Updated: Mar 16, 2020
By Bruce Wilkinson
A Review By: Tirzah Lewis
Additional Coaching Thoughts By: Jennie Antolak, MA, MCC
The first thing any reader of this book should note is that the author Bruce Wilkinson is a Christian. I point it out right away because the construct of faith in God has almost everything to do with the parable/story used to bring out the lessons of the book. That is not to say that someone not of the Christian faith can’t find use and revelation from this book – it is just a note so that the context of the lessons make sense; since the book starts off with an allegory.
If you like stories, parables or allegory (where the roles of the characters in the story are plainly outlined by their names) then you’ll like The Dream Giver. If you prefer more nuanced writing it may seem like a simplistic mechanism. I however really enjoyed the story of the main character Ordinary from the Land of Familiar. After the story is the exposition (the second half of the book) where the author breaks down the revelations of Ordinary’s journey and invites the reader to take their own journey toward their “Big Dream”.
And so, the story goes:
We journey with Ordinary as he discovers his Big Dream, tries to suppress it and decides that he must go find it. He goes through the difficulty of leaving the “Comfort Zone” meets bullies in the Borderland and thinks that he’s well on his way only to find despair in the Wasteland where he questions whether or not the Dream Giver is even there anymore. In that place, he meets a character called Faith and while they only speak once he realizes if he can keep an eye on Faith he may make it through the Wasteland. In an oasis called sanctuary he finally realizes the lessons of the journey and how much stronger he is because of having traveled through it. [It is here where the overt Christian nature of the book may confuse those who did not know about it for at the end of his time in the Sanctuary Ordinary must give up his Big Dream. He must trust the Dream Giver. He must decide if his dedication is to the giver of Dreams or to the Dream itself. When he does, he is given the understanding of how his Big Dream is only a piece of the Dream Giver’s immense plan. Because he trusts the Dream Giver his dream is restored and Ordinary resumes his journey toward his destiny.] The lessons learned from the Wasteland have strengthened Ordinary’s faith and he will need it as he enters the Land of Giants. This particular Giant has enslaved a village of Anybodies and while other travelers have come this way many have turned back unwilling to face the battle. Ordinary is still ordinary but he faces the giant anyway with the skills and tools and faith of the Dream Giver and the city is freed! Anybodyies all around cheer – but as he stays in the village Ordinary sees the toll that the Giant and its despair has taken on the people. Here the Dream Giver shows Ordinary that these people are his Dream. That the sparkling vision he held so dear in his hearts is the manifestation of what is to come when he uses his special gifts to help the people of Anybody discover their dreams.
1. We don’t have to search for our Big Dream as much as we need to Wake Up to it!
Every day in the land of Familiar there was a routine, a structure supported by all its inhabitants that kept people just busy enough, just tired enough, just numb enough to keep from waking up to their dream. At first Ordinary thinks this is some new revelation but as he asks a trusted member of his family (in this case his Father) he realizes – the dream has always been with him! It is this way for most of us. We are often stuck in the familiar trying to plan our dream or chase a perception of a dream. Coaching provides a means by which we break from the normal just long enough and often enough to re-encounter the dream that lives deep within.
2. Our Biggest Bullies are often our closest people and there are lessons to be learned from them.
Ordinary is confronted by his family and best friend in the Borderland and it is these bullies that nearly devastate him. Oh, isn’t this true for most of us! We wonder why our closest people wouldn’t understand our new journey!!! The book gives insight through a coach named Champion. I give him the title of coach because Champion asks questions of Ordinary and through conversation challenges Ordinary to look past his defensiveness to question what is causing this perceived bullying. What I love is that Champion doesn’t stay with Ordinary throughout his journey but is key in helping him move through this situation with his own value intact. He solves nothing for Ordinary, but his help is invaluable. I resonated deeply with Champion.
