Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to really see what’s going on in our lives. This has been the value of life coaching for me – having a check-in partner who will not let me get away with breaking commitments I’ve made to myself; having an opportunity to hear myself speak and deciding whether I’ve been open with the truth in my heart; tracking my growth and progress over time, in ways that might not be measurable to most observers of purely material layers.

The metaphor tool is a favorite in the Martha Beck Life Coaching armamentarium. It asks the client to compare an object or an animal to a particular dilemma or feeling in their lives, to describe it and relate to it.

This morning, a friend commented on my keychain, seeing it for the first time. I looked at the massive ball of keychains and keys, and said, “Yeah, I’m carrying around a lot, aren’t I?” Suddenly I noticed that I had the key to a non-existent mailbox, another key to something I didn’t even know I owned, and a membership card to a gym where I no longer was a member. Each day, I carried these around in my hand, in my purse, hanging from the ignition in my car. Extra weight I didn’t need! I came home and took off the mailbox key and the membership card. Instantly I felt a zing of liberation.

Several hours later, in a group practice coaching call, the metaphor tool was the focus and I played the role of client. My keychain popped into my head as a perfect image to work with. I loved that it contains the word “key”. My coach asked me, “Can you narrow it down to just a few KEY things you need to be doing right now?” Of course! I have been trying to find a focus, while playing with many different options and creative outlets over the past several months. I don’t want to stop playing, but I want to channel my playing in a few KEY areas so that I can reach an audience who values what I offer.

Every time I’ve sat down to make a list of “What I Do”, it ends up being 10 or 12 things, a bursting mindmap of possibilities. I’ve been trying to include every single part of who I am in every piece of work I offer. Not only is it overwhelming for me (there’s so many aspects to who I am and what I have to offer!), it’s confusing for the audience. My story can’t be swallowed whole in one sitting. It needs to be taken in small bites, digested slowly, savored. I need to be OK with preparing delectable morsels, and giving them out lovingly for people to try. I know my people will love what they experience, once they are presented with something appealing to sample. I know there are some people who will come back for more, who won’t be able to get enough. There are others who will just walk on by, or politely let it fall out of their mouths into a napkin. It’s all OK.

Meanwhile, I need to let go of the things I’m carrying around that were once part of me, that I once loved, but that have outgrown their useful or beautiful life. For instance, there is a handpainted ceramic keychain I got in Prague in 2008. It was once the most beautiful and unique keychain I owned, and it had sentimental value from that trip.  I loved looking at it, holding it in my hand. But I’ve since dropped it on tile flooring in the bathroom several times, cracking it in half and later gluing it together. The paint has chipped off, lost when it shattered on the floor. But I managed to glue it back together. What’s left is now a nondescript ball of white ceramic with rough edges where a smooth, handpainted surface once was.

The questions from my coach were, could I take off any of the keychains or keys, leave them in a drawer at home, or get rid of them altogether? How would it feel to have a lighter keychain, fewer keys to keep track of, less bulk to carry around? How would it feel to know that I could still hold the memory of those old objects, without having to physically carry them around every day?

Wow, it was such a revelation as a metaphor for my business right now! What would it feel like to be able to tell one aspect of my story, one thing that I’ve learned, one part of who I am, without feeling like I “have to” let everyone know the entire story of my life and why it matters to me?

The answer? FREEING.

It’s a lot like the way I’ve been showing up to open mic’s lately and just improvising to whatever song someone else decides to play. No one has to know what I used to play, what I’m capable of playing, or why I’m playing this way now. I know it in my heart. And I show up as all of who I am right now. And that’s enough! To be honest, it’s still astonishing to me that people find my playing “amazing” and that they want me to play or record or perform with them again. But each time I hear this, I get to practice acknowledging myself. So I take it in with gratitude. I thank these teachers – innocent bystanders with important roles to play – for giving me that opportunity to acknowledge myself.

It’s not bragging or self-congratulatory. It’s simply a quiet knowing that gathers inside, and keeps me coming back to who I really am.

Imagine if I held just one key and it was all I needed to be me, to be free, to be honored and valued in this life. Ahh. I’m going to sit with that feeling for awhile.