When Jane first came to see me she was quite down. Not depressed but certainly out of sorts. “There’s nothing seriously wrong” she said, “and certainly nothing to see a doctor or a therapist about. But I’m just not very happy at the moment. I feel blue too often, and I don’t know why.”
Jane was in her late 40s and smartly dressed in a grey business suit and a light blue silk blouse. She worked as a senior administrator in a major law firm in the city and everything about her spoke of efficiency and professionalism. Her husband, Bill, was a solicitor in a different firm and she had two teenage daughters, Christina and Louise.
“Everyone thinks we have the perfect life”, Jane said, “Even I do! I have everything I had ever wished for when I was a teenager like Chrissy and Loo. I just can’t understand why it doesn’t seem enough. Am I a terrible person for feeling blue and wanting more? I don’t even know what it is that I want more of!”
“How long have you felt this way?” I asked.
“For years really” she replied “but it has been getting worse over the last 18 months or so.”
“Can you remember a time when you didn’t feel so blue?”
“I suppose it would be when the girls were younger. Maybe about 10 years ago. I was frantically busy in those days and often exhausted. Maybe I just didn’t have time to feel blue. Once both girls started school I went back to work part time. But Bill was working very long hours so most of the household chores fell to me. And when Bill got a promotion, we moved to a nice new house so there was all the decorating to organise and a new kitchen and furniture to sort out. Gosh, I was busy!”
“What did you enjoy most about those days?”
“Do you know what? I hadn’t really thought of it before but I think it was just looking after the girls. We were so close. They are less than two years apart in age so they’ve always been great friends as well as sisters. After tea we liked to play a game together, something like “Sorry”. And then sometimes we’d all play with the girls’ “Beanie Babies”. Do you remember them? We’d make up stories together about the various animals. Or sometimes we’d all just snuggle under a duvet and take turns reading. They are such happy memories. I feel quite emotional even thinking about it”
“What emotion do you feel most strongly, remembering those days?
There was a long pause while Jane thought about this. And then she said “It’s strange. The word that keeps coming to the top of my mind is caring. I got to look after my girls and care for them and they loved me for it and I loved them back. That’s strange isn’t it? You’d think caring would be a chore or a duty, not a source of happiness.”
“When else have been able to care for someone?”
“Well my Mum, of course. My Dad died when I was in my twenties, just a year after I married and my Mum lived on her own until she also died two years ago. She was such a fantastic person, full of life and she never ever felt sorry for herself. But after she fell and broke her hip she was never quite the same. I needed to look after her more and I’d drop in to see her most days. She was great. She never complained and she was always so pleased to see me. “Are you alright, dear?” she used to say to me, “Is there anything more I can do to help?” – As if she was caring for me, rather than the other way around. I suppose it runs in the family. Loo is very caring too. Chrissy less so. She’s more like her father: Full of great ideas, with a very active mind.”
“Who do you care for these days?”
“Well I still care for the girls, of course, and Bill. But it’s not the same. The girls have loads of friends and activities they are involved in and I am so proud of them. I know it’s the way it should be and it would be awful if they just lounged around the house all the time. But even though we are still great friends they obviously don’t need me in quite the same way. And my Mum’s gone. So in answer to your question, who do I care for these days? I’d have to say I don’t have anyone who needs me to look after them anymore, like it has been in the past.
“What about at work?”
“I do care for people at work, especially some of the younger members of staff who come to me for advice from time to time. But at the end of the day, I suppose I am seen as part of management. So no-one is going to ask me about anything too personal or too difficult. I love my job and I think I am incredibly good at it. So that is a very important part of my life which I wouldn’t want to be without. But it’s not got much to do with caring for others in the personal way that we have been talking about.”
“Are you starting to reach a conclusion here?”
“Yes I am. And I am amazed it is so simple. I couldn’t work out why I feel so blue but it was staring me in the face all the time. I have a need to care for people and I am not really doing that at the moment. In fact I can even trace my feelings of being down to the girls starting to grow up and then my Mum dying. There is an empty place in my life that I can’t seem to fill with other ways of being busy or enjoying myself”.
“What you have identified is one of your core values” I said. “And yes, you are right: When one of your core values is not being met, nothing else can fill the gap – not even doing more to satisfy some of your other core values.”
“So” I said, “the big $64,000 question is with that knowledge what options do you have for meeting your core value of caring in the future?”
“Hmmm. I’m going to have to think about that for a week or so and maybe have another talk with you. But one thing that occurs is the local Children’s Hospice. My friend, Jill works there as a Senior Nurse and she says that some of the kids come from over 50 miles away so their parents and families can’t visit them as often they would like. Jill says they are always looking for volunteers to befriend the children and maybe play some games with them. I don’t know if I could do that or not. Obviously there would be training involved and I would have to prepare myself for the kids not getting better and maybe even dying. But it does break my heart to think that they might like a visitor and the poor things having no-one to come and see them sometimes.
“What difference would it make to your life if you volunteered at the Hospice?”
“I think it would change everything. As I say I’m still not sure I could do it. And I’ll have to talk about it first with Bill and the girls. But already I have a feeling that this could be the right step for me. It would be very different to my working life but I wouldn’t have to give that up. I’m actually much more emotional than most people think. They see this busy, efficient person who always stays calm and in control. But underneath I have very strong emotions that maybe I daren’t show too often. I’d have to be prepared for those emotions to come to the surface more often if I volunteered at a Hospice! But maybe that’s what my life needs just now.”
I think you can guess the outcome of this story. Jane did talk it over with her family and they too were worried that she would find going to the Hospice too draining and upsetting. But when we next talked it over she decided that if that was the case she could always give it up. It was not as if it was going to be an irreversible decision. So she did volunteer; and it has quite simply transformed her life. Instead of upsetting her, the children brought her a joy and happiness beyond anything she could have imagined. And, of course, she now brings that joy with her wherever she goes – back home, at work and with her friends. She still looks as professional and efficient as ever. But she has a glint in her eye these days which tells you about another side to her: A side full of warmth and compassion.
The key to Jane’s transformation was the identification of “caring for others” as one of her core values. Everyone has between 8-12 core values that need to be met in order for them to feel contented and fulfilled. But everyone is unique. No two people have the same set of values and many people do not have “caring for others” as one of their main values. It only takes around an hour with Horizons Life Coaching to reveal your own core values but the benefits can be felt for a lifetime.
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PLEASE NOTE: This case study is based on a number of real-life cases, in order to illustrate and explain the coaching process. All names and many of the details in the story have been changed to protect client confidentiality. The photograph is a model, not a real client.