dragon drawing

Slaying Dragons, Changing Lives

by Dr Steve Barlow

You may not have realised it, but there are connections between coaching and dragons. I’m referring to those dangerous and fearsome dragons of European mythology; the kind that guard hordes of gold and precious jewels and attack anyone who dares awake them.

There’s also a connection between coaching and knights. I mean the kind of knights who stand guard outside strong castles where fair maidens are captive in tall towers. According to the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, many of the stories we humans tell involve an encounter with a fearsome foe, whether that be a terrible dragon, and armed knight ready to do battle, or any other adversary that would cause any normal person to recoil in fear.

According to Campbell, many human myths follow a similar pattern. They consist of three main players. One player is an ordinary person who, during their life, discovers what they really want. The second player is some fearsome adversary who intends to prevent this ordinary person getting what they really want. And the third player is what is wanted, whether that be a cave full of gold, or a princess in a tower.

The stage is now set for the drama of life to unfold. What is the ordinary person to do? The ordinary person has the limitations, vulnerabilities, and fears of all ordinary people, but they have glimpsed something that has captured their imagination and won their heart and they can’t stop thinking about it. If only they could just reach out and take what they wanted; if only life were that simple. But between them and their hearts desire stands this terrible and fearsome obstacle.

Campbell tells us this scenario is not just the backdrop to this mythical quest, it is also the backdrop to all our lives. Like the person in the story, we must decide whether we will face our fears and limitations and go for what we really want, or whether we’ll turn our back on what we want and play it safe.

I want you to think about your coaching clients, and I also want to think about your own life. What would you go for in life if didn’t cost you anything and you knew you couldn’t fail? What two or three things would capture your imagination and tug at your heartstrings? Perhaps it would be fame and fortune; for some it may be travel; for others it may be beautiful clothes or fine jewelry; maybe it would be a relationship with a special person, or health and strength, a prosperous business, or a happy family. We sometimes wish our lives were different; if only it were as simply as reaching out and holding in our hands those things we hold in our hearts. But all too often a terrible obstacle stands between us and the life we really want to live.

What does this obstacle look like? All too often it looks like something we can never overcome. It looks too hard for us. We feel we are not good enough to get it, and maybe we don’t even deserve it. Other people who are smarter than us, more educated than us, more experienced than us, better looking than us, richer than us, luckier than us, or better connected than us can get it. It’s all very well for them, but we’re not like them. Do you ever feel like that? Do your coaching clients ever tell you that’s how they feel?

And it also usually looks scary. It looks too big to take on. It feels like you’ve got no real chance of success. You wouldn’t know where to start, you wouldn’t know what to do, and even if your tried, you’d probably fail. Failure is scary. You don’t want everyone to know you were good enough. You don’t want everyone to know you’re a failure. It’s safer not to try.

These obstacles are the dragons that prevent most people going after what they really want out of life. These are the self-doubts and fears that hold people captive and make them give up on their dreams. Do you have clients who are riddled with self-doubt and fear? Perhaps they know what they want, perhaps they even know how to get it, but they never succeed because they never overcome the obstacles that stand between them and what they really want.

It’s really important to recognise where the dragon lives. He doesn’t live in the world out there: he lives inside us. He lives in our minds. He lives in our emotions. He lives in our beliefs. The dragon is part of us. When facing this dragon, the ordinary person must decide whether they will stay and fight or give into their fear and doubt and run away. The ordinary person becomes a hero only when they face up to the dragon and fight for what they really want.

In a way, it’s easier to give into our doubt and fear and run away. But in running away you know you’re a coward, and you know you must live with regret. One day, you’ll look back and say, “if only”. But by then, the opportunity will have past.

Being a hero requires patience. Patience isn’t a very popular word these days. For us it means having to wait for things, and most people don’t like having to wait for things. But the original meaning of patience was suffering. That’s why doctors have patients: they help people who are suffering with sickness. Heroes have patience because they face their fears and don’t give in to self-doubt. There is suffering in that. There is pain in feeling insecure, of not knowing what will happen next, of taking a risk and possibly failing, of stepping outside your comfort zone, of taking on bigger challenges than you’ve ever faced before. There is suffering in facing your fear and your limitations and doing something really hard. Heroes do this, not because they love suffering, but because they really love what is on the other side of the suffering. They want the prize. They want to achieve what matters most to them. Even if they don’t make it, they want to know tried: they gave it their best shot. No regrets.

Most people never achieve their dreams because they don’t think they can or because they are too afraid to try. You as a coach must support them and give them help, but you cannot dispel their doubts or overcome their fears. Only they can do that for themselves, as you are the only one who can do it for you. Your clients must learn to overcome their own limitations and fear of the dragon that lies inside them.

So how do you help your clients do this? How do you help them slay the dragon and achieve their dreams? First, you need to deeply understand the change process. Then, you need to understand what the dragon demands of people, and what people need to supply to defeat him. And finally, you need to know how to build their seven change fitness capacities. These capacities are like seven weapons that allow people to overcome the dragon inside them. Unless they develop their capacity in these seven areas they will never be able to defeat the dragon, they will never succeed at difficult change, and they will never be truly successful.

If you’re a coach, are you involved in this quest in your own life? Do you have dragons you need to slay? And are you committed to helping your clients face the dragons on their own lives? If you’re not committed to slaying dragons, why are you even a coach? And if you are committed to doing this, don’t you want to get better at it? Don’t you want to do it more successfully? If that’s you, I’ve got something you really ought to check out. The ball is in your court. Reach out to me and let’s slay a few dragons.

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at steve@thechangegym.com.