3. Finally, there are deep lessons to be learned in the Wasteland – lessons that often cannot be learned until lived.
How disheartening is our time in the Wasteland. We have done such hard work already. Yet in the Wasteland we battle the inferiority complex, we try for shortcuts, or we freeze (I totally froze solid for months) and want to wish it away. But no matter how short or long our time, there are lessons to be learned in walking through the Wasteland. The frustrating thing is they are almost always learned on the other side… so we must have faith and walk forward. As a coach this experience is invaluable because this is what our clients going through meaningful change will experience. Our ability to empathize and sit in this space with them will be a comfort. I like this because with so much of coaching being ‘neutral’ one can wonder how we show that we care. Empathy and presence matter. When we say “trust the process” it is not just a turn of phrase it comes from a place of deep knowing and understanding.
The breakdown of these lessons from the story are thoroughly outlined in the second part of the book. Although not a book on coaching the use of the story allows us to internalize insights from the book as we walk in the shoes of Ordinary; a Nobody from Familiar, who has the courage to pursue his Big Dream.
Jennie Antolak’s Additional Thoughts & How the Story Applies to Coaching
I love Ordinary's story. For many of us, his tale is the metaphor of our lives. When we receive a chance to do something bigger, we often also receive the gift of resistance. We resist our "chance" for a multitude of reasons. One of the most prominent reason is that while the land of familiar isn't fulfilling anymore its predictable. Anything and everything could happen if we step into the unknown. Another powerful reason we deny our "chance" to grow into something real, meaningful is our fear of how others will respond. Just like Ordinary, many of our friends and family members don't want us to leave "the land of familiar," so they put barriers in place, making our decision to go even more challenging that often we give up on who we know could be for who we are in other people's eyes.
THE USE OF METAPHOR
While there are many questions one can develop related to resistance, what I want to focus on instead is how Wilkinson utilized metaphor as his means to describe the struggle of Ordinary's life. We speak in metaphors every 20-25 seconds, and so I appreciate that he made use of this universal tool of communication to convey such a powerful message. For all of us, the metaphors we express are relaying to self and others how we are experiencing our world. If we can be in the listening for the metaphors our clients, employees, patients, etc. are communicating regarding their situations, then we become better equipped to unravel the narratives that keep them confined and can assist them in moving forward despite barriers along the way.
When we coach, we need to take extra care in not assuming we already understand the metaphors we are hearing. We also must avoid presuming their desired outcomes or even where they are in relation to their metaphors. And, I say all this knowing it is easier said than done for any of us when we are in the middle of a conversation/coaching session with someone. However, the more we are aware and practice listening for and working with metaphor, we can hone the skills needed to be effective.
I will use myself as an example to demonstrate my comments about assuming too much. I often vent on my crazy days at work that I'm once again rowing the boat with one oar. What is easy to assume is that I need the other oar to get to where I'm going, that I want to move in some direction besides circles, and that I'm in the water not on land. However, if my goal is that I need to figure out how to maintain momentum while I'm in a holding pattern, those assumptions aren't helpful. Once I describe my current state, "I'm rowing the boat with one oar," what typically occurs is the coach doesn't pick up on the comment related to the holding pattern and instead only focuses on my desire for momentum. The coach deciphers that the problem is that I need to figure out how to get the other oar and once I get my other paddle I just need to design actions to ensure movement forward. But this would be wrong. It would be more helpful to ask, "What is the holding pattern? What is essential about being in a holding pattern? What does momentum look like in a holding pattern? How is one oar doing the job? Where is the boat (land, water)? How long do you plan to be in the boat?"
Our role as the coach is to understand the client's situation through their perspective, not ours. If we step in assuming we know anything regarding their metaphor, we've stopped the process of discovery. Also, if our clients are using a metaphor to describe their current status, they are equally equipped to resolve their issues with that metaphor or another. If we deeply listen and are truly curious rather than solvers of their situation, they will wow us with their wisdom. And, their solution will most likely be superior to any ideas or answers we have swimming around in our heads.
We are proud partners with Minneapolis Community & Technical College. If you work for an organization that offers tuition reimbursement this is your opportunity to tap into this available and complete your coaching certification. Classes are offered every month. Register online to get started today. For questions about registration, classes and more please contact Jennie Antolak, MA, MCC. www.learningjourneys.net
Check out the video below on Taking a Chance hosted by Jennie Antolak and Tirzah Lewis.