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February 18, 2010

Relationship Roots: The importance of going back to the beginning

We have been reading Esther Perel’s new book, Mating in Captivity, partly in preparation for her visit in April.

It is phenomenal. Really very interesting. Esther’s voice and perspective is not only warm but also refreshing and reasoned. Her skill as both therapist and writer is clear. She articulately retells stories of her clients, weaving in relevant psychological themes, historical and multi-cultural perspectives, and modern day relationship realities.

What I was also struck by was a few strong parallels to our business consulting work. One parallel was the effectiveness of “going back to the beginning”.

Esther shares how she frequently will have new clients recount how they met each other.

She writes:
“People don’t usually come to me when they are still in the initial thrall of love. Sometimes they need a gentle reminder of what once was. It can be difficult for estranged or distressed couples to focus on what drew them together, but within every couple’s ‘creation myth’ lies the key to understanding the unfolding story of their relationship.”

This reminds me a lot of those entrepreneurs who get hijacked by their business. We often work with women who struck out on their own with zeal and enthusiasm. The reasons for being the boss were clear and the benefits of entrepreneurship were plentiful.

Fast forward a few years later, these same women feel imprisoned by a business that they no longer like. They are subject to a work system that no longer meets their needs or works for them.

Maybe they are working way too much. Maybe they are doing tasks that they don’t like. Maybe they aren’t nearly making enough money. Maybe every modicum of flexibility or balance has been gobbled by their business. Maybe they are just tired and uninspired. In every case, they are off track.

In order to getting better understanding of the situation we, like Esther, ask them to tell us about the beginning. Why did they start? What did they want and hope for at the beginning? What did they feel? What did they love about their new role and venture? And perhaps, what was uncomfortable about it?

The story that is told always feels leagues away from the current and unhappy reality. It helps us to see the entrepreneur in a different, more revitalized light. It helps them to reconnect with their original intentions and motivations. And most importantly it provides the clues for why the present state is so unsatisfying.

In both cases, personal relationships and professional ventures, it is helpful to find concrete ways of hanging on to some of those beginning feelings. They should be readily accessible and frequently reminded. It is too easy to let years of data and experience and disappointment and misunderstanding file on top of those founding thoughts and feelings, obscuring them and leaving them buried under an unfavorable history.

So, while you’re thinking of it, why did you get started?

What were your original hopes, motivations, and intentions?

What did you want to achieve with your business? Has that changed over time? Have you allowed your business to change with it?

posted by Adelaide Lancaster

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