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Sometimes The Answer Is Right Under Your Nose

Does this sound familiar?

Some clients come to me when they are feeling stymied at best or paralyzed at worst about moving ahead. They were working on something but were struggling. They had already consulted with career coaches, marriage counselors or therapists. They were encouraged to bring their goal to life in various ways. Imagine the outcome and breathe life into it. Tap into the law of attraction. They were guided to access their creative power and told “you can do anything.” They gave it their best, but they were still stuck.

There is something about what they’d been trying to accomplish that just refused to get fixed. With each new approach, they thought they had the answer, they hoped they’d figured it out, but, nope.

Whatever they tried just didn’t work. The solution and how to get there was illusive. Just when they thought they’d discovered the path, when they thought they had a grip on it, the answer slipped through their fingers and they were back where they started. They had been spinning their wheels which left them very frustrating and more importantly, the lack of movement of any progress was damaging to their self esteem and confidence.

I was reminded about this type of frustration on a much smaller scale very recently.

I had an odd, trying experience in our tiny apartment kitchen. [Having both had designer kitchens in the past, we opted for the cathedral ceilings, loft for our home dance floor, and other amenities in this home. Simple food prep would do.] A little background. I’m not naturally a neat freak. It’s a skill I had to acquire to both enjoy and be able to use the space well. It took time and practice but I now fastidiously put things away and am constantly cleaning the sink and counter tops. There are never dishes collecting. Pots and pans are resting in their cupboards. It’s actually a very solid feeling.

When I entered the apartment and went to wash my hands in the kitchen sink on the first day of this annoying mystery, a weird smell wafted up from somewhere. I lifted my head, sniffed, turned to the right, sniffed again, to the left, again . . . but it was gone. I thought I might have made it up.

The same thing happened several times that day. A scent of something not so pleasant caught my attention, but then disappeared. I kept trying to trace it, but couldn’t.

The next day, the smell was there again . . . but only at moments. I poured Lysol down the drain in case it was coming from there. I washed off the clean countertops to be sure they were odor free. Still, the smell came and went.

On the third day, the now stinky scent oozed at me sinuously grabbing me by my olfactories and again disappearing. I kept trying to sniff it out but as soon as I caught it, it again seeped back to wherever its source was hiding.

I brought in an expert, the Super Scent Sleuth, my SO. He can detect gas in the air and mold better than any Olfactometer used in Marketing Research. He walked around the sink, sniffing higher and lower, left and right. Nothing. And I had to admit that at that moment I couldn’t smell anything either. But as soon as he left, the fetid stench drifted by again, and then evaporated into nothing.

That did it. I was on a mission. I removed everything from the counter tops, everything from the drawers, everything from under the sink. I washed everything down with bleach and then rinsed with plain water before putting it all back in place. For a moment I thought I’d done it.

I couldn’t smell anything but clean. I felt so accomplished. Until . . . Yep, it was back. I sighed and went back to my office, not ready to fight this invisible demon and lose again. I needed a break.

On the 5th day, we both detected it. I was a little excited that I wasn’t the only one detecting it. It smelled like old fish, but we never make fish at home. What was it?! We looked, moved things around, sniffed, but again, neither of us could find the source.

Day 6 – It was really bad. It smelled like the time a mouse died in the wall when I was a kid. Really disgusting. I was getting ready to call in the heavy artillery, the Super who would probably take the pipes apart under the sink to see if there was something blocking and rotting.

I felt a little uncomfortable and embarrassed enlisting his help, so I did my scouring routine and disinfectant down the drain one more time. To no avail. I was standing there looking over the half wall divider that separated the sink and counters from the dining/living room. I was shaking my head in annoyance, amazement and some embarrassment that I couldn’t find it. I didn’t want the Super to think we were anything but perfect tenants.

How could the source of this vile odor illude me?! It had to be right here . . . Right?!

I stared at the wall of living room windows half seeing, feeling beaten and frustrated when a small pool of liquid on the granite shelf top of the dividing wall caught my eye. It seemed to be emanating from that perfect big tomato I was saving for burgers.

How had I not seen this before…

When I tried to pick up the tomato, it collapsed like a deflated balloon and seeped sticky glop all over my hand. I gasped. This offensive tomato that looked whole until I touched it was the source of the putrid fumes. It was right there, all the time, but I didn’t see it. I had cleaned everything, numerous times but not that surface. This nasty smelling offender was hiding in plain sight, right under my poor defenseless nose.

This is somewhat of a dramatic story but isn’t it true that the answer to something bothering us is often hiding in plain sight? Instead of seeing what’s right there in front of us we do deep dives into our intentions, values and figuring out how to bring our dreams into real life. But it doesn’t help. Thinking about the focus of this series of articles/book, it’s also true for what stops us from getting to our stated goals.

Let me tell you about one of my clients, Seth. Seth had been a financial advisor for a large firm since he got out of his MA program in college. He was good at helping corporate clients make decisions that added to their bottom line and was working on moving up the ladder. He had a couple of fans that wanted to help him in his journey. He was motivated to grow but . . .

When he came into my office he seemed down and tired. When I asked what he was trying to accomplish, he sounded lethargic. I asked what was wrong. “Nothing,” he responded, but there was no excitement in his description of the new position or the work he was doing.

I asked him to give me a blow by blow account of how he spent his day. For each task and activity, I had him rate it on a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 was exciting or satisfying and 1 was boring or something he really didn’t enjoy doing. He could give each task any rating on the scale.

It turned out that he spent a couple of hours each day listening to colleagues who stopped into his office. They would tell him about some struggle they were having in the office, with a peer or boss or client OR something at home with family or friends. He enjoyed helping them talk about the problem. He was great at breaking the tension with a funny remark that left them laughing as they started to problem solve. They always left seeming relieved or a little inspired to try something they had talked about. And they would check in with him to let him know how they were doing.

These times got the highest ratings in his day. When he talked about them he was animated. His finance and accounting responsibilities paled in comparison. His face drooped as he sighed and expressed a combination of boredom and not valuing the work he was doing.

There it was in plain sight. No wonder he was dragging his heels in moving up in finance. It didn’t motivate him except for making more money. His true inspiration was helping people with life problems and his casual “clients” appreciated his input.

I asked him how he’d feel making a living by listening and problem solving. He sat up in his seat and said he’d love to do it, but was not experienced. That wasn’t true. He had been helping people informally for years. We did two things. He began looking for positions in Human Resources in his company and we talked about the possibility of setting up an independent coaching practice.

We laid out each goal and created a path for each. This included finding training and adding skills that could enhance his inherent interests and talents. We wrote resumes for each and got great references from the people he helped who were happy to support him on his new career.

Is this a stretch between the rotten tomato and a life goal? I don’t think so. Whether large of small we’re constantly besieged by problems whose solutions are not readily apparent. Why can’t we see something that’s right in front of our noses? Because it’s out of context. We all create context in our lives. When the problem is part of some other frame, it’s temporarily invisible. Seth’s “breaks” were not part of his work life paradigm. Nor were they part of his formal training or what he was accustomed to being paid for. The rotting tomato was NOT in my kitchen. It was on the room divider. It was part of a different conceptual structure. The tomato only caught my attention when it crossed the boundary by dripping into my awareness.

The same thing happens with goals. We thought it was one thing but we couldn’t get there because something else was asking us to pay attention.

Has that happened to you? Would love to hear about it.

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