This post is for people who don’t have a clue what coaching is, and therefore don’t even think of trying it. It contains a few examples of work I did recently with coaching clients, and an offer.
Be more creative
I spent three hours with somebody, planning to turn a relatively dry academic subject into a thrilling, moving and funny theatrical performance. (I asked challenging questions, and the client’s creativity poured forth. Note: usually, my sessions are just an hour.)
Overcome limiting beliefs
I helped someone else prepare for a job interview he didn’t initially believe he could get. He firmly expected the interviewers to hate him. He also believed the job came with too high a salary, and wondered if he should offer to do it for half as much. (We found a way for him not to do that, and to recognise that his preconceptions about the interviewers weren’t helping.)
Stand up for yourself
I taught one young woman to stop saying yes all the time, when she obviously didn’t want to. (She’s now free to follow her own agenda, and beliefs.)
Feel your feelings
Over several sessions, I helped someone on the board of a large commercial organisation work through strong feelings as it became increasingly clear that excellence in the office had come at great personal cost. (The strong feelings are the reason we’re now addressing that.)
Be strongly committed
I invited another City-based client to physically wrestle me out of his way, to demonstrate his determination to get past the things that were blocking him. (He did, which gave us both a blast of adrenaline, and a laugh.)
Dream big, and make plans
I worked with a man in India who plans to turn his family business into the biggest of its kind in the world (The work continues.)
Prepare to sell
When a young client asked for me to help him with sales, I found him real products to sell, and over several weeks we worked through everything from lead generation to marketing and negotiation – with some tough role-play on cold calling.
Get it out there
And last week a group of brilliant coaches asked me to help find ways to put their work out into the world. Not just for their own benefit, but to make the idea of coaching itself better understood by the general public.
This post is my first response to their request. It’s an attempt to show what’s possible when an individual thinks out loud about how things could be better, in a structured conversation with somebody supportive who is willing and able to be challenging. If you still aren’t clear, look at the testimonials on my coaching page.
Please share this: there may be people you know who are struggling with something like the topics I’ve described above. If they read this, they might think of working with a coach. (Not necessarily me: I’m quite busy already, and there are lots of others out there.)
To give you a real reason to share this, I’m offering one FREE two-hour session, in person if possible or otherwise by eg Skype, to the person who 1) signs up to my mailing list and 2) makes the most compelling case, on the signup form, for why you need a session with me. The offer is open for one month, and the judge’s decision is final (I’m the judge!).
To hold myself accountable, I promise to post the winning request (without revealing identifying details) on this blog when we’re done.
Posted: February 16, 2017
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time
— Thomas Edison
The first time I tried cold calling, it was awful.
I was in San Francisco. I had a student work permit for the summer, while I was at university. My friends had taken jobs riding tourists around town in pedicabs, or working behind the counter in a deli – but I was going to make lots of money selling subscriptions to Time magazine.
The job ad was very compelling. It promised an enormous commission, certainly by the standards of my income at that time. Even before I had landed the job, I could imagine myself living the high life while my friends toiled away for peanuts.
At the interview, I told the boss I had sales experience – which was a lie, so what happened next was entirely deserved.
He gave me some leads to call – a heap of names, addresses and phone numbers, printed on slips of thin paper (this was before digital). He gave me a script, and instructions to follow it closely.
Oh, and one one other thing, he said: “You mustn’t hang up on anybody. They can hang up on you, but not the other way round. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, because you English are very polite. You got a big advantage with that accent.”
Then he showed me to my desk. “I’ll be listening in, every so often, to see how you are doing,” he said. I think this was meant to be encouraging.
I spent a little time reading the script, to internalise it, make it seem natural. At this distance, I don’t remember the exact words. But I do remember thinking that I would probably subscribe to Time magazine myself, if somebody recited them to me with sufficient warmth and a hint of spontaneity.
By now, my new colleagues were already well into making calls. Some had closed some sales. I hadn’t even started. So I took up the receiver, ready to dial, and picked up the first of my leads.
I was no expert, but the name looked Chinese. I looked at the one beneath: also Chinese. And the one beneath that. In fact, they all appeared to be Chinese. They must have been extracted from a phone directory, and all of them were from the same part of the city: Chinatown.
