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Getting lost one winter’s afternoon in Paris

Updated: May 5, 2023

And what does this have to do with values and coaching?

My recent holiday in #Paris (a whole week!) involved getting lost a few times in areas I was less familiar with or had never visited before.

Contrary to this, I have often thought myself lucky to have my dad’s sense of direction rather than my mum’s (sorry Mum!). But this past week has left me wondering…

  • I found myself turning left out of cafes, restaurants and the metro automatically – definitely a trait of my Mum’s.

  • I found myself looking at the street and metro maps, a lot more than usual. And doing that thing of not being able to match the north facing direction of the map, with the direction of travel we were heading.

  • And I definitely didn’t remember, from one day to the next, the different metro routes to and from our destinations (this could be linked to our very frequent change of plans!).

We also spent a marvellous day in (on?) Montmartre letting ourselves get lost in the streets, looking at the varied architecture, the public art and window shopping in auteliers and vintage clothes shops – until the point of the afternoon when we were heading over to the Cemetiere de Montmartre before it closed.

But of course that was a time when we walked about 50 minutes longer than necessary to find the cemetery. And you guessed it, we’d been heading in completely the wrong direction!

When we realised this, there was a lot of “I have no idea how that happened!” and “how did we get it so wrong?”. The desire to unpick and agonise over that ‘mistake’ was very strong. But there was no time to pour over the map and retrace our steps in our minds. We had Emile Zola’s, Edgar Degas’ and Jean Foucault’s tombs to visit! We named it a "spontaneous tour", as my sister likes to call these situations, and moved on.

The need to have a post mortem wasn’t useful to us then. It wouldn’t change what happened and it wouldn’t help us going forward. I must confess that I do like a post mortem, it’s a strong part of my reflective brain and an example of my values around learning and exploration.

If you’re still with me, and wondering why I’m telling you this story, it’s because this is a great metaphor for coaching. In life we spend a lot of time on automatic pilot. Then there comes a point when we need to think about our direction of travel and how we get there.

Often, a co-pilot (the coach) is reassuring and helpful – the co-pilot is not an expert in that direction of travel, but someone to help us feel safe and think about things from different perspectives. We still hang on to the ‘map’ to make decisions though. And lengthy post mortems aren’t really what we do in coaching (they’re very useful in therapy though).

In coaching, we are looking forward – it might be for a specific, immediate and tiny (SIT) goal or it might be a vast goal where we’re trying to work out the steps towards it. Often it’s both.

The other parallel with this story is ‘letting ourselves get lost’ – and on Montmartre, there was a defined boundary that meant we knew when we’d ‘gone wrong’ – we started going downhill towards a metro stop nowhere near where we were headed.

In coaching, our conversations are also boundaried – there are starts, middles and ends. And as a coach, our role is to make sure that the start and the end are well framed so that the bit in the middle can go wherever the person needs it to, with safety and stretch.

The bonus for us on our Montmartre day however, was we’d found a lovely patisserie! So we bought some cakes to have for afternoon tea once we found the cemetery. If we hadn’t got lost, I wouldn’t have had the chance to enjoy a delicious soleil d’hiver on a beautiful sunny, winter’s afternoon!

And coaching is like this too – we find extra things we never knew possible. We go on journeys that aren’t all neatly mapped out. And getting there ‘in the end’ is less so much the goal, but the start of the next adventure.

Our next adventure in the cemetery meant finding the tomb of a Russian Princess next to that of Degas’. And a conversation over dinner about what we learnt on Wikipedia about her!


PS – want to know how your values show up when you’re on holiday?

Download our free values inventory tool to get clear on your values first, and then we can have a coaching conversation afterwards if you wish. We have a range of packages available on our website.

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