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Cages and Keys

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

The first coach I ever worked with was a woman I was introduced to as part of my training at CTI (Coaches Training Institute). We were discussing my future business, and she asked what I wanted to call it. Immediately, an image of a hallway filled with doorways popped in my head (much like the one in the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World, but without the creaky noises and cobwebs). To me it was the perfect illustration of my philosophy that there are always multiple opportunities available to us, and it is our responsibility to choose which ones we explore, which ones to close, and which ones to open and walk through – like peeking through a crack in the doors to find a child while playing hide-&-seek. When you find her, you throw the door open and yell “There you are!!!” as squeals and giggles erupt from the child. You’ve found the right door and the treasure behind it!

That’s how Open Door Coaching began. At some point during almost every client’s journey, the hallway of doors is used as a tool to help them realize there are a myriad of opportunities – often more than they ever dreamed possible – to choose from. For many, that’s when the real work begins as they discover that deciding which door to fling wide open takes some soul-searching, defining values, self-analysis, and reflection. But having the power and ability to control their future makes the work exciting!

Every client comes to coaching with a desire to change some aspect of their life. Without fail, each one’s first order of business is to tell me their story. I seldom need to hear the whole thing. What I listen for is not so much of what has happened but rather what they are telling themselves (usually without realizing it) about why what happened…happened. We all have inner narratives – things we believe about ourselves – that shape our perspective on what we observe or experience. We aren’t born with these inner narratives. They come from how we grew up (home life and the culture surrounding it); experiences we have had; and things that have been said to us which, true or not, we have adopted as truth. They shape how we see ourselves and believe others see us. Many do not serve us well.

For years, I have thought of these as labels and asked clients “Are you wearing that label of (“I’m not pretty”, “I’m not good enough”, ________________ {you fill in the blank} ) well?” Sometimes they are—too well in fact, and it holds them back. So, we figure out how they can work to not just let it go, but strip that label off and replace it with a healthy one.

Recently, my wonderful husband, Dean, shared a blog by J.D. Roth ( ) with me that opened a new perspective and depth to this thought process. Embedded in the blog was this quote:

“The small man builds cages for everyone he knows. While the sage,

who has to duck his head when the moon is low,

keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.”


Our inner narratives become so ingrained in our subconsciousness, they not only become a filter through which we process everything, but they erect walls, or cages, in our minds. We become trapped in these cages – these erroneous ways of thinking – and then wonder why life isn’t the way we want it. We are often blind to the effect of our own narratives in our daily life, but others can often see it and help us not only become aware but name it and change it. That’s where the sage comes in.

The sage doesn’t place the key in the hand of the “beautiful rowdy prisoners” (I love that Hafiz recognizes the beauty in each person!) -- he drops them. I have a mental image of him dropping them just within reach of their outstretched arm and not directly in front of the door with the lock. The keys need to be searched for and discovered. And once they are found, the prisoner has to take possession of the key (own it), reach through the bars to place the key in the lock (work it), open the door and walk through it to freedom (live it)!

Here’s a real-life example: My husband is a retired Air Force Colonel. One of his assignments was as Commander at Basic Training. A young man was midway through basic training and had gotten into trouble with his Training Instructors several times. It got so bad, the TI took him to see the Commander (my husband). As the trainee stood in front of the Lt. Colonel being questioned, he said he had been depressed his whole life. The conversation went like this:

Commander: “What makes you think you’re depressed?”

Trainee: “A psychologist told me so.”

Commander: “How old were you?”

Trainee: “Eight. My dad had just died.”


Commander: “Do you believe him today?”

The trainee just stared at the Commander, who could almost see the wheels spinning in the young man’s mind. He finally said, “No, Sir. I do not.” He went back to his flight with an A-Ha! realization that he had been living his life under a label placed on him when he was 8 years old by a psychologist during a natural period of grief after his dad had died! It changed his narrative. He changed the way he saw himself, and he finished basic training in the top of his class. Depression had been his cage. “Do you believe him today?” was his key. He flung open the door, walked out of his cage, and changed his life!

You cannot change your past. You can’t go back and rewrite the story of your life up to this point. You CAN, however, change the way you see yourself in that story. You can IDENTIFY how your inner narratives shaped the way you have interpreted events. You can THINK about those events with a new perspective. You can let go of things others have said to you that you have placed on your chest and worn as labels. You can START moving forward by rewriting your inner narrative – change it to one that serves you well; one that is a label you will wear proudly and that will serve you rather than you serving it!

You can look for the key, find it, pick it up, and unlock your cage. You can change your story from the present moving forward!

Once you do this, even if it’s only one cage opened and you are working on others (yes, there’s often more than one), then you can go from being one of the beautiful rowdy prisoners to a sage who drops keys for others! That has happened in my life, and you know it can happen in yours as well!

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