My heart sank a little. But I had no idea, yet, how difficult this would make my job.
I started confidently, asking for the individual named on my slips of paper. Sometimes that was the person who answered the phone, sometimes they put the receiver down to fetch someone else.
And when I was sure I had the right person, I launched into my script, with as much warmth as I could muster – only to be interrupted fairly quickly by somebody speaking Chinese.
I couldn’t hang up, and I knew my supervisor might be listening, so I kept talking English. This had the effect of enraging the people I’d called: not once but always. And eventually they hung up on me.
I could feel my heart racing. And after a few hours of this, my confidence crumpled. I found I was making calls hunched over the phone, my voice low, so that my neighbours wouldn’t hear my humiliation. I didn’t realise at the time that this posture, and this quiet tone, made selling even more unlikely.
Between calls, I looked around at my colleagues, working their phones, and marvelled at their ability. I was particularly struck by the only other Englishman in the room – a blond guy with round John Lennon specs – who kept getting up to high-five his neighbours. He was obviously doing very well.
In a coffee break, I asked him for his secret. He said the accent was a huge asset. “Americans love it.”
But not Chinese Americans – at least, not the ones I was calling. They didn’t love my accent. They didn’t love me calling them. They wanted me to go away. At least, I think they did, but to be strictly accurate, I didn’t understand what they were shouting at me. Only this was clear: they never got anywhere near subscribing to Time magazine.
After three days, I gave up. I was convinced that cold calling required a quality I didn’t possess. Happily, I found out a few years later that this was not true… In fact, I now find myself training people in sales.
And I’ll be writing soon about what changed my mind.
Posted: February 14, 2017
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us
— Albert Schweitzer
Today I realised that I have been working with The School of Life for nearly seven years. And that’s longer than I ever worked anywhere.
I was never full time, of course. Even in the busiest periods, as a visiting member of the faculty, I rarely did more than three events, classes or talks a month. But still. Now I find I’m one of the people who has been there longest.
When I first met Caroline and Morgwn, around a table in the basement classroom, in 2010, I told them I had never heard of The School of Life. Morgwn was polite, but a flash in her eyes suggested I must have been hiding under a stone – because, even then, the place had built up a sizeable following of devoted fans, and won lots of media attention in the UK and abroad.
Despite my thoughtless remark, I was kindly invited to come and talk about my book, Sew Your Own. That talk evidently went OK, because they asked me back, to co-create a class about “making a difference”, which went on to become the framework for my TSOL book, How To Change The World, and a TEDx, and indeed much of the work I do today.
Other highlights of my years at TSOL included:
- running a Ruskin-themed “conversation dinner”, where (not knowing who he was) I gave rudimentary drawing instructions to a Turner Prize winner, and found myself discussing the great Victorian with the actor Greg Wise, who had come in costume, because he was playing Ruskin in a movie at the time,
- being one of a “band” of authors travelling round the country together on a kind of literary rock tour,
- being MC at a TSOL business conference at London’s South Bank Centre,
- curating and co-hosting a series of events on making change happen, with guests I chose myself,
- working with a wide assortment of corporate clients, on all kinds of topics, mostly to do with making change happen, or communicating more effectively,
- seeing one of my favourite teachers, from secondary school, come into my (!) class and tell me afterwards that I had done it brilliantly,
- working with a huge group of people interested in running branches of TSOL overseas, and being lucky enough to “visit some of them”: when they had done so,
- twice hosting the TSOL Christmas event in London, and
- generally being treated like a VIP, in countries where TSOL has a big following.
Less showy, but equally exciting, was the process of learning, and then presenting TSOL classes to literally thousands of people. Being insatiably curious, I wanted to teach every class there was, and I managed to cover quite a few, each with very different atmospheres – from How To Have Better Conversations (riotous, at times) to How To Think About Death (always challenging, but never, as you might imagine, dismal).
More than this, I was given space and time to try out my own classes, on topics like How To Silence Your Inner Critic, Be Yourself In Any Language, How To Make Books, and Improvise Your Way To The Top.
