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When the going gets tough...

I recently read an article about a very inspirational individual, here’s the story…

“At the age of seven a young boy and his family were forced out of their home. The boy had to work to support his family. At the age of 9, his mother passed away. When he grew up, the young man was keen to go to law school, but had no education.

At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. At 23, he ran for state legislature and lost. The same year, he went into business. It failed, leaving him with a debt that took him 17 years to repay. At 27, he had a nervous breakdown.

Two years later, he tried for the post of speaker in his state legislature. He lost. At 31, he was defeated in his attempt to become an elector. By 35, he had been defeated twice while running for Congress. Finally, he did manage to secure a brief term inn Congress, but at 39, he lost his re-election bid.

At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 42, he was rejected as a prospective land officer. At 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. Two years later, he lost the vice presidential nomination. At 49, he ran for Senate and lost again.

At 51, he was elected the President of the United States of America."                           -   Author Unknown

The man in question? Abraham Lincoln          

In my last article , I shared how building resilience is a key part of being successful in life, Abraham Lincoln strengthened his resilience and overcame some significant challenges to achieve his goal.

Hopefully most of us will never experience the extremities of misfortune that Abraham Lincoln endured, nevertheless, there are certainly times when we have and will feel defeated, knocked back and frustrated. Here I share with you a real-life case study of working with a client who felt she was a failure…

Case study – Heidi*

Heidi held a key role in a corporate organisation, during a coaching conversation she broke down in tears and was physically shaking at the situation she saw herself in. It emerged that Heidi felt like she was not doing a good job, she didn’t understand her assignment in this role and she was afraid to ask because she didn’t want to look like she didn’t know what she was doing (or as she termed it ‘stupid’) and she said she felt like a failure. Heidi shared that she had been working long hours and weekends, she felt constantly sick and was losing sleep.

Listening to Heidi, she described:




 Behaviour         (Expressed in public)

 Behaviour (Expressed in private)

Unsure of role and clarity of expectations, lack of progress in role



  "I’m useless"

  "I’m rubbish"

  "I’m stupid"

  "I should know this"

  "I am a failure”



Attempting to feign the “swan on the lake” – serene and calm above water, taking it all in her stride.

Crying, withdrawn, working beyond self-limit, showing frustration to her family, highly charged emotion.


In the session we took a step back away and observed the situation from a distance, Heidi could see clearly where the barrier was, she needed to speak to her manager and gain clear expectations. However, it wasn’t as clear cut as that, as Heidi believed this would show a weakness. Gradually we unpicked the situation and using evidence to challenge each area, Heidi identified that the responsibility for clarity lay between both her and her manager. At this point, an unusual (or some may say usual) thing happened, Heidi was relieved to have found an escape and decided it was easier to lay all the blame with her manager. We talked further about her frustrations and Heidi identified how and when she would have an adult-to-adult discussion with her manager.

The following session I saw a much more relaxed, happy and more confident Heidi as she talked about her role and her manager, she reflected on the situation and was able to use it as experiential learning, she said she had started noticing when she experienced negative self-talk and was able to challenge the internal dialogue and look at the evidence to support or challenge her beliefs.

*Heidi, name changed to maintain confidentiality.


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Harvard Lewis Associates

Midlands, United Kingdom

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07977 229059

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