This month, the theme for the Business Coaching Advantage Program™ (BCA) is COURAGE.  The theme itself gave me the courage to write about something I haven’t had shared before: my love of tattoos.  Read on about my story of getting a recent tattoo, and how it can inspire you to find the courage to take radical action of your own this year – in your work, your life, or your leadership.

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“Are you ready?”  

Jake, the owner of Graphik Ink, a tattoo shop in the west side of Toronto, was leaning over my rib cage with a loaded tattoo needle.  His question shocked me a little even though this was not my first tattoo.  Was I ready? I thought to myself.

Was I ready to endure the pain of a rib cage tattoo (for three hours while twisted awkwardly in one position)?

Was I ready to risk the possibility of a rare Toronto earthquake that could shake Jake’s steady hand?

Was I ready to draw yet another permanent marking on my skin, which I may or may not regret in ten or twenty years?

Was I …

I think Jake could see that his question had shaken me up.  “As ready as can be, right?” he said quietly, just before I heard the hum of the tattoo machine start up and felt the familiar puncturing into my skin.  If he’d kept waiting for my answer, we might still be there now.

This tattoo was the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about this month’s courage theme for the BCA Program (of which I am a faculty member).  Not only because it takes courage to get a tattoo in the first place, but also because it’s taking courage for me to write about it publicly and the tattoo I chose is all about the courage to know and be the best of myself in my work and life.  For those of you who are wondering how to get the courage to make a change in your career, to stretch yourself as a leader, or even for my fellow coaches and coaches-in-training who are discovering how essential courage is to coaching, you’ll want to consider the questions below that came up as I reflected on my tattoo experience.

What radical action do you need courage for this year?

I swore I was done with tattoos after I had my fourth one done a couple of years ago.*  For one thing, I’d run out of reasonable space on my body for another (I’m very particular about how my tattoos are spaced and how they balance with each other).  For another, I thought I no longer needed another significant inspiration for stretching myself beyond what is possible now, which is how I regard my tattoos.  They are a permanent commitment to living into a potential that feels farther out than I can imagine, yet excites me to no end.

Then I had the great pleasure of being coached by a truly courageous and intuitive colleague that I met in an advanced coaching course over a year ago.  With the connection she helped create in our conversation, along with the incredible trusting space she held for the challenging topic I was exploring, I came up with a new mindset to support me in the days ahead: Be the tree.  In other words, be who I am, as symbolized by the image of a tree which represented my greatest aspiration to date: to be solid, tall, grounded, flexible, yet firm in my roots.

Given my penchant for tattoos, I thought about getting a tattoo right away but I held off for several months.  I didn’t want to be impulsive about this; I wanted to make absolutely sure it was what I wanted.  Then one day as I was surfing the Internet for an artistic screensaver, I came upon a Group of Seven painting of a lone tree on a bed of rocks.  Soon this would become the basis for the design of the tattoo I would eventually have imprinted on my body.

*I say fourth but it was really my fifth.  My first tattoo was actually forced on me: in 2006, a radiation technician tattooed four small black dots on my chest to mark the parameters of where I would receive daily radiation to treat my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (in remission since).  I’ll have them forever.  As much as they were connected to a tough experience, it was simultaneously liberating to have to a tattoo done like that.  I honestly don’t think I would have had the courage to get another one if I hadn’t had a choice about the first one.  

What would take courage for you to share with others?  

Let’s face it, not everybody likes tattoos the way I do.  Attitudes are changing but from time to time someone still asks me, “Why would you get a tattoo?”  The question seems to stem from genuine puzzlement to outright disapproval.

Over time, I’ve discovered that there’s no changing people’s minds if they don’t like tattoos.  They likely never will.  I will admit that these experiences have made me a bit shy about publicly acknowledging that I have tattoos.  They’re easily covered yet I am still sometimes concerned that the professional community will judge and reject me based on the choice I’ve made to adorn parts of my body with tattoo art.  The truth is, some will and I’ll just have to deal with that in the moment.

Regardless, these tattoos represent some part of me that is important.  I don’t want to hide them, nor this part of me, anymore – so here I am, world.

What do you need the courage to live, or experience, this year?

That’s the invitation that my tree tattoo asks of me every day as I get out of the shower and catch a glimpse of it in the bathroom mirror.  How will I “be the tree” today?

So far, I’ve summoned the tree image to mind as I’ve delivered a presentation to a new audience, or attended a large social gathering, or stepped back from an argument to look at the bigger picture.  In those moments, it reminds me that I am enough as I am and in fact I am much more than I ever realized.  I have the wisdom to navigate tricky or anxiety-provoking situations, and the desire to make no further apologies for who I am or how I choose to show up (as long as I deem my behaviour to be reasonable).

Since the image is tattooed on my body and I know what it represents, I can’t wriggle out of being real or make excuses to be something different.  It holds me accountable to an aspiration I have for myself in a way that nothing else does.  And that tattoo will be around for the rest of my life to support me in honouring what is so meaningful and important to me.

Now don’t go and get a tattoo just because I’ve made it sound so awesome.  Rather, do what works best to help you have the courage to take radical action when needed, to share when it’s time to share, and to live into your true potential and greatest aspirations.  And if you do get a tattoo, I want to hear about it!

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Maggie DiStasi is a Professional Career Transition and Leadership Coach, specializing in a process-oriented approach to creating positive change in your career and/or leadership (think: creative, organic, goal-emergent).  She is also a faculty member of the Business Coaching Advantage Program™ and a member of the management team for the program’s parent company, PeopleDynamics Learning Group.  To learn about any of the coaching programs or business coach training programs she is involved in, please contact her here.