I had no idea, until I came to TSOL, that I would enjoy teaching, or even just speaking to large groups of people. I certainly didn’t realise, when I started, that I would enjoy letting go of the script, and following wherever participants wanted to take the conversation, within the class’s established theme.
But I jolly well did.
In fact, I only became interested in theatrical improvisation because, while researching How To Change The World, I became obsessed with the secrets of anybody who can change themselves, quickly, and improvisers seemed to be among the most accomplished at this. So it’s down to TSOL that I read a book by Keith Johnstone, and then went on to train with him.
I feel blessed to have watched people being changed by what they learned about themselves in that gorgeous subterranean classroom. Oh boy, there were some crackers.
Perhaps the most memorable were the couple who came back again to my class on Better Conversations, to tell me that they had hit it off so well, two years previously, that they decided to leave their current partners and get together.
Or the woman who did an reflective exercise, on paper, that demonstrated to her that the most important people in her life were in Australia – and so promptly announced, right there and then, her determination to move to the antipodes herself.
Or the many people who stood up to announce their amazing, thrilling ambitions for world improvement (or “just” self-improvement) to people who had been strangers before, but now became their greatest champions.
And I’m obviously not going to forget the many who came to classes and subsequently became my friends – and the other members of the faculty I call friends too.
Thanks to The School of Life – to Caroline and Morgwn in particular, for getting me started, but also the many other great people who have worked there over the years, too many to mention without danger that I might miss one, and I wouldn’t want to do that, and of course to Alain, TSOL’s founder – I have substantially changed the way I make a living.
I have become somebody who doesn’t just write. As well as performing, I trained as a coach, and started working with some amazing individuals who really are working to change the world. And I let loose my creative side: if it wasn’t for TSOL I would never have designed a map with Tina, one of the school’s earliest supporters, or plates, mugs and tea-cloths with Sophie, its co-founder, for her next great enterprise, The Department Store For The Mind.
Blimey. So much good stuff. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Posted: February 10, 2017
I was standing in front of 25 people recently when it hit me: most of them didn’t have the faintest idea about selling. They had come to learn how to change the world – and they were full of ideas about that.
But they seemed to be weighed down by the notion, itself very common, that to sell something is distasteful, probably dishonest, and certainly brash.
This is bad news, because if people who want to change the world can’t sell their dream, or their movement, they won’t get anywhere.
So I abandoned my original plan for the session and delivered a spot of sales training instead, using games I’d learned as an improviser. I’m glad I did, because by the end the people who had looked a bit sick about sales were full of excitement, and generally ready to set the world on fire. (In a good way.)
A few days later, something similar happened. This time, I was supposed to be teaching public speaking. I imagined participants would want to “tell their story” – share raw human experiences and generally be seen, and heard.
But nobody came along with that in mind. Instead, we found ourselves in a kind of improvised sales workshop. I used slightly different exercises, and told a story about one of the hardest things I ever did as a journalist, which I’ll write more about soon. One young man who was there described the session afterwards as both fun and useful (always satisfying to get both of those, not just one or the other).
He’d recently started working in a sales role, and knew he was facing some resistance to cold calls. The experience of actually practicing calls in our session made him aware of things he could improve.
Another participant, a woman, gave this account:
“What would I do pretty much anything to avoid? Cold calling. I haven’t made a cold call for 15 years. I’d rather starve. But last night I found myself cold calling in front of an audience – my own personal nightmare.
“It was gloriously horrible and horribly glorious, feeling that belly-tight awkwardness and yet finding that something came out of my mouth all the same. Finding out that when I forget to sell and get interested in the person, things go better. Getting a taste for saying the worst, most honest and exposing thing I can think of ‘I’m getting this totally wrong for you, aren’t I? What approach should I have taken?’ or even ‘Who the f*** have I got through to?’
“I went from feeling the steely grip of fear at the mere thought of a cold call,” she said, “to realising that the consequences are not a hefty fine, public humiliation, or the firing squad – just a person who might say no. And that’s something I can handle.”
If you are somebody who could benefit from training in sales, because you have something splendid to offer the world – but you feel a bit icky about selling, please take a look at my calendar for the next event. If you can’t find anything, let me know. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you there.
