Something out of the ordinary

Nov 01, 2017

After a year of insight into what can bring you success, Neil O’Brien shares his lessons from a different angle.

I thought that I should end this series of articles with something slightly different. So far, I have been laying out my case for why I feel the way I do about various topics that relate to the human condition. This time I’d like to tell a story. This is a true story from one of my clients and I hope will summarise all that I’ve covered in the previous articles.

Sort him out

I got a phone call from a woman who had attended one of my talks.She was phoning on behalf of her brother Jimmy. She wanted Jimmy to see me so I could “sort him out”. When I explained that this is not how coaching works, she relented, said she would get him to contact me. His unusual surname stuck with me.

About two weeks later, I got the call. As soon as I heard the name, I knew who this was. He was very nervous and uncomfortable, and admitted that he’s “old school” so all this “coaching therapy stuff” was new to him. In response, I suggested that we meet just once and if he would like to meet again, we could. He agreed.

Meeting one: nervous and awkward

Our first meeting was very fraught and very heavy. Jimmy was nervous and tense throughout. However, he stated his objective for our work together: help him find a person with whom to share his life. He explained that he was separated, feeling very lonely and was going in on himself, not making an effort for anything other than work. Ironically, work was going great. He was a small business owner employing a number of people but he was spending too much time at the office in order to avoid going home to a cold, empty house.

Jimmy was clearly quite low at this first meeting, so I decided that first we would build him up first before tackling the overall objective. For homework, he was to go for three walks a week for four weeks; a target of at least 12 walks in a month. I ended by reminding him that the walking is all he is committing to right now and if he ever wants to meet again, he knows where I am.

Meeting two: confident and optimistic

A month later, Jimmy arrived to our meeting with a noticeable pep in his step. He was much more relaxed, and keen for us to move forward. He reported that the walking was working. He was walking everyday – sometimes twice per day. He easily exceeded the challenge I set for him. 

During this second session, he engaged with the process much more. He was into it and challenged me during our talk about his life and work. The session ended with him having more homework to complete outside and at work. There was a conversation in the office that he had been avoiding. I told him he was to have this conversation immediately. And, the usual deal applied – if he ever wanted to meet again he knew where to find me. 

Meeting three: Elvis is in the building

A month later, Jimmy arrived to our meeting with a swagger and confidence I didn’t even think I could have. He proceeded to outline what a fantastic month he’d just had. “Work and life couldn’t be better,” he said.

Following a great business meeting earlier that month where he had the conversation I encouraged him to have, he decided he’d treat himself to a bottle of aftershave. He went into a well-known department store on Grafton Street and was sampling two different types when he noticed a woman standing beside at the counter. In that moment, he did something completely out of the ordinary. He turned to her and asked her which aftershave she preferred. She entered into the spirit of the moment and they had a bit of fun choosing the the best one. They got on so well that Jimmy asked her out for lunch the following week.

Jimmy met Barbara for lunch and his usual surname was mentioned. Barbara commented that when she was 16, she was madly in love with a boy called James of the same surname... and then it dawned on them. 

Jimmy and Barbara went out with each other many years ago. Although they were madly in love, Jimmy ended the relationship because his father told him that the Leaving Cert was more important. It was time Jimmy knuckled down, worked hard, stopped seeing that girl. To please his father, Jimmy did as he was told.

However, in a department store on Grafton Street, Jimmy and Barbara found each other again after many years apart. They are still madly in love and Barbara is working with Jimmy in the business.

Jimmy’s lasting legacy

There are three things that Jimmy taught me though our work together. First, the Jimmy I met at our first meeting was not the real Jimmy. He was only a fraction of himself. There is so much more to Jimmy when he values himself. Second, look at what he achieved when he was prepared to do what he thought was out of character behaviour. In other words, look how easy it was for him to leave his comfort zone when he felt stronger and lighter. Finally, Jimmy will freely admit that everything started to turn around for him with his three walks a week. Don’t underestimate the power of small, regular steps.


My wish in 2018 and beyond is for you not to overthink, and have enough courage from time to time to do something you wouldn’t normally do. And, like Jimmy, if it’s for the right reasons, it can only work out for you.

Thank you for reading these articles throughout 2017. I thought that ending with a love story might be something that Accountancy Ireland Extra wouldn’t normally do!