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Thoughts around a generation's journey to adulting...

If Cinderella had a Life Coach

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A Girl in a Tough Spot

Once upon a time there was a girl named Cinderella who was dealt a bad hand and living a crap life.   

Her mother died when she was young, and then her dad married this unkind and selfish woman who had two daughters of her own (both of whom, not surprisingly, were also unkind and selfish). Then her dad died suddenly, leaving her to make do with her mean-spirited stepmother and her nasty stepsisters who each were terrible to her in their own crappy way. They made her do all the castle housework and laundry, and all the kitchen work, And they belittled her the whole time – making snotty comments right to her face. Money in the household was tight, and none was spared for poor Cinderella, so she dressed in (and slept in) dirty, cast-off old clothes.  

It really was a terrible situation. Cinderella’s mental health and confidence suffered greatly. She struggled with loneliness, depression, anxiety and even hopelessness.  To her credit, though, she kept it together and worked hard around the castle every day. But each night she would dream – even pray — that someday an angel or a magical fairy godmother or something would rescue her from this life of misery. Ultimately, though, she began to believe the negative messages the other women were pounding into her, and she quietly resigned herself to her miserable existence. 

Cinderella Makes a Friend

One day, a local coal merchant named Bernard came knocking at the kitchen door. (The stepmother had sent Bernard packing when he called at the front of the castle, but he had an entrepreneurial nature so he went around back and tried again.) Cinderella greeted him and they had a bit of conversation about the load of coal he was selling and related topics. Bernard was polite and she could tell he had been on his feet all day – and she was frankly lonely – so she invited him in for a cup of tea. 

As they talked, Bernard quickly took a liking to this hardworking and earnest young woman, as she reminded him of his daughters. He took stock of her miserable situation, and he could sense her sadness, so he was especially kind to her as they spoke. She responded to his compassion and interest. It had been so long since someone had talked to her like she was a real person. So she began to tell him more of her story.  And they became friends. 

In the following weeks, Bernard the coal merchant became a regular visitor, stopping by during his travels to spend time with this lonely girl. Cinderella came to trust him enough that she began to have earnest dialogues with him about what she had experienced and what she was feeling. He wasn’t a therapist of course but he was a patient and compassionate listener, and he asked thoughtful questions. (I don’t think they actually had therapists back then.) Over time, though, Bernard began to not just listen; he began to gently make observations and suggestions. 

New Perspectives and Possibilities

Bernard helped Cinderella to see that her stepmother and stepsisters were treating her badly, in like nine different ways. They were hurting her — verbally and emotionally, making her work under terrible conditions — and denying her opportunities to build a happy life. And she deserved better than that. He also helped her to gain perspective around how hard she was working, and the strength of her character, and that she was nice, friendly, and a good problem solver, and she had been getting so much done around the castle with no help and very little resources. Over time Cinderella began to realize that she was in fact a very worthy and hardworking girl, a clever person with real potential, who was currently living a crap existence. She began to consider that maybe she deserved – and she was capable of – living a happy life. 

Cinderella had no idea what to do with that truth though. She was so beat down, dressed in her rags, that she was embarrassed to even leave the castle. He encouraged her to clean up as best she could and try to get out a bit. Maybe even take some evening walks around the village when her chores were finished.  She went into town very tentatively at first of course, but she found that people smiled at her there (rags and all) and the village was full of shops and interesting things.  After a few weeks she was a regular visitor to town, learning her way around and greeting people, gaining bits of confidence in every friendly little exchange. Afterwards she would share these experiences with her coal salesman friend, and they would talk about them. As more weeks passed Cinderella began to wonder if she might actually be able to make a new life in that village. But how to get from her miserable life in the castle to a happy life in the village? 

Bernard advised her to start paying attention to the shops, to see if she might want to work at one of them. She soon could name three or four different places that interested her – and the most interesting was the local bakery. So Bernard recommended that she simply introduce herself to the bakery owner while on her next trip into town. “Just walk in the front door and say hello.” Suddenly all of her anxieties and doubts, the scars of countless humiliations (real and imagined), rose up though and she was scared to death at the idea of taking such a step. So Bernard spent time with her, helping her get comfortable introducing herself and telling her story. He shared with her funny but honest stories about times he had been rejected over the years; they shared a laugh remembering how Cinderella’s stepmother had sent him packing the first time he called at the castle. They even did some silly role-playing where he pretended he was the shop owner, and he would ask Cinderella questions. Pretty soon she felt just enough confidence to step into the bakery. 

Cinderella Takes a Chance

The older woman who owned the bakery was named Nan, and amazingly (to Cinderella at least), she was very nice. Nan quickly took a shine to this polite young woman in rags, as she had nieces around that same age. She invited Cinderella in and offered her a slice of fresh bread and some tea, and they talked while Nan took loaves out of the ovens. It was a simple encounter for Nan – really nothing at all – but it blew Cinderella away. As she walked back to the castle she was smiling to herself and actually singing a bit. So now she had two friends, Bernard and Nan! 

