November 29, 2023
By Dave Bushy, PCC
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost – “The Road Not Taken”
As coaches, in service to our clients, we often use metaphors, literary resources, and sometimes even poems. One day I was speaking with a client about the choices he faced. One of my questions centered on how he had made decisions in the past.
My question was, “Please tell me about a time you made a significant choice in your personal or professional life.”
I was met with a gaze and a significant period of silence. Then it came as an incredibly long exhalation and a very noticeable: “Sigh….”
“What does the sigh mean to you?” I quietly asked.
“When I think of the decisions I’ve made in life, sometimes I reflect back on them and I wonder…” he paused.
“About the consequences of the choices I’ve made – or have been forced to make by circumstances – and the varying interpretations I can make about them.“
He went on to describe feelings of regret and some sense of loss about some personal decisions. He talked about the many professional choices he had made, beginning with his major in college, first job out of school and at least half a dozen jobs that were offered to him – some that he took and others that he turned down. He went on to speak about the unexpected outcomes of choices – how moving down one path had far reaching consequences than he could have ever imagined.
Have you ever read the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken?” I asked.
“Yes, it’s hanging on the wall in my study.”
“Please read me the last stanza – the one about the sigh.”
He read the stanza at the beginning of this blog out loud.
What do you think the sigh is?” I asked.
“I’d forgotten about the sigh. It strikes me that it can mean many things,” he said.
“Tell me more.”
“As I think about it, the sigh can, in retrospect, mean relief. When I was moved out of one job and into another, I might have been angry and the sigh contained real frustration.”
“And as I get older, I realize that the move was the best thing that ever happened to me. My sigh contains gratitude and the fact that in so many ways, I dodged a bullet in my career.”
We continued to explore the “sighs” he felt and how his viewpoints had changed and continue to do so. I invited him to explore other times in his life and to reframe his experiences. Seeing them in retrospect and knowing the holistic aspects and outcomes caused him to consider different perspectives and the learnings from them.
What is contained in the sigh? Consider your own experiences and take the time for reflection and meaning making. Frost invited you to do so and I encourage it as well.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). Dave is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.