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Thursday, 11 January 2018

Life got in the way!


Life gets in the way’ is a commonly used phrase, and one I’m sure many readers can relate to. Before reading further therefore, you may want to think about a goal you’re wanting to achieve, and yet perhaps too often find yourself saying “but life got in the way” as the reason for it still being tantalisingly out of reach. 

As those familiar with this blog already know I love a good metaphor. Especially those metaphors that describe a situation as being less than what we’d like it to be. Mainly because, in addition to describing the problem, the metaphor also has the answer. How fantastic is that. There we were thinking we were describing the problem, and in fact it also has the solution too.

If this was a conversation just between you and I, the questions I’d ask might be a little different than this exploration. Together we could explore your personal relationship to your ‘life’ and how and what it’s getting in the way of.

This format doesn’t allow for such glorious questioning – all I can do is give you an example using one person’s relationship to the metaphor contained in those words, and then encourage you to have a play for yourself.

Let’s jump straight in with today’s willing volunteer.

How exactly does life get in the way?

“I see myself walking on a path and life jumping out in front of me stopping progress. If life was a person it would be someone who is very engaging and forceful and a big personality. Someone who is difficult to interrupt and also to say no to.”


Others of you may envisage life getting in the way in a totally different way. This process would simply invite you to explore your own representation more fully.

As there’s no right or wrong, and any and every thought may contain insight, I decided to follow the ‘forceful person’ idea a little further.

What happens next?

“Eventually I tire and give up with trying to make progress and just listen to the other person, now unengaged having given my power to them. Sometimes it feels like I set up camp, knowing I’m going to be there some time. Tent, sleeping bag, gas burner – the whole works.”

What happens next?

“ I can regroup only once the other person has gone away, and that can be after many days or even months, by which time there’s even a washing line on the path!”


Notice we’re not jumping back to real life wanting to understand what this all means in reality. At the moment, we want to continue the exploration within the metaphor. It’s as if our inner wisdom is able to communicate much more clearly and effectively via the metaphor – just let it share what it was to share.

What happens before the person appears?

“Hmm … even before the person (life] appears I realise I’m walking with my head down, plodding along, waiting for ‘life’ to appear. I have a heavy ruck sack on my back and seem to be dragging lots of pots and pans, and anything and everything ‘just in case’ - kitchen sink and all!”


When we set out on this exploration I didn’t ‘think’ this the direction the conversation would go – I’d thought life would be a wall, or a barrier of some sort. Something that could be easily dismantled or jumped over. But it isn’t, and I’ve used metaphors enough in my coaching to accept that the underlying metaphor will emerge, and what emerges is what needs to be resolved.

Let’s continue ….

What happens before the pots and pans and ruck sack?

“As I imagine retracing my steps I realise that the ruck sack has just got heavier and heavier over time. It’s as if every day something else gets added into the risk mitigation “just in case” ruck sack.”

They continue to go back to a time when they were simply walking on the path.

“As I do that, I feel very heavy and feel the need to walk barefoot on the green grass, and put my hands in the fresh vibrant water of a gurgling stream. How weird!”


Do you get a sense that everyone reading this, even if they related to ‘life getting in the way’, would find ‘life’ doing what it does differently? 

The aim of the process is to explore the metaphor sufficiently well to find solutions within it, or if not a solution, perhaps a different perspective that allows for an alternative outcome.

The end result of this exploration was a realisation that they could get to the same destination more quickly and directly via the grass and stream ie they didn’t need to follow the well worn path just because others told them “that’s how it’s done around here”.

It wasn’t particularly a new solution – which required an additional question.

What’s different about this means of getting to the destination than the previous one?

“Keeping my head up and focused on the end destination/goal at all times, not in isolation but as part of the wider landscape. On the path it’s easy to lose sight of the end destination, especially with head down focused on each step. Having a picture of the goal dissociated from its surroundings isn’t motivating nor helpful in understanding what to do next.”

Which is something I’ve observed with others when I use the Landscaping Your life process, where we use landscapes as metaphors for our lives. The metaphors have to use convention – there’s no defying gravity or missing out a season. It’s as if the roots that we need to be grounded need to be attached to a trunk and have branches reaching to the sky, or night must follow day, or tides must come in and out.

The plan we developed as a result of this exploration included:
  • A clear vision of the end destination.
  • A clear vision of the other destinations en-route (after all we might think we’re headed for Fort William but there are plenty of beautiful places along the way if we put our head up long enough and take notice of the journey we're on and not just focus on the path.)
  • A clear plan of all key milestones needed to get there (for this individual just knowing and taking the first step wasn’t helpful. They needed to understand what was beyond the few meters in-front of them). 
  • A clear sense of what head down plodding on the path felt like in real life, and a list of activities they could do that would remind them, metaphorically at least, to take their shoes off, put their head up and set their focus on the next milestone.
It’s as if doing this provided them with a map that would allow them to journey every day knowing they’d never get lost nor distracted, and yet at the same time enjoy the experience as they were 'in' nature not just 'on' it moving through it. Some might say more being and less doing.


If life is getting in the way of you achieving your goals what changes might you be able to make so that life is supporting you, rather than hindering you? 

Always available to provide coaching support using the Landscaping Your Life toolkit alison@alisonsmith.eu +44 (0)7770 538159

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature as a metaphor for our lives

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