Letters to Clients

December 2010

Dear clients and friends,

I hope you find, in these letters, stories that are both interesting and that illustrate some of the principles of my coaching practice. This one is about events that took place about 11 years ago, in the summer of 1999. Once again, it's about relationships that are important to me – in this case involving members of my family. Coaching relationships are very much like that.

Nine of us were camped at about 10,000´ in the High Sierra of California at about 3 in the afternoon when the storm broke overhead with the most monstrous thunderclap. Fortunately we'd seen it coming and had set up camp as we arrived an hour earlier, so as the rain began we were in our four small backpacking tents. High mountain storms are often sudden and fierce, and this one was no exception. The rain drummed on our tent so it was difficult to hear each other, let alone our companions in the other tents only a few yards away. We were about a couple of miles, and two thousand feet below Hell for Sure Pass – aptly named, we thought. Earlier, under clear skies, and much lower down, we had joked about the name, of course….. on our maps there didn't appear to be anything especially hellish about this particular pass, although the ranger had warned us to keep an eye on the weather, when we picked up our permit four days earlier.

The storm continued into the evening, the rain coming and going, the thunder rolling around us. We decided, if this continued through the night, that we would be wise to retrace our steps and return to the trailhead. Several of us had climbed Mt. Whitney a few years earlier, and had barely gotten off the mountain in a fast developing, savage thunderstorm. We were not at all willing to risk another episode like that. But on this occasion, we woke, after a damp and restless night, to a clear, cool sky. We broke camp and headed for the pass.

There's something exhilarating about reaching a pass at eleven thousand feet, even if there are higher peaks on every side. The trail heads down in both directions, and the sense of accomplishment is palpable. We were a mixed group, including several young folks for whom this high altitude backpacking was a very new experience. For my niece, in particular, who had arrived a few weeks before from England, and had trained enthusiastically leading up to the trip, reaching this 11,500´ goal was a milestone. At that moment we paid little attention to the fact that it was still nine steep miles down Goddard Canyon to our next campsite.

Eventually, we packed up and set off down the trail. The afternoon sun was hot, the trail dusty and uneven, and we were still well above the tree line. Conversation slowed, and rests became more frequent. It was a relief to cross the river, pause to refill our water bottles, and descend into the forest. Suddenly, however, my niece, who had been gamely slogging along, stopped us with a cry – she wore prescription glasses which without warning fell to the ground in front of her. The caravan stopped, of course, while they were recovered, but in two parts – a screw had fallen out and the spectacles were useless. Without them she was, in her words, "as blind as a bat".

It's hard to describe the despair she felt. Although we had come prepared for a number of other eventualities, this was not one of them. Initially, we comforted and encouraged her, but it was hard to see a way forward. The screw was certainly lost, and we had no available replacements that fit, although we took apart several pairs of sunglasses in the process. It took considerable discussion, lots of listening to each other (in coaching parlance it's called "building an alliance"), a few tears, and finally walking together with her on down the trail for a while, as one might lead a blind person. (In coaching, we "walk together" on the next stage of the client's journey.) Finally, we improved the situation by patching her glasses together with strips of medical tape from an emergency kit. That left about one-and-a-half lenses, which allowed her, feeling much more confident, to continue her journey independently.

I'm sure the analogy is clear! One does not have to be a blind as a bat, or completely lost, before seeking the guidance of a coach, and many times, a new direction will become clear within a relatively short time. Then the coach's role becomes part companion, mentor or accountability partner, helping to ensure you stay on the trail!

If you know of anyone who would benefit from a coaching relationship, I'd be grateful if you would pass on my name, and direct them to my web site – www.douglasowen.com. Please know that I coach about one third of my clients on the phone, so their location is not an issue.

Thanks, as always for your interest and support. My best wishes for the holidays, and a hopeful and productive 2011.

July 2010

Dear clients and friends,

As many of you may know, we are the fortunate grandparents of 4 grand-daughters, the oldest of whom is Keira, who lives in Truckee, California. Keira is almost four years old, and is generally shy, especially around strangers. Her family recently stayed with us for a long weekend, and that Sunday we all attended the Jazz service at church, sitting in the section in front of the musicians. Now the band is playing, and the congregation is rising to its feet, responding to the hand-clapping, foot-tapping music. Quite suddenly, without ceremony, and to the amazement of her family, Keira steps out from her seat, and stands alone in front of the congregation.

She had been given a new Cinderella dress the previous Christmas, which she had brought with her. It was a full length, shiny blue creation, which I think she had not willingly taken off for at least three days. She slept in it several times. She wore it to church that Sunday. She looked very fetching in her blue dress, and she knew it.

