coachingI’ll call her Kate. She could have been any one of us. We’ve all been lost in the woods at one time or other.

Kate’s career was foundering. She had no job, no prospects. She knew she needed a new career path, but couldn’t get her bearings. Determined and intelligent, she’d taken a businesslike approach to finding her way. She’d read up on different professions, talked to employment counselors, even graphed out her skills on paper. But she’d come up with nothing.

“It’s hopeless,” she said at our first meeting. “I’m lost.”

As a coach, part of me always wants to offer a solution, to say, “I’ve got it! Here’s your answer!” But coaching isn’t about providing solutions. It isn’t about what the coach knows at all, but what the client knows. It is a method for helping clients use their own creativity and wisdom, to access the knowing that lies within. Instead of trying to provide an answer, I told Kate a story.

In the legends of King Arthur, Parcival was a young man who longed to become a knight of the Round Table. When he failed, he ran off in despair to wander the forest. After many months, not knowing where to turn and overwhelmed with grief, he simply let go of his horse’s reins. The horse led Parcival straight to the greatest reward of all – the Holy Grail.

Stories aren’t mere entertainment. The best of them are repositories of profound wisdom. In Parcival’s story, the horse represents intuition. As long as Parcival is trying to lead with his intellect, he goes around in circles. It is when he lets go, allowing a silent part of himself to take over, that he finds his way.

When I tell Kate this story, she is baffled – then angry. “What does a fairy tale have to do with me?” she snaps. Parcival, I point out, was also in a career crisis. He, too was lost.

I ask her to try something. “Just for a week, envision this story every day. See yourself as Parcival. Imagine letting go of the reins.”

Kate worried that this exercise would be a waste of time, and I worried that I might never hear from her again, but she promised to give it a try. Two days later, she called. “It worked!” she said excitedly. The second time she did the exercise, a long-submerged memory surfaced. She recalled that she’d once wanted to be a teacher. She’d thought that teaching would be important, challenging work. But she’d dismissed the idea in search of something more lucrative and prestigious. Now, she realized she’d abandoned a calling. She’d found her answer, not through graphs and strategic planning, but by engaging the creative tools of her subconscious: memory, myth, metaphor.

Coaching doesn’t always work this quickly, but it does work. I know its power first hand. Once, like Kate, I was failing, unhappy, lost. Then I allowed my Parcival’s horse to lead. He brought me to coaching. Now I help others on their journeys through the woods, in search of their own personal grail.

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