Are you making the most of your one, true, authentic swing?

You have a talent that is unique in its expression, so unique that there’s no one else alive on this planet that has that talent, or the expression of that talent.
Deepak Chopra

Did you know that you certainly have a natural, powerful talent — a gift. It lies deep within you and has greater power in it than the other skills and talents that you have developed throughout education and experience.

Few of us know what our unique gift is, and life’s experiences may have buried it very deep.

In a pivotal moment in the film The Legend of Bagger Vance, Will Smith’s Bagger Vance is speaking to a small boy about this,

Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… Somethin’ we was born with… Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone… Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… Somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can, rob us of that swing… It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…

There are many hurdles that can prevent us from finding our “authentic swing”. Few people feel, in truth, that they have any sort of unique talent. Education, and life with friends, parents and siblings has taught the majority of us that we have many failings and weaknesses and fewer significant strengths, certainly none that are that special or unique.

It is sad but true that for the majority of the population, between 80% and 90% of all feedback we receive between the ages of 2 and 18 is critical, negative or at least corrective in some way. Think about it.

At school a teacher may give a child a good mark discreetly at the bottom of a page for a piece of work well done, and once or twice a year there are prize-givings to celebrate success. But how does this compare emotionally to the much more frequent experiences a child will have of being told not good enough, do better, stop doing that, or — as encapsulated so beautifully at the beginning of Peter Weir’s film Dead Poets Society when one of the old school teachers bellows at a staircase full of excited, energetic, vibrant children slow down you horrible phalanx of pubescence.

Most teachers and parents aren’t deliberately negative; but the impact of many years of having one’s weaknesses, failings and mistakes pointed out has a psychological impact — we remember our failings much better than we remember what we are naturally good at.

Life is so full of things we should do and ought to do that it is easy to forget what it is we are born to do!

One of the clues to discovering your own authentic swing is that it may have frustrated others, and that when those others have been in authority — parents, teachers, managers — they may have unconsciously tried to change you or prevent you from using this natural gift.

Often our authentic swing is at the root of our most notable behavioural characteristics; and in our early years it is often these effortless behaviours that get us into most trouble.

I was working with the senior management team of a global software development company, and we were discussing this topic. One of the group, an engineer by training, suddenly told us that one of the most significant memories of his childhood was always being told off for “breaking” his toys. What he couldn’t explain to his irritated parents was that he wasn’t breaking the toys but taking them apart to see how they worked.

One of his colleagues said, me too! But I wasn’t taking them apart to see how they worked, but to see if I could get them back together again. If it was easy I didn’t enjoy the toy but if it took ages and was really hard, I loved it.

A third member of the group said, it was like that for me too; but I wanted to see if I could make something different with the same pieces.

These engineers — each of whom had experienced considerable criticism from parents and teachers for breaking things — suddenly realised that their authentic swings were, respectively, understanding things, making things work, and inventing things. These natural behaviours corresponded exactly to the role that each of these managers had been given in the company when the business was starting up, but for two of them their roles had changed as the organisation grew and they were now deeply frustrated. They were not doing what they loved or loved what they were doing.

Anyone who knows me will find it all too obvious when I tell you that the behaviour that got me into most trouble at school was talking. Talking back, talking out of turn, talking in the dormitory, talking in lessons, asking too many questions, talking back!

For most of my formative years I was extremely self-conscious about how often the use of my voice got me into trouble. However, over the past twenty five years I have earned my living asking questions and telling stories. I get paid well for both but it is interesting to note that I get paid my highest hourly rates for just … talking … as a keynote speaker.

Another client, Alan, discovered his authentic swing through crisis. After many months of reorganising a very complicated work life specifically to be more at home with his young wife and baby child he found that, although he had achieved the outcome of being with the family more, when he was at home he disappeared off to his workshop and started playing again with his old electronics kits. He could not understand, when everything was finally as he wanted it to be, why he was damaging his family life by disappearing off on his own and not taking part. It was an odd behaviour that was causing tension and one he couldn’t seem to stop.

We got to discussing his work. Simultaneously with reorganising his home life, he had actively taken a greater interest in developing himself as a leader and was doing great work in this regard. He was developing others, delegating responsibility, leaving team members to make their own successes and discoveries, and this was one of the factors that enabled him to spend more time at home. And herein lay the problem!

Alan discovered that in leading, empowering and actively developing his team they were getting better and better at solving their own problems; something he missed. He missed them coming to him to — you’ve guessed it — solve their problems.

His authentic swing was solving complex problems; it was what he did. It was what he loved. With fewer complex problems to solve at work, he resorted to the complexity of his electronics kits. I only enjoy the electronics when I have built a circuit or a device and it doesn’t work. I love solving things that aren’t working.

If prevented from utilising your natural talent, you will feel frustrated and may end up displaying all sorts of out of character behaviour or — in Alan’s case, displaying characteristic behaviour but in an odd way!

