Focusing on the extraordinary

Never underestimate…

bowerbirdHave you come across the bowerbird of Australia? It’s a dull-looking species, fawn-brown in colour. The male bowerbird builds a nest surrounded with a variety of brightly coloured objects he has collected which may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even coins, nails or pieces of glass. But the most remarkable part of the construction is a grand avenue of sticks leading to the nest. The sticks are arranged with precise care so that those closest to the nest are the smallest and those farthest away are the tallest, which gives a false sense of perspective so that when the bowerbird stands at the entrance to his nest he looks enormous and impressive to the female. Researchers have tried interfering to change the order of the stick heights, but when that happens the bowerbird painstakingly over several days restores its original configuration. Does the bird understand perspective?!

Never underestimate nature!

Eileen NearneAnd humans? I read about Eileen Nearne who died at 89 this month. You’d never heard of her? Neither had I.

Eileen Nearne was just an old lady who lived alone in Torquay. The most that neighbours had to say about her was that she used to enjoy talking about her cat.

Yet after her death officials found in her flat an amazing treasure trove of war-time papers and medals, including the MBE and the Croix de Guerre. It turns out that she had an extraordinary history no one knew about.

In 1944, aged 23, as a member of Winston Churchill’s secret Special Operations Executive she was parachuted into occupied France, where she passed on intelligence and arranged arms drops as the only British agent with an operating transmitter in the Paris area. She operated during that crucial period until she was arrested by the Nazis in July 1944. She was tortured, then sent to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp where thousands were executed or died. But she managed to escape and was able with help from a French priest to stay in hiding until rescued by the advancing allies. Her bravery contributed importantly to the war effort. Not ‘just an old lady’ after all!

Never underestimate people!

 Tim Gallwey, often called the ‘father of coaching’ by those in the profession, talks about his profound belief in the inner intelligence and wisdom in each one of us, in human life itself.  He says that a person is much bigger than what you see. As coaches we believe in the existence of potential beyond what presents itself.  We may see withdrawal or the sense of something shut down but we do not believe it. We manage to see through and beyond the acts that people put on either to seem less capable than they are or to make us believe they’re wonderful but which actually cover up their true ‘wonderfulness’. 

I have been surprised more often than I can say by how people can be unexpectedly extraordinary. And it tends to happen when you don’t criticise them internally or consider them small.

 The other side of this is:

Never underestimate yourself!

It is so easy to ignore and deny what is in us. We are capable of being exceptional. The skill lies in discovering how to allow that to happen …

“The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” says Oprah Winfrey

Curiosity and playful experimentation are effective approaches. Criticism, self-labelling and a rigid outlook block it. The best place to learn is in interacting with people – which is why workshops where you have the freedom to interact, investigate and explore with others are so productive and energising. They are often the place that gives birth to the extraordinary in people.

Sometimes it just takes someone else to see the exceptional in us before we can see it ourselves. They ‘know’ it is there and that becomes our realisation of a truth. As the pianist Claudio Arrau once explained about his performances, “I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know it’s going to be something wonderful.”

So, what are you underestimating about yourself?

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