What inspires you to do what you do? Andrew Durman, PTS Coach at Mayday, revisits a moment in his career that has led to years of contemplation and still remains relevant today in his work with the Personal Transitions Service.
When I reflect on the years I have been working alongside people going through tough times and the turning points which have influenced and inspired me, one moment in particular stands out. It occurred 7 years ago when I was sent on a two day training course to learn about the Solutions Focused Brief Therapy Approach.
The trainer began with a story..
There was a professional in America (apologies for not knowing what his job role was), let’s call him Ted for this rendition, who received a letter from a man asking for advice about his sister, let’s call her Lucy. He was concerned she wasn’t happy, that she was very quiet, reserved, depressed and lonely. He was stuck, desperate and did not know what else to do or who to turn to. Ted responded saying he couldn’t promise anything but would meet with Lucy for a couple of hours to see if he could help.
The meeting went ahead and they spent an hour talking about Lucy’s life, what she got up to and pretty much everything you would ask and chat about in that situation. It came to the end of the meeting and as Ted was leaving he happened to see an open door which led through to a conservatory filled with flowers of a specific type (I cannot remember the name, but let’s call them Orchids for the purpose of this story). The rest of the house was fairly clean and tidy, with nothing really standing out, however this conservatory was full of colour, life and beauty.
He asked Lucy about the flowers and said it was obvious she put a lot of time an effort into looking after them.
During their long conversation Lucy had mentioned that she attended her local church and regularly gets invited to birthdays, open days, funerals etc. She tends to go, but keeps herself to herself. Lucy explained that although she spends time with the community, she did not have many friends or much social contact beyond that.
As Ted left he advised Lucy on one thing. When she goes to church or an event she might want to take an Orchid as a present to give or donate, something like that.
20 years went by without Ted hearing anything more, and then one day he opened a letter. It was a note from Lucy’s brother, it didn’t say much, just a thank you and included a newspaper cutting from the local paper. The article read “Well loved and admired local flower lady passes away, with 2000 people attending her funeral”.
This story was one of the main things that stood out from the entire course. Reflecting on it a number of things struck me:
- The most useful and impactful moment for that individual happened in the last couple of minutes of the entire conversation
- How easy it would have been for Ted to miss the most important part of Lucy’s life. If he was not looking or that door had been closed his conversation would have had no use what so ever. The obvious (label) is never the answer
- We have to be looking beyond the surface, open to asking the right questions in order for a person to give us the clues to what really matters to them, the change they may or may not be looking to make it their life – if we’re not looking, we will not see it
- There is no way that without seeing through to that conservatory that he could have known what was going on and what could make a difference to Lucy. It was completely individual to her. One size does not fit all and that size will not work/fit if we force it onto a person
- It is rare that a person will share what they are passionate about with outsiders like Coaches, Key Workers and Support Workers etc. This takes time and requires a trusting relationship, usually sharing crucial details like this will only occur at a time that is right for that individual. Once shared we cannot take it for granted, we must coach, act or broker opportunities. Build on that momentum, develop that internal motivation and evidence for success. Support that person in realising that aspiration, love, passion, interest, skill, talent
What happened in that story was one person suggesting and empowering another person to share, use what they loved and were good at to provide further purpose within their life and build relationships in the community. The impact was clear to see from the amount of people that attended her funeral and obviously valued her. That is the true measure of the impact. In sharing her passion for flowers Lucy was contributing, helping and connecting with other people, whereas before it was a very personal love and interest, one which sometimes left her isolated.
How do we as professionals find a person’s love or passion and then spring board it into creating happiness, purpose and someone thriving within their life? For me this is the key and since hearing that story I have been coaching people going through tough times to search for their own conservatory full of Orchids. For it is that talent, interest and strength that will provide and lead to longevity away from the system and help them avoid being caught up within it and institutionalised.
I am not saying that this is the answer to everything, however if it can support us in looking at things differently, in a more advantaged and strength-based way. Having a long lasting positive impact on people we work with, far greater than focusing on a label, stereotype, need or risk.
We need to be able to see the freshly packed, tidy and clean rugby kit in a sports bag within a flat full of mess, dirt and fleas. Being shown the perfectly preserved photograph of someones daughter, the only possession to survive a period of homelessness. The smile brought on by telling a story about the only memory of being happy when growing up, being taken fishing by one of the many foster homes someone had been in. The ability to do a Rubik’s cube behind your back in under a minute. The knowledge brought on by the love of watching animal documentaries on TV. Inventing scotch eggs only made with mash potatoes, deep fried with a filling (that’s a winner, all you need is a converted street food van/horse box and you’re away!). Knowing so much about Elvis Presley and Shakin Stevens that he would have the ability to be able to go on Mastermind and smash his specialist subject if he ever had the opportunity.
My last thought on this; How often do we hear or see the impact that we have had on someone’s life years later, how can we realistically measure something that is so individual and could take affect long after the event? Had Ted not received that letter he would have had no idea how his conversation supported Lucy to change her life, which inevitably led to happiness. This is not necessarily so important, however it does highlight that when we are invited into someone’s life as a Coach, it is our responsibility to do our best and for that experience to have a positive impact and effect on someone. This could come years down the line and we may never know.