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Ordinary People Taking Action
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It’s January 6, 2020, and I have already read countless articles about the new year and new decade. They’ve covered just about every topic imaginable: from how to get fit in the new year to how to become a better leader, from how to be a better version of yourself to how to create the best resolutions. The list continues.
Let me be clear, I have zero issues with these articles. Many of them are well written, offering excellent tips. However, every year, I find myself asking the same question of myself and others – why do we wait for the new year to make these resolutions? Many will say that the beginning of the calendar year naturally invites us to stop, reflect and decide how we want to show up in the days that lie ahead. Yet come March, we all know what most of us will be thinking about – anything other than our new year, new us, resolutions.
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I have wanted to move to a new home for a very long time, and while that’s not what this story is about, the context is important. It’s important because I have spent a lot of time looking at houses, and in doing so, I have noticed something: every house has a living space in which all seating is positioned to make the television more easily viewable. My own home is not an exception. This arrangement is so common that it’s always easy to identify which houses are staged and which are currently lived in. Televisions aren’t a focal point in a staged home.
On a related note, I recently read that habits are formed because of things that we do repeatedly, and often, our environment shapes these habits. It’s no wonder people come home, fall onto the sofa and settle into an hours-long daze of television watching. After all, you have a comfortable place to sit that is positioned right in front of the television. We’ve created the perfect environment for what some might argue is a not very productive habit.
A side story, completely unrelated to this (I will tie everything together soon, I promise) is that three years ago, I mentioned to my family that I really wanted a lemon tree. They were skeptical. In the state of Washington, there isn’t continuous year-round sunlight and warm weather. How would I manage to grow lemons? I told them I was committed to the task, and so, for Mother’s Day that year, I was the proud receiver of a lemon tree.
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This is a blog series following my executive coaching client, Christine, as we navigate her personal and career struggles. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to start from the beginning. For Part 2, click here and for Part 3, click here.
As an executive coach, I build relationships with people – in many cases very deep relationships. Then, when the contract ends, we often part ways. It’s one of the hardest parts of my job, so I am always thrilled to get an update from former clients and honored to receive multiple updates. In the case of my relationship with Christine, a year would pass with no word from her and no resolution as to what happened with her family that caused the sobbing that morning.
When I coach people, the basis of my coaching focuses on what the individual needs in order to show up at their best. We discuss the concept of “triggers”, which are emotional responses to an event. Triggers can be positive or negative and are often referred to as either productive or counterproductive. We explore anticipated and unanticipated triggers, conscious and unconscious triggers, encouraging and discouraging triggers, and intentional and unintentional triggers.
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This is a blog series following my executive coaching client, Christine, as we navigate her personal and career struggles. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to start from the beginning. If you missed Part 2, click here.
After Christine received her undergraduate degree, she continued immediately to grad school, followed by her PhD. She is incredibly smart and very focused on her career. She has the ability to take in data, process it, and decide on a course of action. This ability, mixed with her talent for knowing exactly what is needed now to ensure her future vision becomes a reality, is what makes her truly exceptional.
Christine would share with me her love for books and education. She reads multiple books at the same time, a habit Bill Gates is known to have as well. When Christine isn’t absorbing information through reading, she’s listening to podcasts or NPR in her car. Christine is an engineer with a level of business savvy I have never seen before. To say she is a “high performer” is truly an understatement. And despite her already extensive knowledge and experience, she is consistently focused on how she can learn more and expand her viewpoints.
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This is a blog series following my executive coaching client, Christine, as we navigate her personal and career struggles. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to start from the beginning.
Looking at Christine today with tears in her eyes, I’m reminded of that first time I saw her cry. The first time I saw her cry, I didn’t ask why. Our relationship was so new and somewhat fragile, and I knew that if she’d wanted me to know why she was crying, she would tell me. Since that day, our relationship had evolved to something deeper, so with compassion I asked, “Christine, what are you feeling?” Her response, “Sadness, very deep sadness.”
I have a rule with my clients. When the question “What are you feeling?” is asked, the answers have to be one or two words, with no explanations. I will never ask for the explanation and they don’t need to provide it. It’s a strategy that I learned working with a large corporation – that the action of naming a feeling is often all that is needed. Yet, today, without thought, I asked, “Why so much sadness?” The room was filled with a long silence. All you could hear was Christine’s breathing, and every so often, a sniffle as tears spilled from her eyes.
