When we interviewed I told them it might be challenging for me from an emotional perspective and it was. Two times that day I was challenged to maintain composure.
Sometime ago, Aspen, our Yellow Labrador, and I started the journey to do animal therapy. She seemed predisposed to this type of work due to her gentle soul and disposition. She is a happy, docile retriever who acts indifferently in the presence of other dogs, but her tail never stops when around people. So, Maddie, my youngest daughter, and I did all the appropriate training, took the classes, tested, applied for and were approved to take Aspen into nursing homes, hospitals, schools, etc. Due to Aspen’s acumen in the outdoors, I knew she was highly trainable and she again proved her intelligence by passing each drill on the first attempt.
She doesn’t live a “typical” dog’s life, partially proven by her spending most every day at the EcSell offices and as a result, Anna, our Director of Marketing, saw it fitting to have her mug shot taken and included on our website as the VP of Office Therapy. Several local businesses know Aspen by name since they were kind enough to allow us to use their respective establishments to train, and she rewards them all by simply being who she is -- a dog. (A big shout-out to Scheels of Lincoln—you own part of this journey since you allowed Aspen and I to use your store as a training ground. It is there she learned how to work and behave in crowds, use escalators, revolving doors and much more.)
A few days ago we had our first official patient visits at Bryan Hospital here in Lincoln. We were to visit the pediatric and geriatric wards with a simple goal of spreading some love. The nurses had a wry smile when they guided me to the room of a nine-year old girl. It is hard to explain how or why the first wave of emotion struck as I attempted to move into the room. Perhaps a young child, perhaps the fact she was a little girl, but it was as if some spirit overtook me and in a flash sucked the breath out of my body.
After quickly rallying, Aspen and I entered the room and upon seeing the dog there was an audible gasp from the small patient that to my ears reflected more relief as opposed to excitement. The rest came easy and very natural. Aspen sat next to her bed afraid to move in case the little hand would stop running through the top of her head. At one point she unconsciously stopped the petting and Aspen gently stuck her nose under the girls hand and nudged it back to the top of her head. The girl smiled in a soft way for she understood what had just happened.
Mind. Body. Spirit.
In case you're reading this and wondering how Aspen’s story applies to coaching and high performance, know those first three words. A high performing coach is a complete coach, and we are not complete without being healthy in mind, body and spirit. The work I do with Aspen absolutely makes me more effective at work, at home and with my friends. What I see, what I feel, what I learn when in a nursing home or hospital ties back to my relationships with my colleagues, with work and with our clients. This is my mind and spirit work.
We were both exhausted by the time we returned to the car. About six patients had been visited that afternoon which was enough since we were both fully present in every room. I bent down and removed her ID tags, her vest, collar and scarf, and she promptly jumped in the back of the truck. I’m not sure how a dog shows emotion or if they do, but Aspen did at that moment. While I rubbed her neck and head I began to cry and her response was simple—she put her head on my shoulder and didn’t move. The moment was brief, but long enough.
Today I am a more complete coach.
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