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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

Trousers and inner tyrants

I know a very accomplished guy, a big, strong guy in his 50s. Let’s call him John. John is a successful professional, a loving role-model and supporter to his family and a great friend. One day he needed to buy himself a pair of trousers. He bought these trousers on a work day, squeezed between two appointments one of which happened to be near the trouser shop. The trousers are not the point. The point is the inner struggle that went with their purchase. This successful, grown man spent considerable time before and after the trip to the shop feeling guilty about taking an hour out of his work day to do something that didn’t fit a definition of work.

We laugh about it – especially as John runs his own business and has no boss to catch him skiving. However in some ways it isn’t funny. John doesn’t need a boss to make him feel guilty – his inner boss is a tyrant. This tyrant says – don’t be a shirker! do your duty! work hard! help others! but it doesn’t often say take time to give yourself what you need!

This isn’t a big deal when it’s about trousers but when we struggle to give ourselves permission to rest and nourish ourselves, to manage our time optimally, to attend to our most important relationships then this is often to the detriment of our leadership, our effectiveness, our family and our health.

In our adolescence we kicked against external authority figures in order to find new independence. The challenge as grown men and women is to find a new relationship with our internal authorities – so that we give ourselves permission to do what needs to be done at this phase in our life, both for ourselves and others. Our inner tyrants formed in our psyche as we grew up, in many ways they serve us well but their sense of what deserves permission is not always up to date. Our developing grown-up self needs courage to find the personal authority to overrule the inner tyrant and do what’s needed now. 

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