Now she's standing all by herself in front of this large group of people. She's an infrequent visitor, so she really doesn't know anyone outside of the family. The music continues, with folks clapping and singing, and Keira starts to dance, twirling in her blue dress. As it turns out, that's only half the story. Next thing you know, one of the older men in the congregation, sitting on the other side of the room, is on his feet. He walks across the floor, takes Keira's hand, and they dance together. She has almost certainly never seen him before, and is normally very cautious with strangers. But they dance together through the end of the song.

For me, apart from being a delightful spectacle, this was a salutary lesson in listening to one's inner voice, or intuition. There is an expression often used in coaching – "stepping out" – which describes the client's willingness to move out beyond the comfortable space in which most of us operate most of the time. This is often in response to an inner urging, or voice that suggests something in our life needs to change. Frequently there is an opposing voice that wants us to remain exactly where we are, however, and if that gets the upper hand, then life goes on as before. Whether the impetus to "step out" is an opportunity to dance, a call from a friend, an encounter with a stranger, or your own "still small voice", it can be a chance to begin to create the life you really want. At times like this, a relationship with a coach can be a great help.

I work with people to help them develop new skills, and gain new perspectives on an issue in their life. If you know of anyone who might be interested in, or benefit from my coaching, I am happy to offer a complimentary session.

As always, I'm grateful for your friendship and support.

October 2009

Welcome to Autumn!

I came across an article recently in the local paper, which described an extraordinary encounter between a paddleboarder and a humpback whale. (Paddleboarding is the art and sport of surfing on a longboard, using a six-foot paddle for propulsion. The paddleboarder stands the whole time, unlike a surfer, who typically lies on the board unless he or she is "on the wave"). The article concerned an expert Australian paddleboarder who was quietly minding his own business on a clear, calm day off the coast of Queensland. Suddenly, without warning, an adult humpback whale, perhaps 60 feet long and weighing who knows how many tons, surfaced about 30 feet away.

Now, paddleboarding, as you might imagine, is a delicate balancing act at the best of times. On this occasion, our protagonist was prepared for the worst, should the whale collide with his board. But as it turned out, this first sighting was only the beginning. Within minutes, it became clear that there was an entire pod of whales in his vicinity. It seemed inevitable that he was headed for disaster.

He reported, however, that as the drama unfolded, he could only stand in awe of these creatures, for not only were the whales not the least bit antagonistic, but they actually seemed playful, and were completely aware of him in some profound and unexpected ways. As he stood on his paddleboard, watching, the whales would come within inches (it seemed very close indeed), rising and turning. Their flukes, often twice the length of his board, rose above his head at times, describing extraordinary arcs in the air before the whale dived again. Not once did a whale touch his board. Our hero maintained his balance and his integrity throughout this display, and grew quickly to marvel at the whale's sense of space and timing. Can you imagine!

It occurred to me that there are parallels with the practice of coaching. Although the process of discovering and moving toward a client's deepest aspirations is an intimate one, there is always a respectful space between the coach and the client. Both the paddleboarder and the photographer (the "client" in this story) felt that their encounters with the whales (the "coach") had been life-changing experiences, which is also the objective in the coach–client relationship. I hope you will have many of these remarkable experiences in your own life.

If you'd like to experience the powerful possibilities of a coaching relationship, please contact me for a free session, to learn more. No obligation, and my pleasure to provide it! Also, take a moment to check out my website – www.douglasowen.com for more information.

Thank you for your continued interest and support.

Doug Owen

* www.mmcta.org

January 2009

Dear clients and friends,

For several years now, my wife and I have been responsible for setting up our church sanctuary for a monthly Taizé * service. It's an evening event, led by a small group of musicians. In one recent service I received a wonderful lesson that I'd like to share with you. Since the service is candle-lit, the church is dark, so each musician needs a light fixed to their music stand to be able to read their music. On this particular evening, our newest musician was sitting at the rear of the group, playing the recorder, and adding her part to the songs.

Things were going well until, some way into the program, her light grew dim, and then went out altogether. Sitting at the back of the group, no one else noticed, and she later confessed that at that moment she felt completely let down, stuck, and quite unclear as to what to do. There didn't seem to be many options; the church setting was dark, contemplative, the other musicians were busy with their own music, and she had no idea where, or if, new batteries might be found. So for our talented and resourceful player, the way ahead was not immediately clear. She was, literally "in the dark".

However within a few minutes she had figured out that she could stand behind the pianist, read her score, and continue making a contribution to the evening.

