explore some of the issues more deeply, moving as he felt comfortable between the race metaphor and the real-life situation it represented.

How will you know when you’re ready to head to the starting line? 
What does it mean to you to be “prepared”?
What does the finish line symbolize in terms of your financial goals?
From which sources will you derive energy and support for the race?

As Ben and I talked more about the race, he came to realize that the metaphor he had chosen was disempowering him. In his mind, he was perpetually “falling behind” or “unprepared” and couldn’t visualize “catching up” or “winning.” What he needed, we decided, was a metaphor that would inspire and support him to move forward. So I challenged him to come up with a new one…

(…and he did! But that’s a story for a future post.)

The takeaway here is that some situations cause so much frustration or pain for us that it’s easier to talk about them through use of metaphors. Metaphors create enough space between ourselves and a sensitive situation that we might find we are able to explore the possibilities with a little less emotion and a little more objectivity. Potential solutions open up that might be otherwise inaccessible while we are so close to the nerve. It’s not a fail-safe approach, but it’s certainly worth a try when we’re stuck or spinning.

This week I’d like you to consider: What metaphors do you use for the challenges you face, and how do those metaphors empower (or inhibit?) your efforts to make change?  Shared stories are an inspiration to others, so please write me or post to The Crossroads Coach Facebook page.

With support and encouragement for your journey,

Founder, The Crossroads Coach

Published January 17, 2013