Personally, if I am prevented from speaking out, speaking up, expressing my point of view it hurts until I could burst. I have to be mindful of this inclination. It means that I have a tendency to speak and then listen; not the best sequence. It means that other less vocal people don’t always feel they have a say. I can be daunting for those who are less articulate; and that is not an attractive trait in me.

Our authentic swing, it seems, is never far below the surface of our tensions.

Notice what you do — naturally, and without thinking

I recently had an opportunity to co-facilitate a seminar programme with one of my associates; a rare pleasure as we tend all to work solo with different clients.

Pat and I ran a series of two or three-day workshops for a business client and we spent many days together in training rooms. Every day Pat would arrive in the room with me and immediately start to straighten the chairs, the flip-charts, our facilitators’ table and the water glasses and sweets on the delegates tables. It was habit that I noticed and made no comment about.

I also noticed that Pat would often walk up to a participant after a session that I had been running and sit quietly with them for three or four minutes and then, with both of them smiling, she would walk away. It was almost always someone who had visibly struggled with an idea or an exercise in the session. When Pat returned from one of these moments, she told me, sometimes Adrian they just need some help getting their thoughts straight!

During one week we had some difficulty with the venue we were using; things had not been smooth and efficient. Forgetting, for one moment, my own teaching (!) I had been a little sharp with the duty manager. Pat said, leave this to me Adrian I am sure I can get things straightened out.

That was it! That was all we needed. Pat, do you know what your own Gift is? I asked. As she thought about it she realised that Getting Things Straight was what she had always done. As a small child she loved putting things away in her room and straightening out her toy cupboard. Her grown-up children can’t wait for her visits because she straightens out out all her grandchildren’s cupboards!

Pat is just as good at straightening out ideas, things, situations and — according to her husband — straightening out people from time to time if they cross her!

When I think back through my life, the most engaging moments for me have been spent with talkers, with people who express through the spoken word; debating, arguing, teasing, discussing, brainstorming, presenting, challenging, questioning, asking, performing, provoking, thinking out loud, story-telling, singing. I also look back with the horror that dawns with self- knowledge and recognise why there were many others who did not engage with me, did not relate to me and did not find a perpetual stream of words comfortable. If only we had access to wisdom earlier! Would I have spoken less? Maybe not. But I would have known how to better prevent the discomfort of others.

Understand that your authentic swing is core to your being

I learned much about this from an exceptional teacher, Calvin Germain. Calvin is a mentor and his work is largely about enabling people to discover what he prefers to call their Core Process. Calvin describes Core Process as the process that happens inside you when you meet data, information and events in the outside world.

Calvin’s friend and colleague Dick Richards describes it thus in his book Setting Your Genius Free:

To understand the idea of core process, imagine yourself inside a box. Data comes into the box at one end. Something happens to the date within the box, and something comes out of the box the other end. The thing that happens inside the box is Core Process.

When Pat encounters data she straightens it out. When Alan encounters data he solves the complexity in it. When our engineers encounter data they take it apart to see how it works, make things with it and invent things with it. For me, when I encounter data I think about it, try to make it clear and simple and then I am almost bound to talk about it. My core process is simply talking. This is not exotic, or complex, or that impressive on the face of it. But it earns me a very good living.

Your core process is simple. It is uncomplicated.

You may have become a rocket scientist but your core process is likely to be Making Things Fly; you may be a talented teacher but your core process may be Engaging The Heart; your career may be in high finance but your core process could be Seeing The Patterns; you may have found balancing home and work a real trial because your core process is Building The Nest. A writer I know discovered her core process is, unsurprisingly, Telling The Story. A journalist I have coached calls his core process Laying Things Bare. A business coach I have worked with calls his core process Making The Connection.

Your core process will be:

- simple (a child would understand it, because you have been doing it since you were no older that five, six or seven)

- active (the words to describe it will contain a verb, a doing word with -ing on the end, signifying movement and continuity)

- literal and metaphorical (it will be actually true and it will describe metaphorically many of the things you do)

- positive (what may have been criticised by others is now recognised by you as valuable and good)

- an unconscious competence (you can do it effortlessly without being aware of it)

- seemingly unimportant to you until now

- what it is and not necessarily what you want it to be

and it may be:

- something that has frustrated others or been belittled or constrained by others especially when you were a child

Check the examples I have given against these criteria. They fit mine: a core process Simply Talking is something a child can understand. It is something active! Simply Talking is both a literal description of what I do best and it is also a metaphor for making things simple before talking about them. I believe that my presentations and masterclasses have a value for some people which is a good thing. It is unconscious — I don’t have to think before speaking (something that people often tell me I ought to do more of!) It seems too simple to be of value. I mean everyone can talk! It isn’t that special or unique!

Finally, I could not have imagined making a living largely using the voice that got me into so much trouble as a child.