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As I entered Christine’s office, it was immediately clear that something had shifted. The appointment was part of our standing weekly coaching session, but today’s meeting started off very different from the others. Sitting at her desk, with tears in her eyes, she looked up at me and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I should back up six months, to the beginning of our engagement. When the VP of HR reached out, I was told that Christine was a “high-performer” and a real “go-getter”. She was the fastest promoted VP in the company and was on track to land a coveted role in the c-suite. Yet, she needed an executive coach to “humanize her” and to help her “become more emotional”. These are concerns that, as a coach, I hear all the time.
When we’d first met, Christine didn’t come across as confident and was slow to open up to me. The second part isn’t always a surprise. Clients can be ambivalent about seeing an executive coach. It may or may not have been their idea, and even if they are excited about the engagement – they are standoffish until we establish a rapport. Christine’s lack of confidence, however, was unusual for an executive-level professional. It’s more typical for me to see an “I’ve got this” attitude, with perhaps a bit of arrogance and aloofness sprinkled in. In many ways, it’s this confidence that got them where they are.
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I moved to a new elementary school and tried to join a group of friends. “Sorry, we have enough in our group already.”
I tried out for the basketball team at the new middle school (as the tallest girl trying out). “Sorry, you’re not good enough.”
I wanted to swim for my dream college. “Sorry, you’re not fast enough, just cut .2 seconds off your time and maybe next year.”
You’re not old enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not experienced enough. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard throughout my life that I am not enough. And while it was never an easy message to hear, the “not enough” narrative has actually, many times, served me well. While I never played basketball in high school, I did become a really good swimmer.
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I’ve spent a lot of time coaching lately and the same topic keeps surfacing – negative self-talk. The root of this self-talk is our often-present inner critic. The one that says we aren’t good enough. Not strong enough. Not smart enough. Not prepared enough. You get the picture. This message in our heads is loud and persistent. When I am talking with people and the negative self-talk is present, the “enough” thoughts are daunting. Self-confidence takes a huge hit. Put this on repeat and it’s a formula for disaster.
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Don't Juggle; Make Choices.
A question coaches are asked a lot is, “How can I juggle work and life?” In my experience, when I am asked this question, my client is feeling like they are taking on too much in one area of their lives. I’d like to start by sharing some stories that I think readers may relate to, especially as the holidays approach.
John is an executive at a large company, who tells me he spends a minimum of 14 hours working, at least three hours driving, 4 hours sleeping and the rest taking care of his living needs. Part of his 14-hour workday is spent texting/emailing, starting before 5am most mornings and ending close to midnight most evenings. His phone rings constantly, often during dinner with his family. He almost always answers. His wife and family rarely see him, and even when he’s physically present, he’s frequently mentally distracted.
Jessica has created a habit where she ends her day in the office at 4:30pm so that she can be home for the kids in the evening. She and her husband tag team to get the kids to various sports and commitments in the evenings, all while juggling the dogs, dinner prep and other household/family needs. After the kids are in bed, typically between 9:30 – 10pm, Jessica will log back onto her computer and “catch up” on the work she missed by leaving the office at 4:30. She typically works until well past midnight, sometimes later. She sees her husband daily yet doesn’t feel that they have any truly meaningful interactions.
Emily is just returning to work after giving birth to her second baby boy. Her oldest is about to turn 3 years old, so she is juggling the demands of two young children at home and reentering a director-level job at a larger company. She has been late for every morning meeting this week, realizing it’s hard to get out of the house on time and still meet the needs of her kids. She uses the mother’s room every three hours while at the office and has been leaving every day at 6pm. Once home, she is too exhausted to log onto her work email, and yet her work is just getting started at home. Nights mean getting up every 4-5 hours to feed the newborn baby, leaving her sleep deprived the following day.
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There is a terrific book titled, The Courage to be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. I believe everyone should read this book. I’m borrowing their title.
If there is one thing I have gained in my career (in my life, really) it is the courage to be disliked. Initially, it was difficult. I have values deeply rooted within me of wanting to belong, wanting to be liked and avoiding conflict. Anyone close to me knows how important these three things truly are to me. I also strongly value fairness, professionalism, straight-talk and drive. Others often tell me they see my drive the most. Sometimes it disappoints me that people are quick to appreciate the value of drive over the other qualities.