Archive for purpose

If you can’t find a supporter find an imaginery one



Doreen Pemberton receiving her nursing certificate

Doreen Pemberton receiving her nursing certificate

Today is a special day.  Through the post arrived copies of my new book Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches (McGraw Hill).  The title makes  clear what it is about and who it is written for.  I obviously hope it will help coaches do good work with their clients, but my excitement is about more than seeing the front cover and hoping it will do well  in Amazon’s rankings.  It is the excitement of realising that I have written  something that I could not have imagined doing 5 years ago.

The genesis of this book came from working with a particular client who I felt I failed.  I did not recognise that his resilience had left him, because I was used to seeing a man who was confident, successful and achieving.  When he seemed changed, I assumed I was meeting him on a ‘bad day’ and worked with him on the symptoms of that day, rather than realising what was really going on.  When he eventually became ill, I was shocked at what I had not seen, and it jolted me into action.  I began reading on resilience, I went on workshops and eventually I signed up to do doctoral research on resilience from the perspective of coaching.  I completed the doctorate and the outcome of that process is the book which McGraw Hill/OU Press have now published.


The book is a symbol of my  learning, but it is also a  marker of my own resilience.  I started a doctorate many years ago and abandoned it, although the conditions to complete it could not have been easier.  I was working in a business school.  I had easy access to organisations.  My fees were paid.  I could legitimately claim time to study.  Yet, I abandoned the work because it failed to make my heart sing.  I could see no purpose in doing the work, other than getting a qualification.  This time around, I achieved a doctorate despite working full time, paying my own way, having to negotiate access and giving up weekends and holidays.  What got me up at 5am in the morning to write before going to work, was not the lure of a qualification, but the desire to learn and for that learning to strengthen my own work .

And, there was another reason: I drew on the role modelling of my mother.  She had died shortly before I began the doctorate.  She was a feisty woman who had left school at 13, and who began studying in her 40’s, so that she could win a place to train to be a nurse.  The memory of her getting up  on a dark winters’ morning to ride her moped to a hospital many miles away; working nights,  and somehow managing to care for 3 children as a single parent, without ever complaining, stayed with me.  Her example sustained me as I wrote. At times I could even hear her voice telling me to just keep going.

Resilience research repeatedly reports 2 key themes in those who get through tough times:

  • The power of having a purpose
  • The importance of having support

My own experience supports those themes, but what I have also learnt is that  support can be virtual.  As much as it is enormously valuable to have friends and family who are physically there for us, it is also true that we can create our own virtual support system.  Calling on people who are no longer present in our lives, but who model qualities which can help us achieve our goals, can  be as powerful as having them physically present.  It is a tactic reported by people who have been taken captive.  As they live day to day in the harshest of conditions, they imagine those who love them talking to them with encouragement, and they use their voices to  keep them going.  Asking ourselves  “What would . . .   say to me if they were here right now?” can be a powerful motivator in tough times.


So, as I look at the book, I am celebrating not just the journey that took me from a feeling inadequate in my understanding of resilience, to being able to write a book about it, I am also celebrating the parental voice that kept me going.

If you are facing a challenge which is testing your resilience right now, then ask yourself:

  • Do I have a purpose in getting me through this?
  • Who can I draw on for support, even if  they are not physically here for me?

You can find out about the book by watching the video at www.





Go On Take A Risk

old man on a bike

A 60 year old man came up at the end of a  presentation.  I had been talking about one of the markers of resilient leaders being their  ability to go beyond comfort.  Expecting a conversation about his  leadership, I was surprised when he began by confessing, “I have never learnt to ride a bike”. His colleague over hearing then added, “How do I learn a new sport as a middle aged man, when I know I won’t be any good”.  The answer to both their comments was the same: find a purpose and you will find the courage.  There is an apochryphal story that Albert Einstein learned to ride a bike when he was 80.  The truth of the story is less important than its message.  Learning to ride a bike at 80 cannot have been easy, but if he did so, he did it because he found a reason why riding a bike was now important to him.  It may have been linked to reduced mobility, or it may have been directed by the desire to master a new skill.  Whatever the reason, he had a purpose, and that purpose sustained him through the embarrassment of the failed attempts that were necessary before his body had the physical memory of how to balance on 2 wheels.


