Archive for June, 2012

The Paleontology of Coaching

When I was a little girl, my family would take month-long, cross-country camping trips each summer.  After first spending weeks plotting out our route from maps strewn across our dining room table, my parents would pack us all into a van: four people and three dogs, with a trailer looming behind us, hooked by steel and tethered with cables. My brother and I would load up on books (and, in later years, 8-track tapes) to occupy our time, since at least a part of each day was spent traveling long asphalt ribbons on which the scenery rarely changed.

We hadn’t much money to spend on extraneous activities. I remember stopping at the many historic sites marked by roadside markers, lunching at the picnic tables at the roadside overlooks and, vividly, stopping at hokey rock-and-fossil tourist shacks to satisfy my brother’s and my taste for something other than American history. These ramshackle places were usually managed by a proprietor who lived in back of the gift shop.

These were my favorite places.

For a nominal fee my brother and I would each be handed bucket, shovel and pick ax (those were the days when kids were allowed to try their hand at using, by today’s standards, “dangerous” tools) and sent out behind the shack to a sad little rock pile with promises of finding something possibly rare and precious. We were so hopeful. What might we find? Could it be that on this remote road in the western desert lay buried that one gem that might bring us wealth? Would we find a fossil that, when examined by the some museum, would be the link to a long sought-after geological question?

We’d dig, pick, and turn over the earth for what seemed like hours, hearing the tinny plunk as we placed our treasures into our metal buckets.  Then off we’d go to have the shop owner sort through our findings and provide us with his wise and experienced assessment.

Looking back on these experiences, it must have been with great patience that our parents allowed us the time to go on these adventures. I’m sure they had a schedule, and that stopping at a fossil pile was not originally part of the itinerary.  Still, it gave my brother and me time to play and dream.

This experience got me thinking about coaching and how often what we are seeking to accomplish might look, at first glance, like everything else around it, another mound of earth, of rocks, of sand. How might we sort through all that is here to discover and find those most important and valuable treasures? Just as with my experience in searching for fossils, the coaching relationship takes on that same pick-and-sort, save-or-toss kind of experience.

If everything is valuable to use or save, then nothing is. It takes time, work, and curiosity to find those few, precious treasures that will guide us towards effective change.

I remember saving those rocks and fossils on my bookshelf as I grew up. They would be a reminder of happy times spent in an adventurous search for the undiscovered. Today I no longer wield either pick or shovel, except metaphorically. That I do all the time, always looking for the new, the hidden, the treasured.

How might you sift through and examine what’s most undiscovered in your life?