I think there are ways to see this episode as a metaphor: all of us have times when our light grows dim. When that happens, pay attention! Whether it's work that's unsatisfying, a change in life's priorities, an unexpected setback, or taking time for yourself, this is the time to recharge your batteries. Having your light go out altogether is unnerving.

If you are stuck, look around for someone who can support you until your light can shine on its own again - whether it's a pianist over whose shoulder you can look, or a coach who can help you see your problem in a new light and see the multitude of pathways going forward. There are always options but many times we just don't see them. Take action – don't just sit in the dark.

I'm happy to offer a free 30-minute consultation to anyone interested in learning more about coaching. Please see my web site – www.douglasowen.com - for details. Thank you again for your friendship and support.


Doug Owen

*for more information, see www.taizé.fr/

August 2008

Dear friends,

My wife and I were driving across southern England, returning late in the afternoon from a visit with relatives. It was May, a cloudless evening, and the rolling Mendip Hills were warm and green. Coming over a rise, we saw a hot air balloon, probably two miles away, several hundred feet up, drifting slowly eastward on the light breeze. Occasionally the burner beneath the balloon flared, keeping it aloft.

We pulled off the road and got out of the car to watch. The balloon was moving slowly across our path, and we wondered where it was headed. My wife, the navigator on this occasion and always one for a romantic adventure, wanted to follow it. So we hopped back in the car and grabbed the map. Now as you may know, driving on "B" roads in England, and actually knowing where you are, may be mutually exclusive. When you come to a junction, or crossroads, which may or may not be on the map, there is frequently a complete absence of signposts, so you have no idea where these roads lead.

Nevertheless, with high hopes and a relatively full tank (petrol in this case), we set off. By now the balloon was further away, and lower. As we set off in pursuit, I had to trust that my navigator knew what she was doing, and when she was uncertain, my intuition would be correct. It was an interesting adventure. There were times when we lost sight of the target, bobbing and weaving behind the trees. On a couple of occasions we turned around, because the expected junction didn't appear. We learned to trust each other's opinions and intentions, to not lose sight of the goal (even when we couldn't see the balloon), and to not give up, even though there were times when we felt like finding the nearest main road that would get us back into familiar territory.

Coaching is like that. It's a relationship between two people, usually for a limited time, often with a specific goal in mind. The client (in this case my wife) determined the agenda; the coach (me, the driver) kept the process moving. Clearly, we could not reach the desired result alone. Together we formed a team that created and followed a path to our goal.

We followed the balloon for perhaps an hour --- neither of us was checking the time. Slowly but surely, as we drew closer, it was now much nearer the ground, and losing height rapidly. Finally, it sank out of sight, and with some collective deep breaths, and a few final turns, we came upon a crowd of people at a large gate. Beyond them, in the middle of the grassy field, was the balloon. As it landed, and the passengers climbed out of the basket, the crowd cheered. Everyone waved. It was a most satisfying end to our adventure.

An important piece of my coaching practice is a new web site, www.douglasowen.com which I hope you will enjoy looking at. Please remember that I'm happy to offer a free 30-minute consultation to anyone interested in learning more about coaching. Thank you again for your friendship and support.


Doug Owen

February 2008

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday was fun and relaxing, and you still – even at the beginning of February – have time to enjoy your recollections of the holiday season.

Our holiday was spent with our children, and our one young grand daughter. Of course, she is delightful, the center of attention, doing all the things one expects of a child her age. In particular, she's learning to walk, and would march ahead with great confidence as long as her Grandpa was holding both her hands and walking behind her. She lead the way, and her support system walked with her!

It struck me that this is a useful metaphor for my role as a coach. From time to time, we all find ourselves needing to learn new skills. Perhaps we need to find more personal time in a very busy schedule, or adapt our lifestyle to a change in our health. Or we finally realize that our job is not what we want to do for the rest of our lives, but have a hard time figuring out the alternative.

Keira, our grand daughter, will soon learn to walk by herself, and won't need her coach anymore, at least to fill that particular role. Most of the changes we all experience in our lives are like that. We could use the help for a while, until we master the new way, and then we move on.

This "walking with the client" is typical of the work that I do, and love. I work with people as they develop new skills, or gain new perspectives on an issue in their life. If you know of anyone who might be interested in, or benefit from my coaching, I am happy to offer a complimentary session.

I'm grateful for your friendship and support, and wish you much good fortune in 2008.


Real Life Stories:

A PhD candidate: With two years still to go before receiving her Ph.D, this student was not certain she wanted an academic position after graduating. However, she had little idea how to find a job in the non-academic world. We re-worked her academic and work history to develop a resume, role-played telephone interviews, and prepared a set of letters and a list of companies of potential interest. After several sessions, she felt much more confident in applying for positions in the business world.

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