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Toads and transformation

I was coaching a senior executive who was second-in-command in a large organization but acted like low person on the totem.  It was costing her greatly in terms of credibility, effectiveness, and self esteem.

One day when she was struggling particularly hard, I told her this story.  A few days earlier, my son Michael and I were weeding my mother’s garden. Michael was working under some shrubs when he grabbed my arm and said, “Hey, Mom, look!”

All I saw was dirt and dead leaves. 

So he touched his finger to a brown clump, and a perfectly camouflaged toad leaped from his hand into the lawn. We watched for several minutes. Then Michael tried to pick it up and return it to its home. The toad contracted so much that its legs, its eyes, its whole identity as a living creature disappeared. It looked for all the world like a small chunk of dead wood. The transformation was amazing.

We studied it for a few more minutes and then Michael gently touched it. Bam! Its little body shot into the air, legs extended out in a tremendous arc of energy. In three powerful leaps it was back home under the shrub.

My client got misty-eyed.  “That’s me,” she said.  “I feel small, too. My whole life has gotten terribly small. I don’t take a stand on anything for fear that I’ve missed something important. I criticize people for the smallest thing. I don’t let anyone close.”

The toad became a metaphor for her life, and for the changes she wanted to make: from living small to living large, from contracting to expanding, from playing dead to being fully alive.  In the months that followed, she began her own transformation, using the toad as a regular reminder that she has a choice to play small or large.

I know that when I’m in play-safe mode, I feel anxious and doubtful, and I handle it by being critical of what I see around me. When I’m working with a clear purpose and intention, I feel engaged in a powerful but non-attached sort of way, and I respond from a much more generous and genuine place. What about you? When and how do you play, large or small?


Thanks to Dennis Profant for the great photo of anaxyrus (Bufo) americanus, the little American toad pictured above.