With the current political climate in the United States, I’ve been thinking about transformative change (change that occurs at the level of identity or being) and how it is a process with several stages or phases. Among the many others who have created a map for a transformative journey, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is one that is well-known.
I thought it would be helpful to create my own map — based on my work with a number of clients and students over the past 20 years — to talk about the role of coaching in supporting this type of transformative journey. In my experience, while this journey of transformation looks very different from person to person and client to client, there is consistency in the process and in the different stages that one moves through.
The power of disorientation
First, there is a disorienting event of some sort. These disorienting events run the gamut from a major life event (loss of a job, death of a loved one, etc.) to one of those powerful questions that smacks you between the-eyes. “What are you tolerating?” has always been a personal favorite.
Whatever the source, disorientation occurs. Things are no longer as they seemed. Imagine putting your hand in a bowl of very still water. Now imagine moving your hand around quite a bit until the water becomes disturbed and turbulent. This is the feel and experience of a disorienting event.
Sometimes, transformation is stopped in its tracks right here at the beginning. We humans don’t much like to be disoriented. We like to maintain the illusion that we are in control and that we know what is going to happen from one day to the next. So, sometimes we fight like the dickens to smooth out the rough water and regain a sense of composure.
This resistance is understandable…and limiting.
Why context matters
Here’s where coaching comes in: A coach can provide context to what is happening, so that the client stays in the disorientation long enough for something new to emerge. It’s almost like the coach is the bowl, holding the turbulent waters and actually intensifying the disorientation with powerful questions, while at the same time championing and cheering on the client.
The next stage of the process is dissolution. There is still confusion and turbulent waters. However, the individual in question has stopped trying to cling to what was, and instead has surrendered to the journey.
From surrender to emergence
This is a time of both opening and gathering. Opening to new ideas with curiosity and wonder, and gathering new contexts and perspectives. Despair and/or overwhelm give way to curiosity and a sense of excitement.
Once again, a coach can provide a supportive container, ask questions, make requests, and provide homework assignments to expand the scope of exploration.
As the exploration deepens, there will be a natural point in the journey where ideas begin to coalesce. Welcome to emergence. New insights begin to emerge, vision clears, and commitment becomes more tangible — not from a desire to fix or change something, but instead from excitement to claim new possibilities and express new identity.
How it all comes together
In this final phase of integration, the coaching shifts from a sense of expansiveness and exploration to that of making this transformative shift concrete and tangible. It is natural, and to be expected, that at least a few people in your client’s life will want them to return to the stability of their old way of operating. As a coach, you are a powerful ally for what has emerged, and it’s important to champion your client and acknowledge the transformation that you have witnessed. This is also a good time to bring structure to the coaching by giving homework assignments that will provide the opportunity to apply what has emerged.
Of course, the most important thing is to believe in your client and to hold them with dignity, respect, and love. It takes a great deal of courage to sail forth on this journey, and your belief in your client and what is possible for them is more powerful than any words will ever be.
It’s my observation that we (and by that I mean the largest “we”) are in the midst of an unprecedented transformation. It is useful I think, to look at current issues through this lens of a transformative map. Perhaps the current disorientation that we are experiencing is a harbinger of future transformation to come.
What is trying to fall away and what is fighting to be born?