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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Vincent vs The Fish

During the summer, Harper and I flew down to London for a Daddy/Daughter trip to do some typical touristy things and to make some memories over a long weekend. We'd done the same on a shorter, midweek trip last spring and had lots of fun so I was very much looking forward to it as the summer approached.

One of the great joys of travelling with a little person (Harper was seven at the time, a few weeks before her birthday) is that they find the fun and enjoyment in all of the parts of the trip, not just the big set pieces that you're there for. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a favourite writer of mine, said "It's the not the Destination, it's the journey" and it can be very enlightening to be reminded of that, by viewing the world through the eyes of little people.

As someone who travels a fair bit for work, I'm typically so focussed on the place I'm trying to get to that I don't really pay attention to the journey, except for checking in on whether I'm on time or late. Not so, when I'm travelling with the Golden Beansprout! We took a taxi to the airport, had breakfast in her favourite place in the airport (because she gets a pan au chocolate and some orange juice!), flew to London, took the train into the city and found a place to drop our bags off while we went for adventures. Each step of the way was filled with insight and discovery for Harper.

The first port of call, was to an immersive exhibition of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh - which makes me sound painfully middle class - but Harper (unlike her dad) is an arty soul and so I thought it might be a great way to spark her excitement and creativity. On the way to the exhibition, however, we wandered through the area next to Spitalfields Market in the city of London. It was the beginning of July so there were deckchairs outside, full of financial services professionals enjoying the lunchtime sun and watching the tennis from Wimbledon on a big screen. I wasn't paying much attention because I was really looking forward to seeing the giant moving projections of paintings I'd seen in the online advertising for the event we were heading to, but we needed to grab some lunch first. The walk to lunch took us right past a pond and that's where Harper's curiosity really peaked.

You see, in this pond, right behind the Natwest building at 250 Bishopsgate, there were fish. Lots of fish! Several varieties of goldfish, like Sarasa Comets and Shubunkins (don't worry, I googled these ones!) and some beautiful Koi which looked like they'd been covered in gold leaf were just noodling about in the pool, oblivious to the goings on at Wimbledon or the ebb and flow of the financial district at lunchtime. Harper was captivated. She sat and watched them for ages until we finally had to go or we'd never have time for lunch before our slot. So we grabbed lunch and she spoke about the fish and then we went to the exhibition, which was excellent by the way.....and she spoke some more about the fish! And when we left the exhibition, we walked through the market and Harper made sure that we came back to the fish so that she could watch them some more. And that we did, for another half an hour, while enjoying an ice cream!

I was reflecting yesterday in a session I was running with a team of bankers, about asking questions, that towards the end of each executive coaching session, it's common for me to ask a variation of the question 'What's been useful for you today?' When I ask that, I am often reflecting myself on the things which have emerged in the session, those little lightbulb moments or sparks of insight that I've observed in the client, or maybe a question I asked which I thought was particularly insightful or powerful at the time. And when the client answers, they almost never highlight something which stood out for me! What seemed useful or important to me was wallpaper for them. What seemed trivial or went unnoticed to me was poignant to them.

Harper and her fish is the perfect analogy for that. I had grand plans of big events and world famous landmarks to visit, but looking at fish or eating an ice cream (we have a shared love of mint choc chip) were the things that really stood out for her. She wanted to come back the next day and see them again, but we had the Tower of London and the London Eye on the itinerary. And it reminded me to be curious. To ask more and think less for her. A coaching session is for the client and a daddy daughter trip is, largely, for the daughter. I'll keep that in mind the next time we go away together!

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