Our lives are worth the thinking time it takes to make them more than average, just like a work of art.

About Jan Elfline

From an early age, I’ve always wanted to teach, and I’ve gotten to for many years now. I first taught people how to make stained glass windows at the Octagon art center the Ames, Iowa, then at the DesMoines art center. I moved to Illinois to pursue a masters degree in glassblowing. (I know, it sounds pretty useless as a profession, but glass is so amazing.) I joined the faculty at Illinois State University and worked there until 1993. Then I got interested in how we could make “art” (by which I mean something pleasing or beautiful or provocative) out of everyday life. That led me to coaching.

Coaching was an infant profession in 1993, but I resonated with the coaching philosophy. You have regular meetings that provide structure and at the same time the process adapts itself to people’s unique rhythms and preferences. The client chooses how to use the time, and how the coach will be most useful to them. It’s a concept known as a “designed alliance.”

My teaching experience proved useful. I had spent decades teaching artists, and that experience had taught me that I could only teach craft, I couldn’t have a student’s vision. The concept, the idea, had to come from them. In a design course, I would set a problem with certain requirements, and students would create solutions.

The student’s  research (people and sources outside themselves) might inspire and shape their vision, but synthesis and creation was at the core of their task. Artists have visions, and then they realize them through time and effort, attempt and failure, success and setback.

I helped my students find ways to explore and more clearly define their vision. And once they knew what they wanted to accomplish, I could help them get there. But the heavy lifting of thinking and trying and failing and looking and thinking some more was their work to do. I couldn’t do it for them. Way before I knew what coaching was, in the classroom we were creating designed alliances without knowing it.

From coaching I got a weekly structure. From art I got the perspective that life is art, a performance piece that we craft day by day, moment by moment, decision by decision. From my teaching experience, I knew how to support, and at the same time to get out of the way. It takes time and energy to choose consciously and to think deeply. Coaching creates space and support for those things.

Coaching and decision making

We’re often tempted to run with our first thoughts about a particular topic. But in teaching young artists I noticed that there were those who jumped to “making” early in the thinking process, and others who were able or willing to stay in the uncomfortable place of not yet knowing.

The “jump to making” students might come to a critique with an immaculately crafted mediocre idea, but it was still mediocre, average, derivative, often cliche. Those who let themselves stew in uncertainty or try things and backtrack would often land on an idea with real potential. They had learned that confusion and mistakes are often an effective way forward, contrary to popular belief.

Back to coaching, our lives are worth the thinking time it takes to make them more than average, just like a work of art. This doesn’t mean you need to strive for fame or money or power, it just means you deserve to invest time in crafting and realizing a vision of life that is full and has joy and meaning for you.

My goal is to help people realize that taking time to dream and ponder is worthwhile. We deserve to give ourselves time to make decisions, large and small. A friend in Hong Kong taught a course titled “Five minutes or five days” that spoke to our rush to action and the potential cost of that habit. “Take five minutes to think, and save five days cleaning up after a bad one-minute decision.”

Enough about me. The thoughts that you come out with as you read the words on this site, or do an exercise, or use a checklist, will make up the exciting next chapters in the story. Enjoy what you find here!

Jan Elfline

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