I was working with a coaching client the other day, who needed to make a presentation about a very, very important project. The project would obliquely benefit him, in that it would radically increase his prestige. It could potentially bring him millions of dollars. But that was nothing close to the impact it would have on other people. This project has the possibility to alleviate poverty for millions of people, to change the face of how we think about social problems on the planet. In order to get funding and approval, he had to pitch this, with my support as a coach, to the powers that be who operate on a massive scale: who are dealing with billions of dollars every day.
We went in to a meeting together, where he felt that his future and his career were on the line. Mine was not, I was just the coach. We had a meeting with an extremely brilliant young man. He did not control the dollars, but he was a really brilliant creative young man, in his late 20’s. He was, by all counts, awesome: so brilliantly intelligent that you had to lean forward in your chair to follow everything he was saying. He was so brilliant that it was breathtaking, but also very obviously relaxed and egoless. He was not tooting his own horn. He was clearly dedicated to making the world a better place.
During the meeting, we had quite different experiences. My coaching client was feeling that his entire future and career, as well as his livelihood, rested on how this meeting went. For me it did not. I would have done a good job coaching him whether or not he got his funding. He had much more at stake in this meeting than I did.
When we left the meeting he said he wanted to reflect a little bit, so we went to a private place to be able to speak. He said, “I noticed during this meeting that I was looking at this man, and noticing how brilliant he was, and then I found myself shrinking in comparison. I was comparing myself with him, thinking he was so much more intelligent than me, so much more assured than me, so much more egoless than me. When I compared myself with him, I felt like such a phony, and a fake, and a failure. The whole meeting was a downer for me. I ended up just clamming up and not saying anything. But I noticed your expression was quite different. You seemed to be actually flourishing, and getting more and more animated in your exchange with him.”
When I reflected a moment on what he said, I realized that it was basically true. The meeting, to me, had been inspiring, and juicy, whereas the meeting for him had been a downer. Just as he had shrunk in the presence of this young man, I had somehow flourished from the meeting. So we had to discuss this, and think what had happened.
Of course, there was a lot more at stake for him in this meeting; his career, his status in the company, and his livelihood would depend on the meeting. It made him tense. But there was another piece to it too. I had to look into my experience of why was this meeting such an inspiration for me and not for him. I had to look at what was happening for each of us internally.
As I tried to model my own inner experience for his benefit, I realized that in the presence of this brilliant young man, I was subjectively experiencing something like love. I was looking at him and feeling, ‘You are amazing. You are inspiring. Keep talking. Tell me more about you.’ The more I focused on him, and how brilliant he was, the more I truly loved him. This is an unusual word to use, of course, in a corporate context. Somewhat verboten. The more I loved him, the more the conversation became inspiring to both of us. My coaching client, on the other hand, instead of loving the young man’s brilliance, was comparing, and shrinking as a result.
As I loved him, I could also feel where I could give to him, contribute to his greater unfolding. Because I was loving him, just as a father might love a child, or as anybody might love anybody, I was feeling where I could find a way to give him more than he already had. In loving him, and feeling what how I could contribute to him, the meeting became one of giving instead of comparing.
The more you give, the more you become what you seek to give.
So I turned this into a practice for my client, right there on the spot. I turned it into a practice that I taught my client; which has been helpful to him; and it is a practice I am going to share with you now. I have made a little video. When you are in the presence of somebody brilliant, and you can feel yourself shrinking, here is how you can turn the experience into something that can be nourishing and empowering to both of you.