“To tell you the truth Wyn, I’m dreading Christmas” my client Charlie said to me. Two black
Americano coffees had just been placed on the white-clothed table in between us. The hotel
lounge was buzzing with staff clearing away the breakfast service. Rain lanes meandered
down the glass of the window to my left. Christmas lights shone through to cheer the mid-
morning December London gloom. Charlie looked at me with a pained look and watery
“I don’t know why I put myself through it” he said. He then looked away, down.
Charlie had first contacted me 8 months earlier in the spring, to help him in his new role in
his company. He’d done well in his career. At 44 he now led the largest division and had the
C-suite role he’d coveted.
But he had a crisis of confidence, so his boss suggested he talk to me. Over face-to-face
coffees mixed with Zoom calls, the issue had dissolved itself by Charlie having insights into
how the human mind works. And the fibs it can tell.
This was the first time he’d opened up about life outside of work. I knew a little. Divorced.
No children. Good social life. Big into indie-rock. And West Ham United. That his parents had
him and his sister late in life and when they retired, they moved back to his father’s
homeland of Scotland. On the Isle of Skye to be precise. His father died 3 years ago, in the
summer of 2020. His mother still lived on Skye.
That’s what I knew up until then.
“I can’t have my mother being alone at Christmas, but she’s so miserable. She gets to me. I
try my best to cheer her up. Nothing works. You’d think she’d be grateful that I’d be there
again for Christmas. That I’d made the effort. Fat chance!” he said, and paused with a big
As much as I’d heard in these few moments, I knew this was a time for me to listen more.
“Why isn’t it enough for her that I want to spend Christmas up there with her? Why doesn’t
that bring a smile to her face? The past 2 years there have been horrible. It’s an 8-hour
drive, door-to-door. Then 8 hours back on the 29th.”
The next pause was longer. I watched as his expression changed a little. His eyes tightened,
relaxed, and tightened again. A resigned shake of the head.
“Nothing I do can make her happy” he said.
After another minute or so of silence, I said
“Can anyone make anyone feel anything?”
He flared a scowled look at me, then sat back.
“No. Short of physical pain, I know no one makes me feel anything. That one fact I do know
from our time together this year” he said.
“If that is true, how can you expect to make your mother happy?” I said.
He sat back and rubbed his face with both hands. A resigned expression morphed into a
puzzled one. He leant forward, with an air of excitement and wonderment.
“What? I’ve spent almost my entire life trying to make both my parents happy! To make
them proud of me. Maybe in their own way they were, but they didn’t show it. Even as a
kid, I was trying to get validation from them. I’m still the same now!”
Big. Penny. Dropped.
“That’s not how validation works is it?” he said with a rhetorical question.
I smiled and shook my head.
The look of relief on Charlie’s face was bigger now and he leaned back and exhaled one of
those outbreaths that looked like it had been held inside for decades.
We talked some more about feelings, expectations and how every human lives in their
separate, thought-created realities. I shared a story of a customer I had back in my days of
working at PepsiCo UK, who I’d only ever seen miserable, with a permanent frown. Charlie
and I swapped other tales of people and of ourselves. He realised he did not need to protect
his own mood from his mother’s mood and actions. That he could show up on the Isle of Sky
and be with his mother, regardless of how she is and how she responds. Charlie looked
I know that him being lighter will mean a far better Christmas for him. No need for
validation. No need for things to be different (even if he would rather they were). No need
to fix his mother’s mood. No need for her to help him with his.
If there’s anything in this blog that’s spoken to you, I’m grateful.
If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a wonderful time.
If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful festive season.
And if this time of year is hard for you, please know that you are never alone, never
separate, never unloved – regardless of what you might think.
With love and gratitude,