Empathy – What is in it for me?


In a word, the answer is Everything.


Empathy leads to a greater understanding of oneself, others and I would go so far as to say it is the key to unlocking the possible.


It has taken me a very long time to accept and understand that showing myself a bit of empathy and compassion is the most important thing I can do to drive positive change.


Why? 


Well, to recognize that we are human is quite helpful in working with other humans. For most of us, our worst critic is ourselves, and very often the voices of our saboteurs and their accomplices are preventing us from achieving our full potential.


How is that, for starters? 


My turning point


In my last blog, I shared with you that I have moved from a place of scarcity to abundance. The key to my transformation was to show myself and, ultimately, the people around me that I am evolving into a more empathetic person. 


It started with my interest in photography, which has revealed to me a new way of looking at most everything in all aspects of my life. The image that accompanies this blog is the iconic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico. This is the third image of about 500 pictures on the memory card I captured that night. 


After all, this was to be an iconic shot on the first night of an epic photography road trip along Route 66 with my wife, Diane.


The perfectionist and high achiever in me kept telling me that rather than just have fun, I need to put in the time and effort to master the skills of composition and lighting. Anything short of that meant that I was just wasting my time. I truly believed that if my work and talent was not viewed favorably by others there was no point in even trying.


I had convinced myself that mastering photography was critical to my long-term life plan to relax more and have more fun in life.


I had to get it right! 


I kept shooting the image, moving the dials on my camera into countless combinations. I was supposed to be relaxing, but it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. It got even worse when I downloaded the card, and all 500 images looked the same.


I knew then and there, with ten more days on the road, and a lifetime ahead of me, something had to change. If I wasn’t able to quiet the voices that got louder whenever I was striving to achieve something new, I was not going to be happy or successful. I did my best to relax for the balance of the trip knowing the real work was about to begin.


The journey


I wish I could tell you the changes I made were immediate. I have made a great deal of progress as I explored ideas around mindfulness and meditation to break old patterns and create new habits. It has been a bit of trial and error and customization along the way. The key was to develop a Growth Mindset, adopt a willingness to try new things and learn from my experience.


The significant shift came along with my decision to refocus my energies into coaching. By connecting with many great courses,  coaches, and mentors, I was introduced to tools and techniques to help me learn and grow as a coach. The greatest gift I received from this generous community was the gift of self-awareness.


Greater awareness of my values around what motivates me and understanding my strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots could lead me to success or disappointing outcomes when applied to situations.  


One of the authors and researchers I was introduced to was Shirzad Chamine and his work around Positive Intelligence and the related concepts of Mental Fitness. The essence of the point that Shirzad makes is that we all have a dialogue with a group of inner critics who, in their mission to keep us safe from harm, disappointment, or a feeling of failure, tells us stories and lies that keep us from doing our best work. 


The lead voice is that of the Judge, the master saboteur, who is trying to protect us, will fill our heads with lies that we are not smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough to achieve success or reach a level of happiness. The judge has nine accomplice saboteurs that help feed the narrative to support the lies of the judge.


For me, I learned that my judge and my related saboteurs have negatively impacted me and held me back at times professionally, personally, and even in my photography. The loud voices of the controller, stickler, and hyper achieve saboteurs telling me as I stood in front of the Blue Swallow that I could not get an image that was good enough. 


Not answering the question of good enough from whom but simply not good enough!


Putting the pieces together


This story I shared and what I have learned about our Saboteurs are a metaphor for my approach as a coach. The key to all of us becoming mentally fit, doing our best work, and allowing ourselves to have fun in our lives, including taking pictures, comes from building greater self-awareness of the voices of our judges and saboteurs, then quieting them with a greater sense of empathy for ourselves and others.


Sometimes, we need to get out of our own way by giving ourselves a break. 


Have some empathy for yourself. I can guarantee it will open up a world of possibilities, give you greater empathy for others, and clear the hurdles that might be in your way. I see it in my photography, and I see it in the work I am doing with my clients. They become willing to try new approaches and implement new strategies to achieve new and meaningful outcomes. They are less afraid of what others think and more focused on achieving what is important to them.



May I ask you a couple of questions?


What is holding you back? Who is getting in your way? I dare say the answer may be staring at you in the mirror. Your judge is only trying to do right by you when they tell you now is not the right time, you do not have the talent, skills, or resources, or to put it bluntly, you are just not smart enough or good enough.


I still see that face in the mirror of everyone once in a while, as, after all, I am only human. I have learned to acknowledge the voices, smile into the mirror, and send the judge and crew on their way.


Are you intrigued or even a bit curious? My challenge to you is before the judge convinces you otherwise to learn more about me and the benefits of coaching by sending me an email at alec@aronscoaching.com.



Epilogue


Oh, as for the picture. There are a few things with more experience I would have done a little differently. I should have left more room in the top left corner to not cut off some of the signs. I also would have moved to my right so that I would have captured the lights of the car moving down the highway. Perhaps I could have taken the shot from a lower angle to give the scene a grander dimension. All of these are feedback I have received from the “others” I was so worried about above.


I am proud to say that a 16×20 print hangs on a wall in my office where I look at it everyday. I smile when I look at it and I am laughing about the whole experience as I write this last sentence. The lies of the judge and his saboteurs no longer get the best of me. I have learned to have empathy for myself and others in the face of new challenges and opportunities. This in turn has given me the opportunity to focus on my plans, learn from my experience and give myself a break.


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2 comments

  1. Robert

    “I had convinced myself that mastering photography was critical to my long-term life plan to relax more and have more fun in life.”

    I smile at the irony of that statement only because I recognize that feeling all too well. I suspect that most of us do. Generally, our response is simply to tell ourselves to “relax” through the process. I like your perspective on having empathy for ourselves much better.

    Thanks for your insights.

    PS. I think it’s a great image!

  2. Karen Cooley

    “I was supposed to be relaxing, but it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life” this sentence made me laugh, we have all been there. As I get older and feel time slipping away, I have learned to let the stress go. It is not worth my energy.

    PS I too think it is a lovely image.

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