What was holding back the rookie tennis player was the belief  that he looked a fool on the tennis court, even though he was a successful businessman.  He was trapped by a sense that he should be good, and therefore he was judging himself harshly for his constant double faults and inability to hit the ball where he wanted to.  His fear of being bad was the very thing that was ensuring he could not be good.  He needed to  replace fear with  purpose.  What else could tennis give him beyond winning?  Once he finds  that purpose: whether it is doing something with his children, enjoying being outdoors, or making new friends, it will be easier to quieten the internal critic and pay curious attention to what he is doing with his racquet.  It is probable that the less he worries about his technique, the better his technique will become.


It is undoubtably harder to expose oneself to failure as one grows older.  No toddler ever judges their attempts to walk as so abysmal that they will give up walking.  They are so directed by the desire to have their first experience of independence that they simply pick themselves up and start again. They are not afraid of failure because they accept it as secondary to achieving a desired end.  As adults we need to accept the value in continuing to expose ourselves to new learning and risk, and define the reason for doing so, more broadly than being the best.

What We Can Learn From Stephen Sutton



The response to the death of Stephen Sutton has been profound.  The inspirational 19 year old, who with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, decided to use every day he had left to him to live to his mantra of “it’s not how long you live, it’s the experiences you have”  has been extraordinary.  We do not expect 19 year olds to die of cancer.  We do not expect 19 year olds to use their experience as a focus for raising millions of pounds.  We do not expect 19 year olds to face death head on.  We do not expect those things, not because he was 19, but because it is not how most people deal with impending death.


What Stephen did was to decide, if he could not have the life expectancy he expected, how could he create a purpose for his life?  He did it with such energy, positivity and humour that he became an irresistible  force: as signalled in the celebrities and politicians lining up to be associated with him.  More crucially, in the creation of the purpose, he made the process of his dying easier.


We know from all the research on resilience that it is the creation of purpose that gets people through the tough times. It is being able to decide that as difficult as a situation is, I can choose to create meaning from it.  It is seen in accounts of prisoners of war and concentration camp survivors.  It is seen in the stories of families who create campaigns  and charities, following the death of a family member.  It is seen in the accounts of children who decide that they will fight the odds and escape from challenging family backgrounds.  There is nothing more valuable than purpose.  It gives us a compass point for our actions.  It makes us persist when it would be easier to give up.  It makes people commit to doing work that is not financially rewarding but feeds their sense of purpose.


We react to Stephen Sutton’s story, because in his creation of purpose, he reminds us that if we have the luxury of more time for our living, we owe it to ourselves to live with purpose.


Stick or Slip: What’s Different When We Keep Our Promises to Ourselves?

What is it that makes us stick at something when the going gets tough, when at another time we may give up on exactly the same thing?  Think diets, smoking, exercise or a career goal.


I ask this questions because it is one I have been asking myself.  25 years ago working in a Business School, I could not have had better conditions for doing a PhD.  My fees were paid, I could study in work time, I had easy access to potential participants – but I gave up.  Roll forward and I have just finished a doctorate.  This time I paid my own fees, I did it whilst working fulltime, I gave up my weekends and holidays, and I had to find my own participants, and yet I got through.


The answer to my question is a simple one – I had purpose.

In my first attempt, I did not know why I was doing the doctorate – other than it was what my colleagues expected of me.  I was expected to approach it in a way which met with my boss’s approval, but which had little appeal to me.  I was uncertain of my focus, and as a consequence I was easily distracted into doing things which made a plausible case for not working on the research.

This time, I knew why I was doing it. I knew how I needed to do it in order for it to be motivating and valid for me.  I had a personal vision of what I wanted to do with the outcomes.  As a result my energy flowed easily towards the project.  There was no reason to procrastinate, every reason to keep going when the going got tough, and no difficulty in prioritising my activities.


So the learning is – if you want to move from I want to  . . . lose weight, get fitter, get promoted, change my career, be a better leader, then start by defining your purpose.  What is it you want by achieving your goal, because once you own that, the rest will follow.

Once you know why something is important to you, then you have started the process of succeeding.