Posted: February 2, 2017
Four years ago something remarkable and wonderful happened to me.
I published a book called How To Change The World and a woman got in touch out of the blue to tell me how good it was, and how it could help her country, Greece. (I still find it a bit weird to write that sentence.)
As it happened, I told her, the book was going to be published in Greece. So she said I should ask my Greek publisher to get me onto the line up to speak at TEDx Athens, then (and maybe still) the biggest TED event outside California. I called the publisher, and they duly made some calls, but the event was only two weeks away and the line up was fixed. Feeling obliged to this enthusiastic and supportive woman I called to let her know the disappointing news.
But Marie Efpraxiadis wasn’t so easily put off. She contacted the organisers herself. I have no idea what she said but suddenly I was on the line up.
I loved going to Athens, being photographed and interviewed, meeting some wonderful people, and hearing that some of them found my talk useful and even inspiring.
None of this would have happened without the strong and active support of Marie. Everyone needs a Marie! But you can’t ask for a Marie – she has to spontaneously present herself. And I think that this means we all get the opportunity, every so often, to present ourselves as a supportive, enthusiastic Marie to someone else.
Postscript. One way I’m doing that is by training people to speak. More here.
Posted: November 23, 2016
Recently, my daughter Nancy turned 13. I am so lucky to have this wonderful human being in my life.
To mark the occasion, I asked fathers who have been here already, and women who used to be teenaged girls, for tips. In hope it might be helpful, I’m sharing the answers here.
If you have any additional advice, please post it below.
“Leave everything to your wife, obviously, like every self-respecting father of teenage girls”
“Just love her. Be her champion, and let her forge her own path in life (even if that means making mistakes, perceived or otherwise). I’m not a father, but I have been a teenage girl. Good luck to you both, and happy birthday to Nancy. x”
“What a stunning picture. Full of pride and innocence! I’m not a father of a teenage girl either but here’s what I would love to have known when I was thirteen – tell her she is enough, just as she is. Help her find her personal power and how to stand like Wonder Woman. Let her know her body is hers, and it’s absolutely perfect just as it is, with all the wonderful things it is doing for her. Teach her how to say yes, and no, and mean them. I imagine you (and H) are already doing an outstanding job. Happy, happy birthday Nancy! PS you’re truly awesome for even asking this Q.”
“You’ll already know the crucial bits: love all of her, accept all of her, allow and encourage her to be who she is.”
“Match her, if you can; and if you can’t, ask her to wait for you whilst you try to catch up.”
“I think your #1 job is to show her what a great man looks like – so that she won’t tolerate any less! (And actually – if she does entertain men who are below-par, don’t tolerate it. Sometimes when you’re young, you do need someone to step in, especially when you haven’t quite found your own voice yet – or don’t feel safe to use it. Sometimes you need a champion!) Stay close to her & don’t say or do anything to suggest stuff has to change now that she’s becoming a woman, eg. ‘Daddy can’t see you naked anymore’ or ‘That’s a question you should ask your mum’. My dad & I stayed close throughout my adolescence & can talk about anything to this day. I treasure that.”
At this point, Nancy found out I’d been asking my friends for advice. So she sent a message too:
“This is Nancy speaking to all my daddy’s friends. I am very happy to share so many interests with my dad such as modern family and triple chocolate cookies! Yum! I’m very lucky to have this special person in my life!!!
“I was once a teenage girl and I can say: be supportive and listen to her.”
“Basically, you never stop being the dad of a teenage daughter. I’m 52 and my dad would still kill any bloke who upsets me. Nancy, you’d better get used to that, and happy birthday!”
“Endure! … And love unconditionally, of course, whatever is said or done. The test does come to an end … eventually. Good luck!”
“Keep talking to her, even when she doesn’t want to talk to you. Don’t ever get heavy handed about relationships, skirts, make up and never EVER mention spots.”
