Saturday 16 March 2013

Aim Low. Reach your goals. Avoid disappointment

Hands up - who among the office dwellers reading the blog today has ever been subjected to... Career Coaching.

Sorry, I know the phrase is kind of repulsive, I should have given more warning. I hope I didn't just make you throw up a little in your mouth.

For those of you who have missed this pleasure, let me summarize. This is when a consultant...who really knows nothing about your office, or the nutbars within, or the politics, or the challenging brick walls you face daily... drops by, tries to earn your respect by wowing you with a long list of vague credentials somehow related to doing something wow-worthy, then leans in with their clipboard, looks deeply into your eyes and says "how would you like to work with me take your performance to the next level".

Wait a minute - I guess I could just summarize it by saying the Career Coach is kind of like the hatted clinician of the office world. Is he or she there, every day, helping you to slog through the flowing stream of bullshit?

NO. Absolutely not.

Is he or she there, once every six weeks or so, to provide you with some great "enpowering" concepts to try, before waltzing out of the office (well, not before collecting a paycheque which is likely much more than yours will ever be for a full day, after doing only 60 minutes of work) and leaving you to struggle in vain on your own to implement whatever teambuilding or assertive communication techniques they suggested? On your cohorts who could care less about either thing and really only show up for the free coffee and paycheque?

YES. For sure.

Will they be back next time to start the cycle of hope, followed shortly afterwards by despair...

YES. Undoubtedly.

I am sorry to report that recently my boss tried to make me go to career coaching, and I said NO. NO. NO. I won't GO. GO. GO.

I warned him that I was uncoachable, just ask any of the Five People I will meet in Dressage Hell that have already tried to coach me. (Actually, there will be more than five of them there, but after talking to five - maybe just four. Three?  you will want to jump straight into a pit of molten hellfire or get gored senseless by a trident to end the torture).

But he insisted. It is such a great opportunity Curmudgeon. Dr. Nick will really help you!


And so, off I went to Career Coaching.

And I listened patiently to the "wow" speech, nodded at appropriate times, furrowed my brow a bit and tilted my head just a few degrees to the side to give the impression of "interested listening", and said "SURRREEE" when the gift of "next level performance" was lobbed to me.  "Let's DO IT!"

"Great. Now..Tell me, Curmudgeon..." asked Dr. Nick, pen poised above clipboard "What strategies do you use today to help you to deal with co-workers who you feel are underperforming and not helping the organization to reach its goals..."

Oh! Wait! I knew the answer to this one! I remember feeling a burst of misguided enthusiasm. "Dr. Nick, I TOTALLY used to struggle with this, but now I have the solution!"

I was going to ace this test, and it was all because of Dressage!

I explained to Dr. Nick that the best technique to use to deal with teammates that are underperforming, even though you knew they could do much better.. teammates that are totally oblivious to how much work and sweat and effort you are putting into whatever endeavor you are currently undertaking, and merrily go about their business driving your train of success off of the rails not because they are malicious, or hate you, or have any particular axe to grind, but just because they are who they are... had been thoroughly ingrained in me while becoming a dressage rider.

The answer is... LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.  Right down. To somewhere around rock bottom.

Then - if your expectations are met - you are not disappointed.

But - if something good happens - your expectations have been exceeded!  When people ask you "how was the horse show this weekend!"  You can answer "GREAT!  We did much BETTER than I expected!"  Oh, what a feeling. What a rush.  I sat back, smiled, and waited for my pat on the back.

BZZZZZ - wrong again, Curmudgeon.

What actually happened was that Dr. Nick said he felt sad for me that this is how I choose to go through life. Very sad.

He said that by working with him, I could learn new techniques - ways to go through life without the starting assumption that the very act of being is by nature, a buzzkill.

"Curmudgeon, what do you say. Can we work together to change this?"

I said NO. And left. Long story short - I turned the "gift" of Career Coaching into a CLM*.

The saddest thing is that I seriously thought my answer was really good. It totally works. It is not easy for me, and sometimes I fail, but life is just so much happier when you make "AIM LOW" your mantra.  It is the only thing that gets me through many a day. (No, the irony here does not escape me - I had high expectations that this was the right answer to the question)

Blah Blah Blah Curmudgeon - you are supposed to be telling us about training level. Remember?

I am - seriously, I am.

