Do you know what I love most about my job? The fact that I can learn so much from people who learn from me at the same time. My working hours are transformed into a continuous mutual learning process. Nice, right?! Oh yes, if you are wondering what kind of job I have: I am a stress and burn-out coach. Certified by training and experience; working with heart and soul.
And so, it happened that on a blue Monday, I started the penultimate session of my coaching programme with Laura. In ten hours’ time, Laura had made wonderful progress. From frustrated and quick to judge, she had grown into a resilient, assertive communicator, standing firmer on her own two feet than ever. At a young age, Laura already experienced some pretty rough patches, and now literally feasted on the stress management techniques that I taught her.
This penultimate session revolved around “perspective” and “putting things into perspective”. Laura had a hard time at her job and the threat of conflict sucked the energy right out of her body and mind. She realised that zooming in on the details only made the problem worse, but did not know how she could do things differently. I drew a smiling moon and sketched how Laura looked at planet earth from that moon. The distance that arose that way between “her moon” and the planet full of potential conflicts, made her also see other things on planet earth.
When I asked her what threats she saw on planet earth, besides the threat of conflict within the team she worked in, she gave me a questionable look, followed by a silence filled with time and space to think. Laura saw natural disasters, sick people, starving children, … A new silence ensued, until I suddenly saw a smile appear on her lips. Enthusiastically, Laura explained to me how this thinking exercise was in fact pure repetition to her. I didn’t understand what she was referring to.
“Well,” Laura replied, “I have experienced a particularly stressful period in my life and it has taken me a great deal of time and energy to leave that stress behind me. I just couldn’t get through it, until I decided to turn that page in a very drastic way.”
Now it was my turn to adopt a questionable look. I heard myself say that I was very curious. Laura straightened her back: “As you know, I am afraid of heights and claustrophobia. So, flying is a tremendous challenge for me.” These words resonated deeply in me and spoke to me to me because of my own fear of flying. Laura continued: “The day I decided to jump out of an airplane, was the day my life took a new turn.”
I couldn’t believe my ears … It must take a very brave soul to jump out of an airplane with both a fear of heights and claustrophobia?!
Laura explained how she was clicked on to her trainer who was behind her. The door of the plane swung open and Laura felt her heart beating in her throat. She closed her eyes, threw her head backwards and wondered if she was really going to do this. As if she still had a choice at that point … Driven by adrenaline and pushed forward by her trainer, she exchanged the floor of the plane for the wind that made her ears ring and her cheeks bulge.
When she opened her eyes, she saw nothing but clouds. A velvety, white blanket promising her a soft landing. The blanket turned out to be wafer-thin and just below that layer of cotton wool, her trainer pulled open the parachute. At that very moment, Laura’s view of the world changed: she saw a beautiful landscape, full of meadows and woods beneath her. The green of the trees was in perfect harmony with the blue sky.
She knew that her VIPs were trotting around somewhere down there, waiting for her to land, but when she looked down bravely, she just saw … nervous ants! What a stark contrast to her carefree enjoyment, beaming with confidence, high above the rat race …
All those people with their concerns, beliefs, challenges, and potential conflicts had been transformed into tiny ants that could easily be overlooked, meaningless details that had no control over her experience. Laura chose at that very moment to focus on the beautiful nature surrounding her and enjoy the fantastic view along with the unforgettable experience.
The smile on Laura’s face spoke volumes. That jump took place almost ten years ago, and she was so happy that she could relive that valuable life lesson today. I was at least as happy and told her how I would think back to her story on my next plane trip and would be glad to just sit quietly on my seat in the safe knowledge that I would not have to jump … Laura laughed and nodded affirmatively.
When at the end of the session, I drove onto the Brussels ring road, I couldn’t but smile when faced with the traffic jam: meaningless ants!