The last few weeks have been interesting ones – for a good chunk of March my husband and I took a vacation with my parents to Africa to go on safari.  I’ve been in a reflective place since then, thinking about the fun and excitement of the trip, but also thinking about how far I’ve come in my relationship with my parents, particularly with my father.  Family relationships can be tough, especially parent – child ones, and then there’s the added aspect of how we as children tend to put our parents on a pedestal.  It’s hard not to, when you think about it.  I’ve lived it, many of my clients have lived it, and while well intended, there are several unintended consequences in doing so.  It manifests in a lack of decisiveness when it comes to things like career choices, life choices, increases codependency and can really muddy the waters where clear thinking is concerned.

When I think about the impact this had on my life, it’s profound.  It’s hard to just “be,” when you’re so busy trying to be someone else’s version of you.  Inadvertently and unconsciously, we give our power away and when we do we grow increasingly resentful of the other person.  Why can’t he see me for who I am?  Why can’t he appreciate me for the person I’ve become?  We feel pushed or compelled to do things out of family obligation and anger and resentment builds and builds.  Left unchecked it can completely poison the relationship.  I thank God it didn’t in the case of me and my dad.  When I truly think about it, for many years I was playing the part of the victim who had to do what he said without any choice in the matter, and my dad was the persecutor in our dynamic.  The more the anger built, the more I distanced myself from him – my tactic was to isolate myself rather than fight.  Over the years I’ve worked hard to pull him down from the pedestal I created.  And it’s important to note that I was the one that created it.

Pedestals keep us from being able to truly love

Putting others on a pedestal isn’t fair in two ways.  It’s not fair to yourself, because in effect what you’re doing is giving your power away as you seek approval and validation from the person on the pedestal.  But it’s also not fair to the other person.  It puts pressure on them, it creates unrealistic expectations that they need to live up to.  It creates a sense of division, of separation.  And the greater that sense of separation, the harder it is for love to enter the equation.  The harder it is to see that person for the truth of who they really are – a flawed, messy, beautiful human being, doing their best, worthy of unconditional love all the same.  That’s how I see my Dad now.  And I appreciate him for who he is, just as I know he appreciates me for who I am. 

Pedestals knock us off our game

We create pedestals all the time, whether we’re conscious of it or not.  And it’s not just limited to family dynamics, we do it at work and we do it with friends.  Currently I’ve been blessed with an incredible opportunity to partner with a colleague who has a considerably greater amount of expertise and experience than I do.  A master coach and facilitator – one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Someone I aspire to be more like as a coach and as a trainer.  And in my zeal to make her my new mentor, I inadvertently put her on a pedestal.  And what’s been the impact?  For the work that we’ve partnered on as co-facilitators I find myself more nervous than usual, more frightened of making a mistake, holding back when I would normally be more assertive out of deference to her.  I know she feels it too – and when I step back and think about it, I can see how unfair this is to do to her and frankly, how unloving it is.  She may be more experienced than me, but she’s still a human being, she needs a safe space to learn and grow as well, where she can feel like her mistakes are welcome.  And while I may not be as experienced, I still have valuable insights to bring to the table.  And so, off the pedestal she must go.  Not just for my good, but for hers.

Beware of the pedestal you may be on

And finally, there’s myself.  I had drinks with an old client this week who I think may have me on a little bit of a pedestal.  He’s struggling with a client that may need a leadership development intervention, and in my zeal to help him think through the problem, I may have climbed further up on the pedestal myself.  In that conversation it showed up as tightness in my chest and constriction in my throat.  Running through the recesses of my mind were things like – I need to help him find the right solution.  He needs me after all!  I have to prove I’m actually good at what I do.  I’ve got to have all the answers!  But once I put myself up on the pedestal in that conversation it didn’t stop just there.  It started showing up in my interactions with other clients this week – a session with a corporate client I have run hundreds of times in the past effortlessly put me in a cold sweat.  What if I say the wrong thing?  What if I don’t hit all the right learning points?  What if I make a fool out of myself?  Instead of feeling energized by the session like I normally do, I felt depleted and drained – which is the price I always pay for trying to be too perfect.  Teetering on the precipice of the pedestal is soul destroying.  And when we do it for too long, we end up with burnout.

Coaching Questions for Thought:

  • Who in your life right now (personal or work) do you have on a pedestal?  How is that affecting your interactions with them?  What would change for you and for them if you took them off the pedestal? 
  • How might you have yourself on a pedestal right now as it relates to your personal life or work?  How does this affect the quality of your interactions with others?  Your stress level?  Your authenticity?  What do you need to do to knock yourself off the pedestal?

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients develop clarity, confidence, and compassion for self.  She is particularly adept at working with high performing women who are hard on themselves.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!