As a coach, it’s my job to hold up a mirror to my clients. In other words, I must help them to discover insights into their own behaviour by asking them the questions they haven’t thought to consider.
Sometimes, during my reflection of a coaching session I inadvertently unearth something about myself. I see a grain of familiarity in what the client has expressed, and I realise that something in my own life is out of whack.
This happened to me recently. A client and I were working through the importance of living in the here and now rather than focusing our energy in the past or future. Afterwards, I had a lightbulb moment of my own.
This time last year, my husband and I were preparing to jack it all in and move to a part of the country where we had no friends, no connections and little in the way of job prospects. We were going to live ‘the good life’ - self sustainability in a quaint English seaside town.
It was our dream. A rejection of the daily grind in favour of a higher path - a life lived with intention and filled with meaning.
We had an offer accepted on a gorgeous house with an annex that would become our new income - a holiday cottage. We’d be practically mortgage free, allowing us the space to create the life we wanted to live.
Our house was sold, and we were weeks from taking the leap.
Then the bottom fell out of our plans.
A survey on the new house showed extensive problems that would have buried us financially. The owner was not willing to move on price, so we were left with no choice but to pull out.
Our buyers needed to move quickly, so the whole deal fell through.
To say we were gutted would be an understatement. We had mentally shifted our lives from the city, and were ill-prepared for what had landed at our feet.
After many hours of discussion, we made a decision. For now, we would stay in the city - invest some money, time and energy into our current home and put down our roots for the next few years. We both committed to making a go of things in the situation we were already in, and put the dream of moving to the coast on hold for the foreseeable future.
There were some obvious benefits to this - our friends, families and jobs were here. The city offers everything we could ever need, and we’re lucky enough to be less than an hour away from the beautiful countryside and coast.
I believed that I had accepted this new plan. It made sense, and we’d had our fingers burned enough for one year.
But deep down, I was unable to let go of ‘the dream’. I continued to obsessively check property sites for the next ‘ideal’ home. Every time we visited the countryside I’d look for plots of land where we could build.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that the grass would be greener elsewhere.
But I was spending so much time and energy thinking about what we could have that I was wasting what we did have. I considered every option for our future life except for one - our current life.
I was failing to make a commitment to our joint decision. And because of this, I was failing myself and I was failing my husband.
Something needed to change. In order to start living my life in the here and now, I had to let go of the ‘what could be’.
I had to commit to our home - to the roots we had chosen to put down.
So I took a step back and considered what was driving my internal conflict. I came to realise that I’d built an idealised picture of what life would be like in the seaside home.
I imagined easy days in the sunshine (in England? Really?), checking someone into the holiday cottage before pootling down to the beach for a swim or a surf (I can’t surf to save my life). We’d while away our evenings drinking wine in our gorgeous open plan living room, or down the pub with our new local friends drinking beer at half the price of the city bars.
Everything would slow down - our pace of life, our work, our financial strain. We’d live in blissful tranquility.
Talk about rose tinted spectacles. I was so busy dreaming about the good life that I hadn’t stopped for a moment to consider the realities we’d face. The months of living on a building site while we converted the cottage. The hours of driving we’d do whilst we continued to work in the city. The loneliness we’d feel at having no access to friends and family.
The survey we’d had on the house was the universe’s attempt to show me the hard truth. But I chose to ignore this voice and carry on dreaming.
In the cold light of day it was crystal clear. It’s easy to see the mundane - the frustrations and the pains of everyday life - in the place where you actually live. And it’s easy to ignore this reality in the rose tinted future of a new home.
This reflection was the wake up call I needed. The alternatives to our current reality would be filled with the same ebb and flow of good times and bad. I was merely choosing not to acknowledge this.
Once I’d accepted this, I took a good, hard look at our current situation. I realised what a privileged position we are truly in - we have our best friends within spitting distance. We live smack bang in the middle of our two families, with excellent road access to both. Our area of the city is so sought after that people pay 10-20% over asking price just to buy a house here (we bought our house before it became ‘trendy’!). We have an array of excellent shops, pubs and restaurants within a 5 minute walk. We can get into the countryside in a matter of minutes. Our house has a self contained annex - which we can rent out, just like we would have done with our seaside holiday cottage!
God, I was being ungrateful. I had the things that most people dream of right at my feet. And I was dreaming of a new life somewhere else, to get away from these wonderful things! I had everything I wanted right under my nose, and I was too blind to see it.
So now I was in a good place. I had recognised and accepted that the realities of living elsewhere would be exactly the same as my current situation. I had a revitalised love of my current home and was excited to continue my life here.
Now I needed to get my behaviours and habits in check.
This started with observation. I listened to my inner voice, and what I heard was a constant, unconscious dialogue about the possibilities of moving. “Oo, I wonder whether anything new is on the market….” “....What do you reckon the house prices in West Wales are like? It’s beautiful there….” “....I’d love to build a house, let’s have a look at available building plots….”.
I was engaged in a never ending, unyielding conversation with myself. In order to break the pattern, I needed to become conscious of my thoughts. I began making an active choice to hear, interrupt and put a stop to them.
I built a mantra; “I’m happy in my home, and I commit to it for the next 5 years”. This allowed me to put to bed any thoughts of moving immediately, but didn’t take the future possibility of a new life off the table. It enabled me to put any plans to live elsewhere on hold and stop the constant chattering.
I then looked at my physical behaviour. I had countless apps and bookmarks on my phone which were feeding my obsession - property apps, find-a-plot sites - you name it! I deleted them all, which by this time felt surprisingly cathartic.
What this added up to was the inner peace I’d been craving. By committing myself to a home - my home - I had found a way to quieten the voice of doubt.
Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we thought it would. Our ideal job or home or relationship is taken off the table, and we feel like our dreams have been shattered. But in order to find inner peace, we need to commit to a new plan and stop obsessing over ‘what could have been’. It might not be the perfect plan, or the plan that we dreamed of, but we must do so nonetheless. For as long as we fail to do this, we will be plagued with constant anxiety and internal conflict - and, worse than this, our life will pass us by, and we’ll fail to truly live.
This is not to say that we must give up on our dreams. But we must not sacrifice our present for the ‘what could be’.