“I was such a naughty teenager – I can’t really give good advice and I had teenage sons – but I have every confidence that you and H will be brilliant. Xx”
“What a great question and thread! Teenage years for me were both tricky and magical. Be quietly patient in the tricky bits and share in the magic. And don’t be surprised at anything. Teenage years are all about trying on different guises. Keep your sense of fun and adventure (although I’m trying to preach to the master!). Happy birthday to you both x”
“As the father of a 12yr old daughter, soon to be 13, I am sending you both love and good wishes on this next stage of her/your journey, AND I’m harvesting all this hive wisdom for my own parenting. Thank you John-Paul.”
“You do have to be sensitive as to when to give space but also to realise when you are actually really needed, so listen well, never shame or tease and yes love unconditionally and keep communicating through it all, congratulations! Another wonderful young woman is emerging x”
“You must remember that as her father you are just sooo embarrassing! It’s part of your job. Don’t try not to be. That’s even more embarrassing! Make her laugh.”
“I remember the teen years – my advice would be – don’t freak out! There will be days when emotions run wild and apparently the whole world is the enemy – take a deep breath because in 45 minutes the air could be filled will laughter again. Did anyone say roller coaster?!? Xx” [Was this advice, I asked, for me or for Nancy.] “For you – your heart will burst with worry sometimes and it’s hard not to rush in and panic only to have peace restored all by itself without your intervention. Best advice I had was ‘be a soft place to land’”
“My advice is just be yourself and you will both be appreciated and loved for it -even though there may be times when it does not always seem that way. For example, from a personal point of view, my father passed away when I was 9 and I can remember all the lovely things he did like loving my attempts at baking jam tarts! The simple and most basic things are the best. You really do not have to work at it. Be your wonderful self and through thick and thin it will all be just perfect ☺”
“JP, you and your wonderful friends made my face leak. You have a habit of doing that with your magical posts. Such wisdom in these responses. I have a few thoughts sloshing around in the recesses of my mind and if they ever become coherent enough to share here then I’ll pop back to add them to this thread. But the truth is you’ve got this. Happy birthday to your beautiful daughter X”
“Enjoy every minute, read lots of stories.”
“Stay neutral. I remember so many instances when I would get into a rage with my Mum and my Baba would just listen and not take sides. And he would sit on the sofa with his arm stretched across the back so that I could cuddle up to him if I wanted to. Being with him felt safe.”
“Having been a teenage girl; support the relationship your teenage girl has with her mother, whilst crafting your own space with her too. The mother/girl child dynamic is complex and challenging in these years, they will both need your love and support. Give her space to play with adulthood safely, she will push to widen her forcefield, it is your job to negotiate with her ambition and fear to find the middle line. Reinforce that her brain and compassion are her greatest weapons, you will be a small voice against a huge media telling her to judge her value in other ways. Her heart will break many times, most often from the pain of friendship dynamics, hold her tight. Happy birthday Dad xx”
“Be her rock. Be the steady point she can dance around, like a maypole – she can dance and wander far but keep the attachment and come back cos you are always there. Don’t judge the stuff you don’t understand. Don’t try always to understand, just accept. Make her laugh. And keep watching Modern Family together!”
Posted: November 16, 2016
It’s not always easy to talk about money. Many people find it excruciating. Recently, I made a film for a financial services company, Aviva, in which I talked to young people about their own feelings about this awkward subject.
In most cases, there was blankness, and a general sense of unease – until we moved towards thinking how they would like things to be.
I asked them to look forward to a time in the future, and to describe how it will be. Perhaps even draw something. (More than one drew some kind of Caribbean island.) And then to tell me how much the thing they wish for might cost, and what they will need to do to get hold of the necessary funds by the time they say they want it.
You probably know already how scary it feels to make a commitment, in conversation with somebody else, to do something splendid. Well, these people could tell you, because they dared to say to me just what they hope to have, and to be. And they said it on camera.
Most importantly, I asked them at the end to reflect on the process. We had spent about 20 minutes talking about something that many of them, by their own admission, go out of their way to avoid talking – or even thinking – about. And yet by the end they were glowing. How to account for this? Again and again, they said that it was helpful to be pushed into doing this thing they didn’t want to do.
We spent two full days filming. I talked to a lot of people. Everyone was different, but looking back over the experience as a whole, I have to say it was one of the most vivid examples I expect ever to see of people experiencing resistance, facing it head on, and finding that everything looks much rosier on the other side.
