A recent obituary in The New York Times read: Walter Pichler, 75, an Artist Who Bucked the Status Quo.
I am not familiar with Mr. Pichler or his work, but I read the article because the headline drew me like a moth to flame. Bravo to him. Let’s here it for not always doing what we’re told, what society expects or what tradition dictates.
So I guess that also explains my attraction to this quote in a recent edition of The Writer’s Almanac even though I’d never read any of this writer’s work: "As a bookish child in Calcutta, I used to thrill to the adventures of bad girls whose pursuit of happiness swept them outside the bounds of social decency," said novelist Bharati Mukherjee.
You and me both. Bring me those stories, once as a bookish child and now as an adult who makes a living talking to people who feel the same way and often want permission to go with it. As a life coach, this is often the easiest form of validation I can give and it is just as frequently the kind that feels palpably transformative right in the moment whether a session is on the phone or across a café table.
Imagine my delight last week, then, when about halfway through an hour-long consultation with someone, he said this: “I’ve settled for the status quo.”
This is so layered and it hit me in waves. First, the gravity of the admission for the person. Second, his use of the verb “settled” to indicate he knew there was something more for him. Third, the realization of the opening it gave me as a coach to tread into what can sometimes be dicey territory.
There is much celebration in our society when people do what is expected of them. This isn’t meant to be a criticism of living a neat life of growing up, getting a traditional job we stick to, latching on to a life partner, doing community work, having children and marking milestones. There’s good stuff in there. Smiling faces and tenure and diplomas and doing the financial things necessary to support a lifestyle we’ve created.
But there are lots of us who only wanted part of the expected scenario, who eschewed the rest or who embraced it all then regretted it. Or who want to switch out one part, like the humdrum job. Or who want to augment the traditional with something bold that taps into what makes our soul sing like it’s on stage at the Met.
According to the aforementioned obit, architect Walter Pichler moved to a farm and created works “mainly to please himself.” Further, it quoted Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as saying he was part of a group of Austrian architects “who took a visionary approach and made images of architecture that completely defied the status quo … They began to explore the emotional resonances of architecture. A building might just tell a story, rather than just be a function.”
It’s how his art came to him. An urge one gets, whether it’s involving our creative outlets or, say, a seemingly rogue impulse or instinct about how to best raise a child or give a presentation. The key is to actually listen to that urge, to have the confidence to follow the instinct.
The issue for many becomes clear very early in our sessions – fear of failure or fear of success. The former fear is one that people will often admit to, readily self-diagnose. They want to know how to push through it. I like to take clients to a place where they imagine the worst-case scenario, the failure coming to fruition and how that goes from there. What actually do they envision happening if they fail at this venture? Going to that place can demystify it and be the beginning of squashing it.
Fear of success can be trickier. Most times clients don’t see this in themselves, so it’s up to me to bring it up. Might you be afraid to do well? As with any of these, drilling down can go beyond the scope of a coach and belong in a dialogue with a therapist. But if it is more surface, if a man knows exactly what he wants and needs to do to move his life forward and is stagnant because he is admittedly unsure of how he will handle what he wants once he gets it, the mere voicing of it can provide the needed jolt.
When the gentleman who felt he was settling for the status quo started opening up, when he started realizing maybe he’s become comfortable with uncertainty, I suggested maybe it was time to be done with that and to “Give peace a chance.” I could almost feel him nodding through the phone and I’m pretty sure John Lennon would be OK with this particular interpretation or iteration of his beautiful words.
Sometimes the peace comes from living the status quo. Other times, not so much.
But it almost never involves settling. That I can promise you.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.