Provision #350: Approach the Situation

Laser Provision

It’s easy to love the work we do when two things are true: when we see its value and when we enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, work often falls far short of this ideal. How can we turn things around? By getting real, being honest, and raising our awareness of what’s going on. Approaching the situation with no illusions and blind spots is a big step in the right direction.

LifeTrek Provision

Here in Provisions, we have been exploring how to love our work during the first quarter of 2004. Let’s be clear about our options here. We can love our work either because we believe in what we are doing or because we enjoy what we are doing. Of course it’s possible, and ideal, for both to be true. If, on the other hand, neither is true, then it’s impossible to love the work we do and it’s definitely time to make a change.

This model can be conceptualized as a four-quadrant matrix, with “value” on the Y axis and “joy” on the X axis. The high-value, high-joy quadrant, in the upper right-hand corner, is where we all want to be. When the work is important, not just because someone says it’s important but because we see its connection to our core values, and when the work is pleasant, because we enjoy our activities, colleagues, opportunities, and learnings, then it’s easy to reach and even exceed our potential.

I remember fondly one illustration from my days, some 30 years ago, with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) in southeast Kentucky. This church-related work camp, which continues to this day, repairs the homes of low-income mountaineer families, at no charge to the families, through in-kind and cash contributions as well as plenty of volunteer labor. Visit ASP Home.

The founder of the ASP, the Rev. Glen “Tex” Evans, was a character from east Texas with a heart of gold and a penchant for telling tall tales. If anyone could get you going with just the right combination of challenge, support, theology, and shenanigans, it was Tex.

One of his favorite techniques for getting people to do a particularly tough and dirty job was to review with his volunteers all the jobs scheduled for the week. He would not even mention the tough job until everyone had volunteered for something. Then, almost as an after thought, he would mention that there was one more job that really needed doing but that he couldn’t rightly ask anyone to do it. So he would return to reviewing the logistics of the work already assigned.

Well, you can imagine the curiosity and challenge that such an approach provoked. Before too long, someone would say, “Tell us about that other job, Tex.” And he would reply, “No, I think that’s a bit much for you volunteers to handle.” A couple more exchanges like that and Tex would have them eating out of his hand, lining up to do the toughest and dirtiest job of the summer.

Why did that work? Some of it had to do with Tex’s charisma. He had a way of connecting everything, even the tough jobs, to the circle of life. But most of it had to do with being in the high-value, high-joy quadrant. Everyone understood the importance of moving a foul and polluted latrine away from the living space of little children. And they also knew that together, with the right attitude and camaraderie, they could make even the most unpleasant of tasks enjoyable.

So, for at least a week, they got to play in the place where they believed in and enjoyed their work. By the time they went home, to business as usual, these volunteers often spoke of having lived through a life-changing experience. It was not just their encounter with poverty in a cross-cultural setting. It was the opportunity to be so connected to their core values and to have so much fun, all at the same time.

Now how do we bring this high-value, high-joy experience into our everyday life and work? It may take some serious study and reflection, or what Tex would have called “cogitating,” when the connection to our core values is not so obvious and the climate for our endeavors is not so favorable. But if we hope to love the work we do, then we have to address these questions until we come up with solid answers.

Anything less will put us right back into the rat race. And, as some have noted, the problem with being in the race race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.

One way to begin our cogitation is to make use of the coach approach, beginning with Tim Gallwey’s “conversation for awareness.” Until we have the clearest possible picture of current reality there’s no way to really know what quadrant we are working in. We may be working in the high-value, high-joy quadrant without realizing it (even high-value, high-joy work can be difficult); on the other hand, we may think we are in the high-value, high-joy quadrant when we’re really not (even low-value, low-joy work can be dressed up to look appealing).

In his recent book, The Ultimate Weight Solution, Phil McGraw spoke of this conversation in terms of “getting real” and “being honest.” “Stop telling yourself that you just absolutely ‘have to’ lose weight,” he writes in chapter one, “because that’s a lie. You don’t ‘have to’ lose weight. You may want to, you may even need to, but you don’t have to.” You can be overweight until the day you die!

Telling yourself that you “have to” lose weight and you “must” lose weight is something you’ve been telling yourself “because you thought it would motivate you. But lying to yourself won’t help you.” Drama and self-recrimination won’t help you. But getting up each morning, very calm and very relaxed, looking in the mirror and seeing yourself as you really are • not just overweight and out of shape • but also a person with dignity and worth who can succeed in spite of past failures • will help you.

“As my friend Maya Angelou has so wisely said,” McGraw concludes, “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.” That’s the perspective from which we can exercise the power to be in charge of what we think, do, and feel. That’s the perspective from which we can design a healthy life that is as natural and as normal as breathing.

And that’s the perspective that comes from what Gallwey calls the conversation for awareness. McGraw’s imaginary peering into the morning mirror was just such a conversation. When we see the whole picture, what’s been happening and what is possible, our external and internal dynamics, we grasp the full potential of the moment.

Of Gallwey’s three coaching conversations, the first conversation, the conversation for awareness, is the most critical and powerful of them all. Without an awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, we cannot choose and we cannot trust our choice.

“What’s happening?” is the operative question in the conversation for awareness. Gallwey makes a distinction between our opinion about what’s happening and pure observation. Our opinion about what’s happening can be clouded by our assumptions, judgments, addictions, wounds, habits, biases, prejudices, and past experiences. Pure observation attempts to set all these aside, to bracket them at least temporarily, in order to come to an honest appraisal of the situation.

And the situation always includes our internal feelings and inklings. But Gallwey urges us approach these internal realities at arm’s length • as though we were eavesdropping on our own thoughts and feelings. In other words, we become a participant-observer in our own life. We see the external and internal worlds as they really are, with all their warts and all their potential.

Gallwey suggests the following open-ended questions as appropriate in the early stages of the conversation for awareness.

  • What’s happening?
  • What stands out?
  • What do you notice when you look at x?
  • How do you feel about this situation?
  • What do you understand about x? What don’t you understand?
  • How would you frame the underlying problem?
  • How would you define the task?
  • What are the critical variables in this situation? How do they relate to one another?
  • What are the anticipated consequences of x?
  • What standards and time frame have you accepted in this task?
  • What has been working? Not working?

Notice how many of these questions focus our attention on the situation and on our reaction to the situation. By paying attention to critical variables in the present moment, suspending judgment until clarity emerges, we become aware of the values and pleasures that are playing themselves out. Once we become aware, we have already taken a big step in the right direction.

Coaching Inquiries: What are the core values and pleasures playing themselves out in your life? How could you raise your awareness of the critical variables in your work? Would it help to talk honestly with yourself, a friend, or a coach? How could you more often be in the high-value, high-joy quadrant?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


I have a discipline I thought you might like to try. I learned it from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. He called it a “walking meditation” that simply follows the breath and the step saying on the inhale “yes, yes, yes” and on the exhale “thank you, thank you, thank you.” It’s a great discipline for becoming aware in the present moment.


I read with great interest the article on coaches. I recently became a golf and tennis coach. I especially liked the examples you used. I’ve been praying and working like mad to become a good coach. Anyway I liked the article and wanted you to know how much I appreciate it.  



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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