Many years ago when I was unwell I noticed a strange phenomenon. I have never read anything about it, nor have I heard mention of it in the many discussions I have had since, but I do believe it to be a universal truth.
The phenomenon was this. When I was down, my partner at the time, who was also suffering from what we would now call mental health issues was up. She managed to find all of the resources and resilience that she needed to make sure I was taken care of and that I was OK. It was not only remarkable but also a repeated pattern.
Not only that, but when she was down, no matter how far down, I managed to find the strength, resilience and resources to help her through whatever she was going through.
No matter how bad I might have felt, it seemed that I managed to up my game sufficiently enough to help her through. The amazing thing was that in so doing I, guiltily perhaps, felt good.
Not necessarily good that I had been able to help her, although that was true, but good in order to help her.
I seemed to know that in order to be able to be of use, to be of service, I had to be able to access all the resources I had and I could only do that if I felt well, capable and confident. It was almost as if the necessity of the situation forced me out of my own self-interest and into doing the right thing, in this case, looking after and helping her.
For obvious reasons I never really spoke about what I had noticed but the memory has stayed with me.
Recently I was helping a client to set some goals for himself and his business. This is something that many of us don’t bother with doing properly and some struggle with. Sometimes the setting of goals seems a little selfish and self-centred. One of the things that I struggle with is that the central idiom of my profession is too often about money and possessions. I don’t believe that any of the most successful people I have met, and I have met a lot, wake up every morning focussed on making another million pounds. They are clearly driven, but not often, in my experience, by money and possessions.
I mentioned that one of the most transformational goals I ever set myself was to donate many thousands of pounds each year to charity. Now I have never written a cheque out to a charity but I have fulfilled my obligations by coaching at least two charities pro bono. I have done this now for many years and the charities I have coached have benefited enormously, becoming the most successful in their fields.
As well as making me feel good and allowing the chosen charities to provide even better sustainable value, to their beneficiaries, there have been a number of other side effects.
One is that in order to spend one day a week on my charitable and voluntary work I have had to make sure that my business is strong enough to provide for me and my family in what is left of the week.
This has forced me to become a better and more effective coach. As a consequence, all of my clients benefit.
I have to be good at what I do because I would be really embarrassed if someone were to refuse my services even on a pro bono basis!
So that one goal, that I set almost by accident over twelve years ago has benefited countless people, and I just noticed this week that the goal was somewhat unique in that it wasn’t a goal centred around me, money or possessions. Who would have thought?
So my thoughts turn to the connection between these two stories. I am starting to see many examples where self-interest doesn’t seem to work and many others where focus on someone else pays enormous dividends.
I sense there is a universal truth here somewhere, and I am sure the more religious of you will be screaming that of course there is. For me, right now, it is a fascinating thought that is worthy of much more exploration.