In my last post, Who Are You When You Can’t Be Who You Were, I mused about what happens when something that defined us, something that we considered part of our very identity, changes.
That started me thinking about all the things that we allow to define us. Our age, our gender, our favorite sports team, our occupation.
Of course, my “occupation” is a coach. Not that I can list that on most government forms, I have to revert to “consultant” for those. But, while I still bring my business consulting background to the table, my greatest talent lies, not in providing answers, but in asking the questions that help my clients connect the dots and discover their own answers.
So when does “helping clients discover their own answers” become part of my identity?
I think the danger zone, not only for coaches, but for all of us, is when our identity depends on people actually doing what we want to help them do.
I worked with a coach a few years ago whose specialty was in performance coaching. While I continue to uncover gifts from the experience, it was one of the most traumatic coaching experiences I’ve ever put myself through. When I told her I saw part of my value as being an “appreciative audience” for genius creatives, she laughed at me. When I insisted I was dead serious, she became derisive and accused me of intentionally “playing small.” When I chose not to make a part of my personal story public at that time, she accused me of being selfish and withholding the help I could offer from those who needed it most. As our relationship progressed, and I remained my stubborn self, she became more and more frustrated, even angry with me. I was stunned, I allowed her reaction to hurt deeply, I was bitter. Mostly, I was baffled. Why was it so important to her for me to take her direction?
I’ve since realized that it was not only because she cared, and because she truly believed that her advice, although it didn’t align with my own truth, was in my best interests. It was also because her identity was tangled up in being able to help people perform better. And when I wasn’t performing better, by her standards, it challenged her world view - of herself. My stubborn refusal to improve at the game she knew I could win at, if I would only agree to play - challenged her very sense of self.
One of the best coaching tips I can offer, although I don’t always remember to apply it to myself, is to look inside whenever something outside sends up a red flag.
The red flag was this - when we get so passionate about our “I help people…” statement that our sense of self is challenged when those people don’t need, want, appreciate, or accept our help, it is our problem to solve, not theirs.
Looking inside, I could see the precedent and the potential.
My “I help people…” statement - what I call my Purpose Statement - has evolved many times over the years, but it still comes down to three elements: I help people connect WHO they are, with WHAT they do, and what they WANT - in their life, from their life and for their life. And there are plenty of people who just aren’t ready for that. Or who just can’t accept that from me. Or whose purpose and presence I just cannot connect to - the chemistry isn’t there.
That used to cause me tears and sleepless nights - until I realized that attachment to their outcome was not the same as commitment to their outcome.
So I still have bouts of doubt - who doesn’t? I still catch myself getting attached to someone else’s decisions and results.
But when I do, I have a visual image that I call up. It’s a coach, but the kind of coach no one wants their kid to have. The kind of coach who cares more about how their players performance reflects on them, as the coach, than how the players feel about the game they’re playing.
And that coach has a pair of devil’s horns.
And the other visual is the kind of coach who is always smiling, the kind who cheers every point, even when the team or the player is down by so many points that a win is out of the question. The kind who considers every good decision proof of a lesson learned, and every poor decision proof of the ability to learn a new lesson.
And that coach, in my mental picture, has a halo and a pair of angel wings.
And then it’s a matter of choice - which coach do I want to identify with?
Because I choose who I become, with every thought I allow to take up space in my mind.