Living The Metaphor

October 20, 2008

I live in a culture where “living the dream” is one of the top marketing themes, combining greed, sloth, and selfishness in one tale. We see images of people dressed to the nines sipping champagne in limousines, then barely dressed on yachts and beaches showing off toned bodies and well-hidden plastic surgery. Our avatars ride zip lines through rain forests and dive off cliffs into tropical oceans. They eat exotic food served with pyrotechnic displays and dance under the moonlight. They have freedom and adventure and worry-free living, and we think we want to be them. But instead of living the dream, the best I can do is live the metaphor.

The clutter in my home office has not disappointed. In fact, it greatly exceeds my expectations. I planned to spend a portion of each day on a section of the room, getting it organized a step at a time. I figured a step would take up a good portion of either the morning or the afternoon, leaving the rest of my workday for the work tasks I can’t postpone. I managed to get through two and a half sections in four days.

The silver lining to this cloud of drudgery is that these physical tasks are an excellent metaphor for the inner work I’m doing to refine and define my calling. The physical tasks don’t just parallel the unpacking and sorting and rearranging of the inner work – they’re directly related.

One day’s task was to clear and sort items on top of the double filing cabinet. I’ll sort the files inside later. On top were notebooks and binders and stacks of papers, bills, letters, and receipts. That huge stack took most of my organizing time the morning the filing cabinet was on the schedule. It was a trip down memory lane, kind of like opening a shoebox of photos that you’ve accumulated over the years. The papers weren’t in any particular order by topic or date, so going through them elicited random memories from my career.

I came across a copy of the last payroll summary report from our preschool and child care center in April 2003. I found the letter from government prosecutors to all victims of fraud of one of the business opportunities I had paid to buy in 2004. It was comforting to know at least two of the people involved in taking an estimated one hundred million dollars from hundreds of us were going to jail, but I still shook my head in frustration at myself for getting conned.

I found the paperwork and training notes from the marketing and business consulting training I took to prepare to join a partnership that crumbled seven weeks after my training. I found letters from foster care agencies approving me as a therapy provider in 2005 when I decided to start a private practice again. I found a letter from one of them responding to my notification a year later that I would no longer be practicing therapy.

I found my notes from the first seminar I attended on coaching, led by MentorCoach founder Ben Dean. I even found the information I printed out about the Fast Track Your Dream program at Joining Fast Track in January of 2007 helped me have the courage to start coach training that April.

Finding paperwork from the old business was bittersweet. The business was part of my life from the time I was finishing high school until just five years ago, a span of over twenty years. But it feels more like the past now. I can hold on to the fun memories and what was enjoyable about it for that season of my life, but I also am more confident than ever that the season has ended and it’s time to move one.

This weekend at my older son’s soccer game one of the boys who was in our after school care in third through fifth grades was playing before my son’s game. They’re around the same age. I had a chance to talk with his parents and see his younger brother, who was a tiny kindergartner when I met him and is now high school age.

This is a pattern I’ve experienced many times because of working with children. Sometimes a mom or dad would stop by out of the blue to visit when their kids had become young teens. We even had some kids stop by after school, driving at age sixteen or seventeen, just wondering after all the years if their preschool teacher or after-school group leaders were still around. Usually at least half the people they remembered were still there, and we had updates from most of the staff who had moved on. These children and their families were part of our center’s community and part of our lives, and when they visited years later we would still be there, providing some consistency and an anchor to their childhood.

It’s not often now, but I still run into families and see the children have grown to be teenagers and young adults. I’ve always felt the rhythm of life in these reunions. The kids have moved into other phases of their lives and the parents’ lives and roles have changed, too. But this weekend was the first time I felt like I, too, have moved on. I don’t define myself by the business I used to own. I define myself by my role in my family and by my new work promoting personal growth and development.

There is plenty of clutter left for me to tackle in this office. There are plenty more memories, too, and plenty of opportunities for me to wonder, What in the world was I thinking when I signed up for this? But I’m even more convinced that most of us get stuck in the clutter of our pasts. We don’t move forward because our past mistakes or silly ideas or flops are piled up on the floor, making us think we can’t find our way to a better future. All the reasons we think we can’t do something get tossed into stacks and piles of things we don’t want to face at the time because we feel embarrassed or frustrated or overwhelmed.

The saddest part, but the one with the most promising, is that our passions and our gifts get tossed into those piles, too. A lot of our most embarrassing flops and stumbles happened because we were driven to try something because it spoke to the core of who we are. We raced forward with enthusiasm, but gave up after the first or second fall. We were embarrassed and had no idea how to move through the challenges. Our embarrassment “brought us to our senses” and helped us see our dreams through the same lens of cynicism as the dream-crushers in our lives.

It’s time to face that cynicism head on. As I sort through my flops and failures, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to hear my inner gremlin say I told you so and That wasn’t realistic. But I’ll also have plenty of opportunities to remember when I was energized by something. That can lead me to the place in my natural self where my gifts and talents were lighting up when I was trying new things.

A failed long distance business reminds me I wanted to have an automated business system that allowed me plenty of time for family while my children are growing up, and also gave me the first opportunity to get excited about marketing. The desire to serve children in foster care points to my heart for orphans, which I can express in many different ways. The marketing and business consulting fiasco reminds me I’m passionate about helping people become self-employed and grow their small businesses.

Digging through the humiliation I find these treasures, like gold coins. If I can keep plowing through the clutter this way, my discoveries won’t just be a silver lining. They’ll be a pot of gold.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


One Response to “Living The Metaphor”

  1. Darcy on October 21st, 2008 2:41 pm

    What a lovely essay. Keep on chugging through that clutter. The pot of gold is also the serenity you’ll feel every time you enter your office after it’s done when you can just dive right into the current day’s flow without tripping over any of that stuff. Can’t wait to hear how great that feels 🙂

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