One of the many myths of coaching and mentoring is that personal growth is primarily a planned activity – so coaches and mentors should concentrate on helping people to set and pursue goals. The reality is somewhat different. Human beings are growing and changing constantly and most of this evolution is unplanned, uncontrolled, unaware and emergent. Goals and plans lead us to focus on doing and to marginalise the equally important, if not far more important, process of becoming. There is a wide gulf between the questions What do you want to achieve? and Who do you want to become?
While goal management may be a key focus for beginner coaches, more mature coaches tend to attend to becomingness, although they may not use that term to describe what they do. Becomingness is about what is happening in the present on your journey to a different place or state. Becomingness is closely aligned with liminality — the state of being in between one definable state and another. The difference is that in becomingness you are aware — to a greater or lesser extent — of the transition and able to reflect upon it as it happens rather than in hindsight. The awareness in becomingness is typically emergent, increasing in intensity with the frequency and duration of the liminal experience.
Becomingness is also associated with wisdom, because wisdom involves an enhanced awareness of both the inner world of oneself and how we interface with the outer world of others. Wisdom, in turn, is associated with recognising and being able to work with increasing levels of complexity.
Among the many aspects of becomingness are:
Doubt: The sense that assumptions we hold may be only partially true or not true at all.
Self-doubt: A sense of instability or uncertainty in our identity, the value of our contribution or accomplishments.
Discomfort: The intuitive sense that all is not well or as it should be.
Dislocation: The sense that we have lost closeness to colleagues, loved ones, a previously passionate interest or things that gave us meaning in life.
Relocation: The sense that we are on a journey.
Emotional dissonance: The sense that values are conflicting in ways that have not happened for you before.
Anticipation: A sense of curiosity about the future and the direction of change.
Acceptance: Learning to let go of “old clothes” that no longer fit.
When coaches and mentors help clients become more aware of these changes, they help the client replace the anxiety of not knowing where they are headed with an appreciation of the scenery on the journey. The client can make small, purposeful adjustments as they go. Like a sailor, they see both the horizon and the patterns of the waves immediately surrounding them.
As always, we can support these reflections with well-timed, insight-provoking questions. For example:
- How might addressing a doubt liberate you from the constraints of current assumptions?
- How can you use self-doubt as a stimulus to learn and grow?
- Where is the discomfort? Can you describe the conflict (of values, emotions etc) that is giving rise to it?
- What’s the nature of the dislocation that is happening for you? What is changing in the winds around you?
- What metaphor works for you in describing the journey you are on?
- What values do you need to reconsider and re-evaluate? Where did those values come from? What’s the connection between them? What new values are emerging for you?
- Looking through the mist at your future journey, what excites you? What possibilities are opening up for you?
- When will you be ready to clear out your mental wardrobe of things you no longer need? How will you do that?
- How will you find the time, the space and the motivation to become more aware of how you are evolving as a person?
- How can you celebrate the person you are becoming?
And, of course, these are all questions coaches and mentors can ask themselves regularly. The more practised we are at self-aware becomingness, the more patient and present we can be with our coachees and mentees.
© David Clutterbuck 2021