Inspiration can be defined as a kind of enthusiasm, a creative breath that inspires the writer, artist or researcher to have an idea that leads to creation. And if we think of coaching as an art, then it is desirable that art should inspire the coach.
From New Orleans to everywhere else
Art can inspire the coach to help the individual examine his aspirations. Artist and designer Candy Chang offers a similar opportunity to the public with her interactive work “Before I Die…,” which was created in February 2011 in New Orleans. It has since been reproduced in 73 countries in 36 languages.
Affected by the unexpected death of a close friend while struggling to maintain perspective in her daily life, Candy Chang imagined transforming one side of an abandoned house into a giant blackboard that would be covered by one unfinished phrase, painted across the blackboard numerous times, to be filled in with a crayon: “Before I die, I want to…” The wall was filled in less than a day with the dreams of passers-by. This artistic installation represented a renaissance in the form of art and social activism that enabled individuals to express their wishes in a public space.
The first in a long line of walls—more than a thousand in total that spread across five continents—was a neglected space that became a place reserved for constructive reflection and contemplation, a sharing place bearing the memory of that which really counts as we grow up and change. The artist’s message is that in considering death, rather than provoking anguish, we can bring clarity to our lives. In a way, death brings a metaphorical aspect to life (the abandoned house is transformed into a place of creativity), as well as a symbolic one (aspiration rather than regret) and a dynamic one (public participation in the work itself).
From art to coaching
How does this relate to coaching? As coaches, we are frequently confronted with clients who feel they are in a rut, whether professional or other. Dissatisfied at work, convinced they are in the wrong place but without knowing how to define or reorient their career, exhausted and languishing impotently in their own unease, they are locked into a downward spiral of negativity. Focused on all that doesn’t work, fascinated by obstacles, blinded by fear and lacking prospects, it becomes too difficult to avoid a crash.
The role of the coach at this moment is to help them find and relight the internal spark and fan the flame that will eventually become a source of auto-regenerative energy. If we help invert the polarity of the spiral and enable the individual to view each new step as a stage of conscious expansion and endogenous development, we can help them reach the center of a virtuous circle.
Candy Chang’s work is inspirational in the question that it provides for the coach to trigger this process: “What would you like to accomplish before you die?” With a question of this genre—undoubtedly provocative—the present and future merge and potentially forgotten dreams awake in a petri dish, where energy and enthusiasm can be cultivated. It is equally a question that leads to reflection on the theme of the purpose, of the raison d’être, of what the individual would like to leave as a legacy. In fact, these revelations can be used to identify a system of guiding values and beliefs that are deeply anchored in the subject and provide the coach with material to be explored.
Whether it’s finding love or Atlantis, becoming a source of inspiration or seeing an elk, having a boat or being published (some of the examples found on the walls of “Before I Die”); the dream itself is of little importance if the coach is careful to read between the lines. And if the gap between aspiration and reality seems insurmountable and thus unrealistic as a relevant coaching goal, it at least should provide the coachee with a chance to take yet another step towards self-discovery and still become a source of inspiration that leads to action.
And let us never forget that if coaching is a dance, the dance is unquestionably an art.