The goal of Task II-A is to help clients develop a sense of direction by exploring possibilities for a better future. I once was sitting alone at the counter of a late- night diner when a young man sat down next to me even though all the other stools were empty. The conversation drifted to the problems he was having with a friend of his. I listened for a while and then asked, “Well, if your relationship was just what you wanted it to be, what would it look like?” It took him a bit of time to get started, but eventually he drew a picture of the kind of relationship he could live with. Then he stopped, looked at me, and said, “You must be a professional.” I believe he thought that I must be a professional because this was the first time in his life that anyone had ever asked him to describe some possibilities for a better future.

Reviewing possibilities for a better future often helps clients move beyond the problem-and-misery mind-set they bring with them and develop a sense of hope. It can also help clients understand their problem situations better—“Now that I am beginning to know what I want, I can see my problems and unused opportunities more clearly.” This is a common example of the intermingled nature of the task of the problem-management process. Let’s take a look at Mara’s involvement in Task II-B.

One theme she explores is “Mara the doer.” “Doer” is her code for substantial change. She wants to change from being a passive person who manages the everyday problems of life “well enough” to a person who reaches out to life. She describes the direction in terms of an article she has read on the path to leadership: “from observer to participant to player to contributor and, who knows, maybe even leader.” Carlos says, “Tell me what the new Mara would look like. Draw me some pictures.” Mara does precisely that. She says that she would like to draw on her business education and be more assertive at work. “For instance, the dealership has no business strategy. I could pull one together. I know the numbers better than anyone. And then we could debate it.” She even talks about the possibility of getting an MBA part time and moving out of her father’s business. A wilder thought is getting a job with either Honda or Toyota. They’re both growing. What could possibly be better than that, especially for someone who has misgivings about American car companies?

Another area of “doing” is family and social life. She is dissatisfied with home life. “I want to move from dutiful daughter to partner. I’m an adult.” The new Mara wants to be one of the decision makers at home. While she doesn’t like the fact that her parents lead such a quiet life—they see it as quiet, while she is beginning to see it as dull—she realizes that it’s not her job to change them. She also dislikes time spent with her two married cousins. She is turned off by what she sees as their narcissism. She is not sure that she wants to be married, but she wants to find out whether she wants to or not. She certainly does not want a marriage like the marriages of her cousins.

Too many clients are locked in to the present. Even when they try to use their imaginations, they think incrementally. The future they envision is not much better than the present they dislike. Helpers do a service for their clients when they encourage them to engage in some kind of “break away” thinking.

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