Collaborative Groove

March 17, 2010

I came away from my coaching group yesterday with a powerful idea. I’m posting it mainly to remind myself, but also because I hope it resonates like a great big gong for someone else.

Here’s the snapshot version: A ballroom dancer can’t find his or her calling to be a dancer without dancing. The calling is an interactive one, so the person called to dance needs a partner to discover dancing. Without a partner, the dancer won’t find dancing and learn that it’s a good fit.

A more nuanced analogy is acting. A movie or television actor has a record of work that says, “You’re an actor.” Even if it’s been a long time since the last performance, there’s the video to remind everyone. But a stage actor only has the afterimage of the last performance, and maybe the slowly evaporating imprint of past performances. A year after the last movie, even if it was a small part, the movie actor is known and referred to as an actor. A year after the last performance in a local theater production, the stage actor is – well, maybe a sales clerk or a waiter or an administrative assistant who used to enjoy acting.

The stage actor, especially one of the majority of stage actors who aren’t famous, is probably more prone to self-doubt about being an actor. Maybe she sees acting as something she enjoys but is more of a hobby or a “side thing.” Maybe he sees himself as talented, but not enough to have a full career as an actor, so he’s not a “real actor.”

Then there’s a phone call from a friend, or a conversation with a group of people at dinner. Someone mentions a production of an exciting, challenging play and the stage actor gets interested. Maybe the internal conversation starts: That’s part of my past, not my present. I don’t have enough time. I really need to get on with my life.

The actor accompanies a friend to a meeting about the production. He is skeptical on the way. But things change as soon as he walks into the theater. The environment rekindles the memories of interactive experiences. The calling awakens. The actor agrees to read some lines as the group brainstorms some aspect of production. He is improvising; he is collaborating; he feels it fully again. He is an actor.

When I am coaching a client, I know coaching fits. I come alive when I mentor people around personal development and help them brainstorm their way around obstacles, especially focused on finding work that fits naturally. I come alive when I lead a support group call or training call and help people see possibilities they never considered. I love it when they get motivated seeing how their unique gifts and strengths will carry them to their goal.

But when I am not coaching or training people, I feel like the actor who has an afterimage of the last performance. I remember mentorship is my calling, but it’s not calling me. Thinking about different formats for coaching – number of sessions per month and length of each session, recurring times or variable times – I start to feel disconnected from the part of my work I enjoy. So I start feeling disconnected from my work.

But when I stumble into a conversation with someone who is frustrated with work or has an idea about being self-employed, I’m right back on the stage. When I’m on a support group call and come up with ideas for a colleague, I feel like the rusty ballroom dancer who can still Tango.

I have told clients and colleagues many times that it’s hard to find your calling when you aren’t exploring. Your frame of reference is only whatever you’ve experienced plus fictional versions of careers you’ve read in books or seen on television and in movies. You can’t know if a type of work naturally fits you unless you can do it, or at least try something pretty close.

I realize now there’s an ongoing component to this. You can’t evaluate some types of work if you are removed from them in time or in your frame of mind. Looking at your busy schedule for the coming week it can be hard to feel the motivation to make sure you get to the dance class. Looking at the coming months it can be easy to tell yourself you don’t have time to get involved in a theater production. That’s because in that place, at that time, with your mindset focused on “busyness,” you feel all the hassles of rushing around. But you don’t feel the passion that comes with dancing or with acting. That’s not the time to decide if it’s worth your effort and intention.

The time to decide if something collaborative is a comfortable, natural fit for you is shortly after you do it. In the moment, as you experience it, you will come alive, so you might overrate how it fits in your life. Days later, bogged down in the rest of your life, you find it hard to reconnect with that moment, so you underrate it. But just after you experience it, as the excitement fades and you settle down, you’ll have a better sense of how this activity fits in your life. Is it a hobby? Is it something to do on the side as a profit center? Or is it the core of how you interact with the world, your natural way of being that guides you to a sustainable career?

My sense of purpose is much stronger when I have been in a creative conversation that focuses on the uniqueness and potential of another person. Even in group calls where we focus on two or three people – usually not at the same time but one after the other – the conversation is individualized and personal so my mentoring side comes alive. That’s when I know I am called to spend time engaging people on personal development, in whatever forms that takes.

