In a recent conversation with a coaching client the client showed me a photo of a Paua Shell. I had never seen one before and was struck by its beauty, the blend of colours and its pearlescent qualities. For me it also represented movement and the surface looked like it contained the ripples of stream or sea water.

The Paua is part of a family of sea snails that are referred to as abalone. It is found in New Zealand and to the Maori is referred to as taonga or treasure. It is a rich source of materials for different carvings, jewellery, and crafts. Maori have used the shells as personal ornaments or inlays for carvings for centuries. Often the Paua shells are used for eyes in ritual carvings. In Maori legend the eyes are representative of the stars, symbolic for their ancestors who gaze down upon them. 

The myths, legends and stories from Maori culture talk about the Paua shell. Legend has it that in the days of old the Pauahad no shell. Tangaroa, the god of the sea, saw how difficult this made things for the Paua so decided to make him something special. Tangaroa said that he would take the coolest blue colours from his domain, Tane the god of the forests contributed the freshest greens from the forest. The dawn would contribute violet and the sunset reds and pinks. Overall, there would be a shimmer of pearl. Tangaroafashioned a beautiful coat with these colours for Paua. This pleased Paua but unfortunately other sea creatures, through curiosity or simple envy, broke his fragile shell.  When Tangaroa saw this, he strengthened the shell with many more layers of the beautiful colours and wrapped the shell with a tough textured outer covering. This outer covering was brown and grey in colour to give it camouflage at the bottom of the ocean. 

Tangaroa then instructed Paua to continue to add layer upon layer of colour of different colours on his shell throughout his lifetime.  The Paua holds the secret of his shiny shell until its death. His inner beauty is only revealed when it is washed ashore at the end of its life journey. 

This legend simply blew my mind. Not only am I struck by the beaty of this shell but the power of the legend. As a personal and business coach I see so many parallels in the legend with life in general and the coaching relationship. 

The Paua has a hidden beauty, in its beautiful shell, which is not revealed until its death. When we see the Paua in its natural habitat there is nothing to draw our attention to it. In fact, you could say that it looks quite plain. It what I call ‘shiny on the inside’!

Shiny on the inside 

As a coach I work with the strong conviction that we all hold amazing potential as human beings. Sadly, for various reasons we learn to hide or bury this potential under a strong camouflage, perhaps in an effort to protect ourselves from damage. The damage being the criticism or perceived rejection of others if we were to truly live with our true colours on display.  

Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis Theory, stated that ‘we are all born princes and it is the civilising process which turns us into frogs’. 

What I think that he meant by this was that as we grow up, we internalise key messages about our place in the world and how best to survive within it. We absorb messages from our environment as children which we internalise and often carry on into our adult lives. ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ , ‘when I want your opinion I will ask for it’ and ‘if you don’t stop crying I will definitely give you something to cry about’. Berne would call these injunctions (the don’ts) and drivers (the  be’s) . Don’t be important; Don’t feel; Don’t think!

I believe that a truly inclusive society is one in which people don’t have to be ‘shiny on the inside’ but instead can be their true brilliant many faceted selves in public view. 

Let it Shine 

As a coach I see my role as to create an environment within which my clients can access their full potential as human beings. A place where negative mindsets, assumptions and limitations can be gently challenged. Berne saw the aim of his theory as being to enable us all to live in ‘autonomy’ as independent adults. Living with awareness, spontaneity and the capacity for intimacy with others. Sounds good doesn’t it? 

Let’s not be like the Paua, whose brilliance is not seen until its death. This is your life; your one and only life. You owe it to yourself to shine on the outside!! 

Andrew is an experienced mentor and coach who has partnered with ABBLed to support our members. You can learn more about Andrew on his site

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