Imagining forward: how this simple thing can really help

There’s a deeply memorable moment in my career that’s come back to me recently, reminding me how one small switch can have a big impact when we’re stuck.

I would’ve been about 27 years old, looking for my first toehold into work in Calgary, Alberta, where I’d recently moved to support my husband in chef school. The moment happened when I was interviewing at a recruitment agency. You know, the kind where you demonstrate your skills, they put you in a database, and then send you out on interviews?

So I did the typing test. I filled in the application, submitted my resume showing the work I’d done in Japan, helping run a teaching exchange. Soon after, on a Friday afternoon, I found myself in an interview with the boss, the CEO of this recruitment firm in her big corner office. I remember how strange it was that she barely looked at me, instead focusing on her screen while taking notes, seemingly like a court transcriptionist.

At the end of the interview, she asked the pivotal question.

”Have you ever considered our line of work?”

I make the connection — she means the recruitment business — and said, first with my inside voice, “well no, not until this moment.”

And just like that on the following Monday, I sat behind my desk in the office next to hers, thinking, surely there’s a way to do interviews and take notes while also maintaining eye contact with the human in front of me.

In that moment, I had the aha that’s stayed with me for nearly 25 years.

It didn’t take a lot for me to shift from sitting in front of the desk, being the object of the interview, to sitting behind the desk, directing the interview.

While I had certain educational and other privileges that made this moment possible, I think this kind of shift in identity is available, and transferrable to many other scenarios.

While so many external things are constrained in our lives because of the coronavirus, what massive amount of freedom is still available in the fertile territory of our minds?

From passenger seat to driver’s seat, backup singer to front of the stage, these positions are ours to imagine.

In what feels like a blink of an all-seeing eye, back in that recruitment agency, I was no longer being interviewed, I was doing the interviewing.

I think life, by which I mean being human in September of 2020, is a little like this. When things happen to us, of course we need to take a moment. After a time, we start understanding how we can move of our own accord again.

At any given moment, even when things are chaotic as heck, I get so much comfort when I remember there are hidden things available that I’m not perceiving. And it only takes a moment to shift from one side of the ‘desk’ to the other.

How can I expand my capacity to perceive better? I think it has to do with doubling down on imagination.

If we can’t imagine something – does it exist?

If we can’t think of alternative possibilities – can we change anything or are we stuck?

If we can’t feel the experience of another person (or nation, or culture, or animal, or thing) — are we egocentric? racist? selfish? When we can imagine another person’s experience, how does that help?

Imagination is too often relegated to the terrain of childishness.
In fact, I think the ability to imagine something different is deeply central to solving our own life’s challenges, as well as the problems we face together.

For example, some people say that what we’re going through is like the end of times. A collapsing of old ways. I rather like that idea, since so many things we’re comfortable with have been built on questionable things (why do some people have so much power? who made the rules about who gets what? etc.) However I would like to suggest that this is not apocalypse now… and I’ll share why.

Humans have gone through what we’re going through now, before

In Indigenous cultures around the world, the kind of falling apart the modern, mostly-urban world is going through now, has already happened. Many times over, in many different geographies, including Taiwan, where my family is from. Human movements have been curtailed, people have not been free to do things the way they want, resources like food and pleasure have been scarce. It’s all happened before – a lot.

I think that when we’re asked to, we can imagine these things, and ‘remember’ these things. Imagine being an indigenous person who lived where you live now, in the very spot you’re sitting, just 100 years ago. That’s not too far back to think, is it?

Imagine… being told to stay ‘over there on that land.’
Imagine… getting sick and not knowing what this illness was nor how to ever get better.
Imagine…being told conflicting things by different people who claimed authority and power over you, and being upset about how that power was being used, but not knowing what to do.
Imagine… being witness to violence you’ve never encountered before and the grief that comes with that.
Imagine… having to explain things to your children about why they can’t do the things they want the way they used to. Imagine that heartbreak.

As we each expand our capacity to imagine painful things, and hopeful things…we expand what’s possible

Closer to home, maybe, just maybe, someone reading this will imagine what it’s like to be you right now in all you’re experiencing, whether that’s joy, suffering or a combination. And maybe, just maybe, you will imagine what it’s like to be them. Aha…do our bonds strengthen through this simple doable act of imagining? Do we become less ‘other’ to one another? I think yes.

A couple more examples. I want to understand far, far better:

  • what it must feel like to have family members ill, dying or dead from C-19
  • what the CEO of a leading hotel chain is facing
  • what physical distancing means to a homeless person reliant on busking
  • what it’s like to experience physical harm inside your home, specifically because you spoke up about the RNC or the DNC or another piece of political news

Coaching corner: Here’s are two simple, tangible exercises to try:

Exercise #1: This is a great exercise that’s focused externally.

