Friday, 27 March 2015

Life as Life or death or sustainability

Don't you just love metaphors :-)
How do you see life - ie what is it like?
  • An up hill battle
  • Plain sailing
  • A fight for life or death
  • Like a rose
  • A battle to be won at all costs
  • An open road
  • Being captain of the star ship Enterprise
  • A war - with constant battles 
  • A race - and if so is it the 100m or a marathon
  • A river - and if so where in the river are you - high in the mountains, moving through the rapids or headed for the edge of a waterfall or just arriving at the ocean
I promise it's not that daft a question.

If you've not read anything yet that resonates please have a think before reading further. You might even want to have a look at my Pinterest board with other suggestions on metaphors we use for life including:
  • A garden
  • A cup of tea
  • Noah's Arc
  • An echo
  • A flute
  • A machine
  • A musical 
  • A vacation
  • A canvas
I promise its not a daft question.

To make sense of the world we relate to life in terms of metaphors. It's these metaphors that set the tone for our lives and our relationships with others. They're a bit like our own in-built operating manual.

So let's compare the difference between 3 very different metaphors and notice the impact they might have on how we live our life:

Life as a War
Life as a Machine
Life as a Garden
   Alarm clock
Battle cry for immediate action
Whistle to start work
Would waken with sun and birds
   Objective for the day
To win the battle and beat the opposition
Efficiency and to keep going
To grow and flourish alongside others
   Objective for the year
To win the war
Minimal down time and maximise output
To sow your seeds
Energy for short term benefit
Energy but people are easily replaceable
Nourishment for long term growth
   Working with others
Control and command
Everyone doing their bit as prescribed
A necessity to be kept to a minimum
Unnecessary people are replaceable
A part of a 24 hour cycle
To be embraced
Bad planning
To be avoided
   Solving problems
For highest ranking officers to decide
Resort to manual
Left to specialists to decide
Useless activity
Part of the necessary cycle of life
Sign of weakness
Bad selection
Sign of disease

Of course my own internal metaphor(s) will be impacting how I present the above. In other words you may have found yourself disagreeing with my interpretation, and putting a different slant on them.

The point is we do have metaphors (scripts) that determine how we tackle our day, the decisions we make and how we do what we do and relate to and judge others. It's how we are able make so many decisions so quickly every day ie simply deciding what action best fits the metaphor we’re operating within. For example: 
  • Someone usually operating within a war metaphor could find compassion very difficult and possibly even a sign of weakness. If forced to do so their interpretation would be made using the metaphor – so compassion could either be explained away as doing it under duress, or even as purely a tactic to win the war!
  • Someone operating within a machine metaphor would be unlikely to be able to show any compassion - as it's not a facet able to be fitted into the metaphor. 
  • Compassion would however come much more easily and naturally to someone operating within a garden metaphor.
The key is knowing the preferences you have for certain metaphors within certain contexts, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses they bring with them.

For example my preference for a garden metaphor means I back off from competition, conflict and don't like to be told what to do about things I'm an expert in, nor having too many processes and procedures to follow. At times all things I need to be able to effectively handle and flex my metaphor to be able to do.

Funny how our filters work – having started to write this blog last night I saw reference to a book entitled ‘flat army’ - that I assume tries to amend the conventional metaphor of an army to make it more applicable to the 21st century. Although with my garden preferences I can't help but feel it still involves winning at all costs.

What metaphor(s) do you operate within, and how does it support or hinder you on a daily basis? 


Alison Smith
Inspiring Change inside and out

Metaphors used in our language are a common theme to my coaching sessions with clients, with those using nature and landscaping your life also a frequent visitor. My most popular blog Making mountains out of molehills is a great example of how the metaphors we use can also provide the solution to the very challenges they're describing. 

Of course organisations have operating metaphors too.

An index of blogs written about the many different tools I use in coaching can be found here.


  1. Nope. Army comes from the word 'armada' which means flotilla. I titled the book to help leaders and organizations see there is a way in which an armada can be flat, even with the need for hierarchy and captains. (

  2. Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful! I’m still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post thanks!Business coaching India | Leadership coach India| CEO coaching India