High noon and the power of your stories

I stood frozen, staring, waiting for the clock to toll high noon. The tension was as palpable as a toothache.

Facing me was a scruffy, skinny kid who wore a know-it-all look of disdain on his face, partially hiding the three-inch scar on his left cheek. He was a mean and unpredictable bully.

On both sides of the dusty street, stood the town folk, mostly older men who seemed not to breathe. The only sound was an odd cough from both sides of the road.

My heart pounded. Beads of sweat popped on my forehead like tiny, glistening prairie dogs. My gaze never strayed from my protagonist's watery green eyes - noticing the twitch that occurred every few seconds in his right eye. I didn’t trust this crazed stranger who had terrorized the town for weeks. He was simply a cold -blooded killer who thoroughly enjoyed taking the life of another man, just to prove how tough he was.

I stood my ground anxiously waiting for the old town clock to peel 12. But then I started to question myself, wondering if he would wait for the clock to strike, or try to draw his gun ahead of time.

Without further warning, the clock struck. He had his hand on his gun and was moving very fast when two loud shots rang out then the sound of a body hitting the ground like a bag of wet cement. Silence reigned. My gun still smoking, I closed the distance between me and the corpse.  I nudged him with the toe of my boot just to confirm what I already knew.  He was dead.

The townies came alive with cheering while I sauntered over to retrieve my saddle bags. I picked them up and threw them up on my horse. Slowly placing one foot in the stirrup, I pulled myself up. Reins in hand, I turned the horse around and started out of town. My work here was done!

Before I had progressed three strides, a cry rose above the crowd.

“Roger! Wait!” 

It was Becky, the prettiest girl in town, with whom I had become good friends since I had come to town. I pulled my horse to a stop while Becky reached up, grabbed my hand and pulled herself on behind me. We then quietly rode out of town to start a new life together.

Now, many of you may realize that this is a poor man’s version of the “show down” in the classic western movie HIGH NOON starring Gary Cooper. 

So you may ask, why are you sharing this story? This is a coaching website.

Here’s why: this was the type of story that fed my imagination and ambition when I was a boy growing up in Canada. Our heroes were the tall, resolute cowboys who always conquered evil. These were the folks that brought law & order to unruly towns and always claimed victory by bravely defeating the bad guys while winning the heart of the prettiest gal.

During my coaching certification course at the Hudson Institute in Santa Barbara, I shared this story with my classmates and staff. Upon finishing you could have heard a pin drop. Upon instant reflection, I realized that this story genuinely had a huge impact on my life growing up. I realized that I had always fantasized about “rescuing people” and playing the hero role.

I use this story as an example of the impact of personal stories on our lives, whether they be good or bad stories. You see, stories are just elaborate thoughts that keep revisiting us at various stages of our lives, under certain conditions. They can be major influencers in how we live and how much happiness we experience.

From early childhood, we hear stories from our parents and relatives.  These stories start to shape our values and personal philosophies as we grow. However, as we get older, we start creating our own stories and beliefs about ourselves and the world in which we live. These, in turn, impact the way we experience life. The stories that we keep re-telling ourselves become the foundation blocks for the roadmap we use in life.

Later that night I again reflected on my “High Noon” story and how I needed to change it, or forget it all together, if I was going to become an effective executive coach. 

Earlier that afternoon, we learned that an effective coach should never try “to rescue people”. Nor should a coach try to solve problems for clients or offer solutions. 

Our role as a coach is to understand a client’s current situation, help identify areas of desired change, identify possible barriers to change and then work to help the client create their own Personal Development Plan. The client will discover their own development solutions and plans, resulting in much higher levels of commitment to their personal development activities.

So the question for me was “Do I just change my High Noon story or totally walk away from it?” 

I had to realize that my answer to this question could affect my future beliefs and philosophies and how I would experience life in years to come. As our homework, we were asked to reflect on our stories and report back to the group the next morning on our decision and rationale.

When it came to my turn to speak, I quietly broke the news to everyone that I had quietly taken Gary Cooper out behind the barn and buried him forever. My message was simple as I realized that my “High Noon” story had to be dropped for me to stop thinking of myself “as a rescuer of others,” and to start thinking of myself as an effective executive coach.

It became very clear that the role of a coach is to develop a client’s resourcefulness by listening carefully, asking insightful questions, and challenging assumptions while continuing to offer support.

This is now my personal philosophy on how I work with my clients as an executive coach.

Here’s a question for you now: do you know what your real story is? Perhaps we could discover it together.