• geoffashton

Reclaiming the invisible people

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

I must confess to being a fan of the TV show Person of Interest. A key idea in the storyline is how the heroes have perfected the technique of “hiding in plain sight.” A cool trick if you want to pull it off.

But what if feel like you have been “hidden in plain sight.” As people get older, and particularly when they leave work, many complain of feeling increasingly invisible. At its worst this leads to extreme social isolation, but even in its less extreme forms it results in loss of confidence and opportunities for self-expression. This is bad both for the individual, and for wider society that doesn’t then gain the benefit of the active participation of these richly experienced and capable citizens. It’s a message frequently articulated at the Government’s main consultative forum with older people, the UK Advisory Forum on Ageing, and one apparently starting to become an issue for people in mid-life. I was struck by a quote in a research report published by the Beth Johnson Foundation, in which someone in their mid-fifities considered themselves to be in a “forgotten” cohort of people.

Changing perceptions

What’s the contribution of the coaching profession to help reverse this trend? Part of the power of coaching is that it helps people to challenge the limitations they perceive.

Coaching in action

A technique I often used is “framing” to help clients see how much of their self-perception is being shaped by their environment. Try it yourself. Find a couple or three framed pictures of yourself taken in entirely different contexts. You might have a current or old security pass, a travel pass, or a photographic driving licence. Have you had a photograph of you receiving a reward or completing an achievement of which you are particularly proud? Or maybe you snapped a “selfie” with someone famous. Each of these will “frame” you in a particular context which says something about you. As well as giving you a positive sense of identity, each photo also sends a subtle message about limitations. The fact you work for company X, for example, means that you are not doing Y. But no one picture is the whole story of your life, and certainly doesn’t say what else you can be a part of or what other “photos” may be taken about you in the future.

Building confidence in someone that they can be “re-framed” is often the starting point to help them imagine new possibilities and start taking steps to realise them. And the fact you have been framed in a variety of contexts already in your life, provides a solid basis for remembering what you achieved in those times, how you adapted to them, and what else you could have done – and hence what you could still do – with the right opportunity.

All stuff a skillful coaching professional can help you discover, to help change and shape the course of the next phase of your life.


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