The “Shoulds” on our shell
One of my favourite books, when I was a child, was “Arturo e Clementina”¹, a book about a sweet female tortoise (Clementina) and her loving but bossy partner (Arturo).
Clementina was dreaming of doing great creative things, but was kept back by her partner who thought her role was to stay in her little shell and take care of their nest.
Clementina wanted to learn how to play music? Arturo will buy her a music recorder. Clementina wanted to visit far away places? He would buy her a picture or souvenir from these places.
Day after day, all these presents were tied on top of Clementina’s shell, to the point she could almost not move anymore.
Until one day… she decided it was too much, she simply slipped out of her fancy, over-constructed shell and just went for a little refreshing bath in the pond. It was the most precious moment in her life, and… she just decided never to go back into her old shell.
This story definitely tells a lot about myself, raised in the ‘70s in a progressive family, where it was important to teach kids from a very young age about women’s rights and freedom, but apart from this…
Why am I telling you this story?
Believe it or not, I thought about this book several times during my coaching sessions.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not hearing about partners’ abusive behaviours, but I am hearing quite a good number of Clementinas that are playing Arturo with themselves: they keep adding new items on their shells, might that be in the form of beliefs about needing to please others, to be liked by everyone, to conform to Society’s expectations, to always have flawless performance, to be the smartest one in the room, to be on top of everything…
The verb that I hear more often is “I should”
… check that everything my team is in charge of is delivered on time and with excellent quality
… compromise so as to prevent conflicts with other departments or step on other leaders’ toes
… be very considerate when proposing new ideas that might disrupt the way things have always worked here
… be able to always provide correct timely answers on my area of expertise
…don’t let emotions interfere on the workplace
All these beliefs actually trap my coachees, they become a burden just like the items tied on Clementina’s shell. A burden hindering any movement and freedom of choice.
What I try to do as a coach is to walk with them until they see their own reflection in the pond, and the amount of items tied on their shells.
That’s when I invite them to try to unload a few items, and experiment how it feels to walk without them.
Most of the time, it isn’t easy at the beginning. The shell feels too light, and one feels too exposed. But it is the only way to be able to swim in the pond without drowning.
¹ Turin, Adela (1976), Arturo e Clementina. Motta Junior.
Fabulous illustrations by Nella Bosnia.
The book has been translated into several languages and I definitely recommend it if you have kids or little dear ones.