In a time and place far, far away, when it was not unusual for someone to spend their whole career in one organisation, they would, when they retired from it, be given a gold watch.  The symbolism is obvious, of course: after having given the majority of their waking hours to it, their organisation was giving their time back to them.

Although those of us who are home-schooling children during the current pandemic will be living with a new kind of busyness, I suspect that many who have had the great good fortune to remain well will be experiencing the return of their time to them.  As one of my clients recently put it, his pattern of alternating home-working and furlough had given him “time to work on me”.  Time had slowed, opened out a little, allowing more reflection and choices about how it could be spent, about how he could work and what his work, indeed his time, meant to him.

Creative solitude

The return of time has, tucked inside the virtual network of our distanced relationships for those lucky enough to have one, created a kind of solitude in which we can talk with ourselves.  We have all, as a strategy to manage such solitude, been encouraged to learn a new language, to paint imagined landscapes, to knit, to bake ambitiously, to aspire to new levels of physical fitness by following on-line the directions of a dispiritingly svelte instructor.  This encouragement, aside from leading us in our more vain moments to a degree of virtue signalling, has revealed that there could be more to our lives than labouring for the usual material remunerations: that our lives might be better lived by spending more time in creative solitude.

This solitude is, I think, akin to, or even has its origins in, childhood, when we learn to amuse ourselves, to play quietly and self-sufficiently, knowing that, all else being equal, somewhere outside of ourselves is someone who cares and who is with us, at least in our imagination.  And that is perhaps a key difference between solitude and loneliness, in that when we are lonely we have no sense of being the object of another’s care or interest.  In solitude, there can be a flow in internal dialogue in which we find a deeper sense of ourselves and of what we can create, as both moral and self-determining creatures, so we can then be more at ease in the world beyond us.

Shared solitude

Perhaps it’s stretching the point a little but I wonder if a coaching conversation is the creation of a kind of creative solitude, where time returns and opens out a little, slows down: a shared solitude where a coach asks questions that invite a different kind of attention, enabling something new to be seen.  In many ways, in a coaching conversation – perhaps in the most fruitful ones – a client is simply talking to themselves, knowing they are the object of the care and interest of their coach, in whose presence they can take the time to enjoy a little solitude.

Executive Coach & Coach Supervisor Ken Smith supports people to find meaning in their work and a richer and more productive sense of their own excellence.