The next time Bernard visited, Cinderella eagerly shared with him how great her visit to the bakery had been. He smiled, much less surprised of course by Nan’s hospitality than Cinderella had been. “So now ask Nan if she might hire you to work with her.” he quickly proposed. Cinderella sat back, her mind racing with objections and concerns. Lots of shops in town had “help wanted” signs out, but the bakery didn’t. She didn’t know anything about working at a bakery! And this Nan lady had seemed nice, but what if she would prove to be just as abusive as the stepmother? And what if her crazy stepmother got wind that Cinderella was trying to get a job in the village?!?  Bernard patiently helped her to make peace with her fears, and eventually she agreed (grinning nervously) that the next time she went to town she would explore the possibility that she might work at the bakery.  

In just a few days Cinderella found a reason to get back into the village and she headed right to the bakery.  Her stomach was in knots as she nervously asked if Nan might like to have some help around the shop.

Cinderella Gets A Job — and a New Name

Cinderella was caught totally off-guard as the bakery shop owner responded with a smile and engaged in the conversation. It turned out that Nan had been thinking about Cinderella as well. Nan too was more than a bit lonely, and as she was getting older she was struggling to keep up with the shop all by herself.  She knew she needed help, but she had no idea who might like a job at a bakery because it was in fact hard work and she couldn’t pay very much. But she did have an extra little room in the back where they might make a bed for Cinderella as she transitioned her life from the castle. Nan offered also to pay for a few simple outfits Cinderella could wear around the shop. So, they quickly agreed that Cinderella would move into the back room in the bakery and become Nan’s assistant. 

Nan surprised Cinderella, though, when she recommended that as she moved into the bakery she might also change her name a bit.  “Cinderella” was the name everyone – especially the young girl herself – would always associate with a sad girl living a life of labor and loneliness.  Nan proposed that her new assistant could change it, and go by the name “Cindy”. Outwardly Cinderella smiled nervously at the very idea, but inside her soul was singing. Cindy the Bakery Assistant she would be. As luck would have it, on the way back to the castle, brimming with excitement, she ran into Bernard on the road and she breathlessly shared her amazing good fortune with him. He just smiled, and right there on the road they invented the fist bump. 

Cinderella (now Cindy) packed her things and moved out of the castle the very next day, with a brisk but polite goodbye to the stepmother and stepsisters who were caught quite off guard and were bewildered, but they couldn’t stop her. Mostly they just wanted to know who would sweep their cinders. Not Cindy’s problem. She moved out and never looked back. 

Cindy Gets A Life

As you might imagine, Cindy was thrilled with her new life. Her work at the bakery called for early mornings and long days on her feet, and she was pretty tired at the end of the day — but Nan was kind to her and taught her patiently, and with each passing day she got more familiar with the workings of the shop and the people of the village. Business at the bakery picked up noticeably, with this charming girl at the counter and the bread-making operation now running more smoothly. So Nan was super happy as well. Bernard would stop in sometimes to say hi, buy a loaf, and share a fist bump with Cindy.    

Soon Cindy was making friends her own age and socializing after work. One night at the local pub she met Carl, who was a stonemason in training and played drums with a cover band. They hit it off right away. Before you could say “bibbity bobbity boo” Cindy had a real life. And she blossomed. 

One day, about a year after Cindy had joined Nan at the bakery, Prince Hans (heir to the throne) came running into the shop with a glass shoe in his hand. He had been working his way down the street, making every girl try it on. Something about finding the girl who he must marry. Cindy thought it all sounded nuts, but the prince seemed like a nice guy, so she gave him a free loaf of sourdough and sent him on his way. She never even tried on the shoe. After work that evening, she told Carl about this crazy encounter she had had with the prince. 

How Cindy’s Life Worked Out

Fifteen years later, when Nan passed away, ownership of the shop had already transitioned to Cindy. The business was thriving, and she ran it masterfully. Cindy had married Carl, and now their three children could often be seen happily playing around the shop, doing little chores and learning from their mother how to bake great bread. The shop was cranking out the loaves now, in the new stone oven Carl had built. Cindy’s friendship with Bernard the coal salesman (who himself was much older now) grew deeper over the years, and he would frequently stop in to say hi and talk about life. Of all the people in the village, Bernard was the only one who even remembered the Cinderella of old. He kept that to himself though because he was so proud of Cindy and all she had accomplished. Bernard just smiled because Cindy’s life had turned out to be pretty wonderful.  

And Cindy the baker and Carl the stonemason and their family lived pretty happily ever after. 

The Moral of the Story

Fairy godmothers and pumpkin coaches of course never show up to rescue young people who are struggling with confidence and/or have lost their way.  (And who really gets to marry the prince??) But wonderful things can happen when just one caring adult helps a young person to open up with confidence, explore their possibilities with just a bit of courage, take some chances, and build their happy life. As young people gain confidence and practice connecting with others, and trusting in themselves enough to try new things, all kinds of great possibilities emerge. 

Anyone who would like to connect with me or explore these topics more is invited to visit my website at www.otoolecoaching.com.

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Martin O'Toole

Marty is a great listener who asks a lot of curious questions. When he asks about your day or how you are doing, he really wants to know. And he comes equipped with a supply of anecdotes and stories that keep the time together interesting.

He is practical and results-oriented. He believes in showing up every day to do the work and learning by experience. He preaches action orientation, resilience, entrepreneurship, and the importance of good decision-making.