Postscript: You can see the 3min film here, or a 1min version here
Posted: October 10, 2016
What gets in your way? What stops you from doing what you really want to do? For too many people, it’s money.
I did some work with The School of Life, in partnership with the credit experts Experian. Our research showed that 42% of people who wish to try something new, to live a more fulfilled life, blamed their failure to get started on money, or the lack of it. Roughly the same number of people said they would be happier if they had better control of their finances.
For most of my life I might have said the same, and occasionally – when cashflow is tight – I still feel that way. But working as a coach with executives, entrepreneurs and creative people alike has helped me to see that the problem doesn’t usually lie in the money itself, but in our attitude towards it.
For much of the time, we are fearful, and don’t dare to look at the situation we are in. We’re too afraid of what we might discover. So we carry on in denial, blaming external circumstances, in a generalised way, for whatever bothers us.
The only way we can liberate ourselves from our fear is by looking at what we’re avoiding.
My work with Experian started with the company’s decision to make individual credit scores freely available to anybody, for life. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see this score as a perfect metaphor for The Thing We Really Don’t Want To Look At.
In fact I realised that I myself was holding back from looking up my score. Despite working with Experian on this project, I held off for weeks before actually getting round to it, only looking it up hours before I turned up at a public event at the top of the Gherkin in the City of London, with Experian staff and a group of talented bloggers, some of them personal finance wizards.
Click here to read “First steps to clarity and focus with Experian and The School of Life”.
Photo © MrsMummyPenny
Sitting at my desk that morning, I felt my shoulders go up during the two minutes or so that it took to provide the necessary information online. I felt my jaw clench. And I paused for a moment before pressing “submit”.
As it happens, I am very happy with what I discovered. My rating puts me in the green zone on that Experian dial at the top of this page. But it’s not the score itself that caused my shoulders and jaw to relax. It’s the fact that I looked it up at all. Because as soon as I had done that, I felt that I was back in control.
Posted: October 10, 2016
North London Collegiate School recently came top of the national exam tables (again). The girls here are very bright, and much is expected of them. I came to talk, at the opening of the new school year, to Years 11, 12 and 13 about How To Change The World: What can one person do?
I started by asking: if you had the chance, would you change the world? There was long silence then a few voices called out yes. I asked for a show of hands. Pretty well everybody put their hands up. I said, keep your hand up if you know how you would like to change the world.
About four people out of 350 or so kept their hands up. One or two started raising their hands, but then lowered them.
I then ran through some of the ideas and stories in my book How To Change The World. And after about 40 minutes, I asked if there were any questions. There were several. I particularly liked being asked what my own mission or purpose is (by somebody who seemed a little confused by the variety of things I have done).
The last question, from one of the Year 11 girls, was: “What about failure? What do you do about that?”
Great question, I said. And I told a story about how I was filmed falling on my face in Mexico, in front of some very famous people, and how I was lucky enough to move from seeing that as a terrible, embarrassing failure – how I was able to use it. (You can see the film here.)
I said, failure always hurts at the time, but often it turns out not to have been failure after all, just a step towards the outcome you want.
In scientific method, I said, we can see that very clearly. Marie Curie boiled up all kinds of things to find radium. If she boiled up an old carpet and found no radium, was that failure? Or was it just an experiment that helped her to move on?
It may not have been the perfect answer, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. Perhaps writing about it here will enable me to find a better one next time.
Posted: September 9, 2016
"What the hell am I doing?"
— What everybody says at the start of an adventure
Are you looking for an adventure? Earlier this year, I decided to apply to myself some of the things I tell others, when I’m coaching – about daring to do what we want to do.
This film shows highlights from the terrifyingly rope walk at Area 47 in Solden, Austria. I like to think that what I went through – from initial excitement, through watching others give up, and skateboarding across the void, feeling deep gratitude on finishing in one piece, and so on – can be found in any adventure we embark on, metaphorically anyway, whether it’s a physical adventure like this one, or a creative project, or “just” something internal.
If you want help getting started, just let me know.
NB. Excuse the shaky camerawork in places: it was strapped to my wrist.
Posted: September 6, 2016