The key to change

I met with a good friend a month or so ago and something he said to me made me think.

Although he had spoken about it only occasionally, I knew that he had had a very difficult relationship with one of his parents, a parent who had been highly critical of him for a long time; for decades.

Now I know from the work that I do and from my own experience that the messages that we hear, or think that we hear, from our parents and other significant people in the early years of our lives can have a profound and long-lasting impact on how we see ourselves and what we believe, on what we think we deserve and on what we think we can achieve.

Yet here was my happy friend with a lovely wife and children, building his second business, full of optimism and hope for the future.

I wondered how he had managed to disregard or overcome the messages he had had from that parent. I thought I might get some insight that might be useful to me in my work.  So one Saturday morning over a good cup of coffee I asked him.

He was silent for a moment and then he said one word - courage.  I followed his lead for a while but when the conversation ended I remember thinking to myself that it wasn't the valuable sort of insight that I was anticipating; I felt slightly disappointed.

But over the next few days I found myself reflecting on what he had said.

I thought about how courageous the very young me had been when mum had told me that she’d give me half-a-crown (12.5p) if I sorted out the boy who had been bullying me. The courage it had taken the younger me to knock on his door and punch him on the nose; not the done thing today I know but he never did bully me again, nobody did, although some tried and gave up.

I fought about how courageous it was for that university student I knew in 1970 to leave half way through his first year whilst the rest of us obediently stayed on because he’d decided that the course wasn’t for him. You just didn’t do that in 1970.

I though about how courageous it was to say "I don’t want to train to be a chartered accountant anymore, I want to be a teacher"; to say to another boss "Paul’s leaving, I’d like his job"; to later give up on a full-time secure job and become self-employed.

I thought about courageous I had to be to say "I love you” and to be vulnerable and sometimes to say "I’m sorry". I thought about my other experiences and those of the clients that I had worked with.

My good friend was right.  There is no change without courage.