Coaches are supposed to always be positive and empowered; but January was a rough month for me. I was really torn about whether to discuss this publicly, but I believe authentic sharing provides value and that is my intention. (Anyone who wants more typical coaching content is welcome to scroll down to links from older articles.)
My mother has some serious problem. This is not new, but she was relatively stable for a while; and now the situation has deteriorated significantly. The details aren’t important. Almost everyone at some point in life faces a situation that is profoundly difficult. Serious illness, acrimonious divorce, disability, Alzheimer’s, substance abuse, victim of sexual assault… the list goes on. Although coaching is about helping people accomplish their goals and be their best selves, the reality is that we must all handle the full gamut that life throws at us, and being our best selves in life is just as much about staying present and grounded when dealing with a personal crisis as it is about taking on a new level of leadership.
As I’ve been coping with the current iteration of my mother’s issues, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how profoundly coaching has helped me to deal with this situation, not only in the last few weeks, but at various points over the last 19 years that I have had access to coaching. I was 18 when my mother first became seriously mentally ill, but the effects have shown up periodically throughout my life. When I was in my mid-twenties I was working with a coach, trying to decide on a career path, and to my surprise, some of my concerns were intertwined with my mother’s illness. I ended up using the coaching to transform my relationship to my mother and find a place of relative peace regarding the situation. Seven years later, though, I discovered yet another layer. As I was considering making a significant career move, I realized that I was terrified that it would lead to chaos and that my life would fall apart. It became clear that the excessive degree of fear I was experiencing was not rooted in rational concerns, but rather, was an after effect from what I dealt with at 18. Once my coach helped me to connect the dots and see where this fear was coming from, it only took a short coaching session to really shift that issue and largely make it disappear. I went on to start my own business in DC, move to Turkey where I knew no one and start a business there, and make other bold career moves that would have been impossible without that key piece of coaching.
I know many people are reading this and thinking, “That isn’t coaching. It’s therapy.” But here are three ways that this is different from therapy.
- The focus is different. My work with clients usually centers on moving their career goals forward. We talk about strategy, design action plans and address obstacles to implementation. Often the hurdles are typical work issues, but occasionally we hit upon a more fundamental concern. If I work with a client for a year, we may have only one or two conversations looking at the past and the roots of a current fear or mindset; but those conversations make a huge difference in terms of moving the client forward.
- It’s faster. I had a client comment after our first coaching session that he got more out of it than he had gotten from three years of therapy. There are certainly situations that are best processed over a longer period of time, using therapeutic techniques. But there are others where a 30-minute or hour-long conversation using transformational coaching structures can make a profound difference.
- The techniques are different. Some of my clients see a therapist as well as working with me, and they may address the same topics with both of us. However, I use exercises and approaches which lead to different types of insight and actions. For a given individual or situation, sometimes one approach is clearly the better fit, and other times a person will benefit tremendously from engaging with both simultaneously.
The reason I love coaching so much is that it operates on multiple levels. On one level, it enables us to think through choices, strategy and communications in a way that leads to better opportunities and more productive relationships. On the next level, it also assists us to bounce back faster in the face of rejection or difficult circumstances; and there are many aspects of a legal career that require resilience (business development, finding a firm that is the right fit, any kind of leadership, etc.) On yet a deeper level, coaching can help reframe experiences from the past including aspects of childhood, personal or professional traumas, etc., to ensure that those experiences don’t interfere with you achieving your goals. Not everyone has the need or inclination to look deeply at such topics, but I love the flexibility to be able to have these conversations when appropriate.
I can still get pretty messed up emotionally when dealing with my Mom. After all, I love her and it’s painful to see what she is doing to herself and others. But instead of taking months or years to process and move through the trauma of a situation, it takes days or weeks. Every one of us faces stumbling blocks in our professional and personal lives, the only question is whether we have the support, resources and wherewithal to handle it in a positive way.