One of my favorite pieces of useless trivia concerns the distance a person can see over flat land (or more likely the sea) before anything more is obscured by the curvature of the earth. The distance is about 13 miles for a person 6 feet tall – about the distance a person can walk in three or four hours. On the other hand, given an unobscured field of vision, the human eye can perceive stars and galaxies that are so far away it’s practically impossible to comprehend the distance.
Distance of sight is on my mind because I’m thinking about how far a person can see in terms of time and reality more so than in terms of physical distance. We ask our coaching clients to visualize the future, but how far can they see? And how clearly can they see? It’s worth exploring so we invite the right kinds of awareness given the distance of sight.
The Infinite. Sometimes we invite our clients to visualize the infinite aspects of life. We visualize the love of God, we ponder the eternal nature of the human soul, and we consider timeless principles whose light reaches our present-day circumstances. Our clients can see the infinite, but they cannot grasp it fully, they cannot know it with the fullness and particularity they might know more immediate, more mundane matters. Exploring that which can never be fully reached or comprehended is vitally important because these matters shed the light of meaning, values, purpose, and perspective upon the landscape of today. The infinite is not a destination our clients will reach or a goal they will achieve, it is a star that guides them.
The Ultimate. Each of us has a life that will end. Some philosophers say that it is only the fact that life will end someday that makes any other day meaningful. When our clients consider their world without them in it, they are considering ultimate matters such as legacy and impact. Ultimate matters are not a surprise, they are the culmination of a life’s journey, the residue left from a lifetime of work and love, and the memories that remain of real and perceived events. We invite clients to consider the ultimate when we ask about the legacy they want to leave, the impact they hope to have, and the way they hope to leave things in the end.
A Vision. When we see something that could be a reality in this world, but isn’t yet, we call that a vision. This is the point at which a client can see something in this world, on this planet, in their lifetime. Our client’s vision could be a healthy family, a loving neighborhood, a growing business, or a faithful and thriving church. A vision is like seeing the top of a distinct mountain off in the distance – it’s clearly a specific place, but the specific details are not available and the course to the top of the mountain is not yet specifically defined. As coaches, we help our clients gain certainty and conviction for their vision without bringing full clarity or detailed specificity. They may not have all the details, but they can make progress toward a vision for how they’d like things to be. When vision is lacking, people suffer because they don’t have a meaningful destination drawing them forward.
A Goal. Clients can see goals. A goal comes with much more detail and specificity than a vision. Goals are a part of practically every coaching conversation. They can be long-term, short-term, and/or immediate. We serve our clients well when we help them translate a topic into a goal. For example, a client wants to talk about his relationship with his wife. This is a topic. When we help him clarify what he wants for this relationship, we have supported him in clarifying a goal. For example, he could want them to get on the same page when it comes to parenting their teenage son. When goals are fuzzy, people wander and get discouraged. When goals are clear, they provide direction, motivation, and a sense of accomplishment as we journey through life.
A Plan. Now it’s time to get clear and see clearly. While visions and goals can require squinting and even a bit of eye-straining, plans invite a different kind of work. Our clients benefit when the coaching conversation focuses on what needs to be done in order to reach a goal. A plan of action often comes into focus one piece at a time and the pieces are not always in order to begin with. For example, the client can see a conversation that needs to happen, then she notices what will make the conversation a success, and finally, she notices some prep work that will support making it a successful conversation. We never want our clients to walk away from a coaching conversation with a question they must ask and answer before taking action. Instead, we want all the questions and answers to occur in the conversation so there is near-perfect clarity about their next steps.
We also want to be careful to avoid over-planning. The longer, more complex, and more intricate the plan, the less likely it is to be carried out as anticipated. Designing actions requires great clarity for the immediate and greater flexibility and openness for the aspects of the plan further in the future.
Inner World. Not everything worth seeing is “out there.” The client has a rich inner world filled with scenes worth seeing. As coaches, we invite our clients to look inward and notice their emotions, their motivations, their attitudes, and much more. There are times when a client needs to search his heart, explore his emotions, and discern his state of being. Often a coaching topic serves as a mirror that allows the client to see himself in new, disturbing, or affirming ways. Seeing oneself can be scary, but it is always valuable.
We often describe coaches as “thinking partners.” Perhaps we should also consider the description “seeing partners.” We partner with our clients by inviting them to look and see with intention and distinction. We invite them to turn their attention from the heavens to the heart and everywhere in between. Our Creator has given us eyes, in both the physical and the metaphorical sense. What a privilege and responsibility it is for us coaches to invite our clients to develop their eyesight!