You see the thing is, I didn't adopt this "rock bottom expectations" philosophy until only a few years ago.  Back in 2005 when I was showing training level, I still was a fool who believed that hard work, perseverance, and a great positive attitude would bring you all of the joy you deserved.

And also allow you to break 65% at every outing, every show, at training level.

BZZZZZ - wrong again, Curmudgeon.

In my memory - We had many a disappointing show. Almost every show was a disappointment, in fact. Thinking back, I remember the freak-outs. The shying. The riding off course. The wrong leads.

In the judges words, the "some resistance", the "quarters swinging out", the "strung out" and the "against the hand".  The reminders that "horse must be immobile in the halt".

We sometimes "lacked purpose", were "stiff" and "abrupt", and were "tight through back" (me? or Ms. V? not specified).  And yes, we were "fussy" yet again.  Also "hollowed" sometimes, which made me think of pumpkins.  We needed to be "more attentive"

Most of all we needed to "work on throughness to improve gaits and self carriage" Great tip, Judge Nobrainer. (next up - "practice breathing in and out to avoid dying of asphyxiation").

After probably a few thousand dollars, and according to my passport, five Silver or Gold shows where we rode in 12 different classes, my take home message at the time was that despite all of our hard work over the last year or so, we really pretty much sucked. I shoved all of my tests in a binder, compiled all of my video clips on one VHS tape which is now growing mold in a cupboard somewhere, and have done my best not to think back to this era for the last seven years.

But for you, faithful readers, I have unearthed the collection (well not the video tapes, I am not that much of a masochist). And with my fabulous new "rock bottom" goggles on, I can see a different story emerging.

Actually - for two absolute beginners to dressage, we really didn't do half bad.

We had lots of "nice departs". We were often "fairly obedient", which is no screaming hell, but still better than "disobedient" all the time. We received many an 8 on our free walks, with "good stretch and overtrack".  We were usually "active", sometimes "fluid", "lovely", "elegant" and were always "a nice pair",

My favourite comment in collectives... "just need time and patience".  Which I guess is really as much of a no-brainer as "work on throughness", but somehow it just seems less condescending and DUH.

The best part of all, which I never really noticed before..

Our very highest mark for the year was a 65.0% - and placed us first in the training level 4 class at the 2005 Western Ontario Trillium championships.

Our very lowest score for the year was 52.1% - which put us dead last in the training level 3 class at the 2005 Western Ontario Trillium championships.

Win some - lose some - sometimes at the very same show.

Had my expectations of how we might do during this first year of showing been appropriately low, I might have come out a dressage superstar in my own little pea brain.

In all seriousness, what I really did miss was the most important clue to what we needed to do to advance, and to be fair to the judges, a lot of them did provide this clue to me.

"Keep the aids on more securely"
"Use aids more consistently"
"Use aids to establish steadier contact"
"Maintain impulsion with each stride for better acceptance of contact"

They were watching me drive standard - gas / clutch / brake - they knew that if I kept this up the car was going to stall out. At first level.  And they were correct.

*Career Limiting Maneuver - When you do something stupid that can potentially cause you to never move up in the company


  1. For most riders, clinicians aren't worth what they charge, and I'm always surprised at how much money many people are willing to drop on them. Two days with Stefan Peters will not make or brake anything. They'd be better off taking two lessons per week for a month (or three) with their regular trainer. Unless their regular trainer sucks. In which case they're probably not going to get much out of a clinic anyway.

  2. The neatness of that scribes writing impresses me. The art of deciphering the odd abbreviations you find on dressage tests is probably one of my favourite past times... or least favourite depending on how we scored on the test ;) but that test was pretty straight forward.

  3. In many companies, the offer of "Career Coaching" is a euphemism for "You are about to get fired and we need to start documenting the ways in which we have tried to help you, in order to minimize your severance".

    1. Ha. I'm living this at the moment. 2 weeks ago, performance review was glowing. Didn't play nice with the boss once and now I'm persona non grata...

    2. Wait - you mean to say I might get the summer off and SOME severance...YESSSS!!!!

      (that my friends is "aim low" in action).

      @SweetPea - yes, it is amazing how one can suddenly lose all of their glow so quickly, isn't it.

  4. I'm pretty interested to see where the story is going as this is basically where I (and I imagine many others) have been stuck forever.