After the experience fades, when I’m looking at a planner or sketching out programs for coaching services, I don’t feel connected to the interaction. Then my ideas feel vague, even hollow.

But when I talk to a person, one person with real experiences and real desires and the complexity of being human, I can start to see a tailored program that will fit that person. Then it all makes sense again.

I can’t do my kind of work without collaborating, so I can’t feel the meaning in it when I am far removed from interactions. I need guideposts that bring me back to this realization when I’m mired down in the organizational minutiae of my business – guideposts that lead me to touchstones where I can feel the groove I hit when I’m mentoring people.

Does your groove fade quickly when you’re not in the moment? Do you need to be collaborating with people to experience your calling? Leave a comment and let me know if these ideas speak to you.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


8 Responses to “Collaborative Groove”

  1. Dr. Judy Krings on March 19th, 2010 7:18 am

    I will dance with you any,day, Steve. I think you have your finger on the
    “Just do it” idea. You are that rare resource guy with so much talent and so many avenues down which you might succeed in finding your path to purpose. Do it, sit into it, and see if you want to sit in that chair again. Love your curiosity and mental analysis. Move over Jung…

  2. Gayle on March 19th, 2010 9:33 am

    On experience and memory: I have found that it is easier to delight in the perfume of the rose when i am in the garden. . . and savor it later if I was fully present. (Most inspiring book on topic for me was the children’s book, Frederick, by Leo Leonni.)

    Your musings remind me that I recently heard about the concept of social atomism… that the smallest human unit is no fewer than two persons (J. L. Moreno) so did a little exploring of myself…and found Mark Buchanan’s talk at Microsoft about his book the Social Atom. . . which moves this conversation to other realms, about how shaking things up can lead to unexpected yet self-organized results:

    ….and this led me back to the beginning of the coaching conversation… about how we organize ourselves…and how shaking our own inner (ball) bearings up can lead to unexpected, interesting, even beautiful patterns. . . if we remain curious, mindful, grateful…

    May you be the Frederick of the coaching world. . . because we need more than producers. . . we also need meaning.

    To more adventures on the twisting road!


  3. Steve Coxsey on March 25th, 2010 10:15 pm

    Thank you, Judy, and thank you, Gayle. People reading these comments will have a hint of the wonderful community we share that challenges us and expands us and keeps us aloft. Much love to you both.

  4. Valerie Young on March 29th, 2010 9:15 am

    Steve I think your post — and insights — are brilliant!

    I too come alive when I am in the brainstorming moment – whether paid or totally impromptu with the waitress or store clerk or cab driver. It’s hard to hold onto that 24/7 but it is comforting to know that one needs only put themselves back in the collaborative/connecting mode whether that’s with people or a particular environmental trigger (in your actor example, a theater) to ignite the passion again.

    I love your stuff!

    Valerie Young
    Dreamer in Residence

  5. Steve Coxsey on March 29th, 2010 12:04 pm

    Thank you, Valerie. I’m blushing now.

    Or is it a little bit of sunburn from being outside this weekend?

    Nope, I’m definitely blushing. Humbled and grateful for your comments, and definitely encouraged to keep moving forward. Thank you.

  6. Dr Karen on May 18th, 2010 11:07 am

    This is probably such a universal experience — and it makes so much sense in collaborative undertakings. DOING these things requires others, so just sitting and thinking about doing them doesn’t ignite the same brain pathways as when we actually engage with others — when we mirror their energy and they mirror ours and there is a positive feedback loop keeping building and literally energizing us.

    When we imagine it after the fact, there is no one Out There bouncing back our energy and so no building — just the sometimes fuzzy Remembering of how it was.

    Thanks for the reflections! (Pun so intended 😉


  7. Steve Coxsey on May 18th, 2010 11:20 am

    Karen, it is delightful (like champagne bubbles) to have your “Way of the Brain” perspective expanding and deepening my understanding of why this is so. In recent days, once with a client and once with my college age son, I’ve had the experience of someone start to explain something to me and stop in the middle to say, basically, “I understand it and it seems so different now that I’m saying it out loud.” Some things only become real when we put them out into the world of other people.

    Blessings on your journey


  8. Keeping the spirit up. « Andrew Maxwell on December 13th, 2010 7:46 am

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