The next time you see someone, virtually or in person, it doesn’t have to be close up…take 10 minutes to journal from their perspective, everything you can think of through their eyes. Use the word “I” in this exercise to increase the richness of standing in their shoes. Bonus points for picking someone who doesn’t look like you, or lives a very different life from you.

Here’s an example from my own life. Try to really imagine the person here:

“I know my kids hate (politician) but they don’t understand. Communism and China are really terrible and (politician) is the only one taking a hard line with them. I don’t care if (politician) behaved badly in other ways, everyone has behaved badly and that was in the past!
I will not say too much more about this to my kids. I know they will only get mad and not want to talk to me, and I’m already so lonely. I’m scared of dying by myself and no one will find my body for days! My daughter asked me to keep an open mind and not blindly believe in (politician) and I told her yes.
I just want to be able to be with my kids but I feel like they don’t accept me and won’t take care of me when I’m dying because I like (politician.)”

Even when we’re sequestered at home, unable to vacation or visit, feeling cooped up or under great strain of all kinds, we have so much more power than we think

Exercise #2: This second exercise is great for challenging your existing thoughts, the ones you may be unconscious about. This one may also be good for using with your coaching clients, or students, if you teach counterculture concepts in any way.

  • Start by identifying a thought that you have.

    For example, what do you believe about health? What ‘should’ you have the right to do or not do with/in your home to protect yourself? Where are you at with money – good, bad, indifferent? Relationships, childrearing, property rights, all areas are fair game, just pick one for this exercise.

  • What’s the opposite of this thought?

    Imagine freely and notice if you can readily access the opposite, or, if you’re stiff or challenged at first.

  • What’s a tiny detail within your belief?

    E.g. If you believe everyone should have access to health care, a tiny detail inside your belief could be that everyone should be able to have an appointment with any health care person at any time. (Realism is optional in this exercise.)

  • What happens when you expand your belief to be bigger?

    E.g. If you believe everyone should have access to health care, bigger would be everyone in the world, in every country, in every culture, should have access to health care.

  • Keep going until you come to a natural stop, then review, and consider your original belief.

    Have you succeeded at imagining it differently a little, a lot, or not at all?

And finally… zooming out in a beautiful mindset-shifting video

I hope sharing my thoughts about imagination has been useful, and helps you approach the final months of 2020. To cap this off, below is of my very favourite videos.

It’s about imagination, and it encapsulates the central message here.

It’s through imagination, and the empathy that grows through it, that our next and best possibilities will be created, felt, and acted upon.

By imagining better, we treat one another better.

I hope for more imagination better applied in all areas, for all of us.

Click here to view if you can’t see it above.

Thanks for reading these ideas about how to be more human through the power of imagination! Your thoughts and ideas are always welcome. Feel free to comment or hit reply.

In other news, here are some updates since writing you in August

The second cycle of the micro-course, Coaching the Uncoachable: Stone Mapping and You, is going well.

I submitted a book proposal last week, my first ever — terrifyingly wonderful and thrilling! “How to Stop Hurting the People You Love” is 35-pages of everything I could put into it with all that I have.

  • I’m intending for this to get the best possible yes in as short amount of time with the greatest joy, in service of the dear people wanting so much to change. I pray the project goes through. Will you help hold that intention with me?

And finally…a question. Would you be served by a micro-class on small business-building principles that are resistant to chaos?

Kinda like principles of building an earthquake-proof house, we can build our businesses to be resilient. I’d want to do this in 3 or so sessions/weeks, aim for the $250-350 arena, and really just lay out consolidated wisdom from Multiple Streams of Coaching Income + Wealthy Thought Leader years but updated with what’s working, what’s not working and what’s evolving.

But here’s the rub: I’m disinclined to focus energy here unless I’m really clear it serves a good number of people. If that’s you, would you reply or comment and tell me a bit more? If not, also super happy to hear from you with thoughts. Thank you for your help, very much.

P.S. The interview that led to me working at that recruitment agency?

Most definitely left its mark on my life. A few years later, I opened the first business I got to call my own. I’m still inordinately proud of that logo, lol.

The moment that you feel that 

just possibly 

you’re walking down the street naked 

exposing too much of your heart 

and your mind 

and what exists on the inside 

showing too much of yourself 

that’s the moment 

you may be starting to get it right

– Neil Gaiman

Photo credit top to bottom: Simon Berger on Unsplash; Japan Ad Council