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Ordinary People Taking Action
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It’s easy to see why our lives might be emotionally strained. Every day we wake up to more news about this COVID-19 virus; news that might be based in facts and news that could be fueled to trigger fear and uncertainty. We spend our days surrounded by a situation that I don’t believe any of us choose to be in and we spend our days interacting with people who might not share our views, believes, values and behaviors. We are surrounded by people with various knowledge and it’s hard to understand fact from assumptions and opinions.
While the world is swarming because of the COVID-19, we still have our other life stressors and triggers at play; and for some, these stressors are even more intense. If you were struggling financially before COVID-19, you might now be worried about finances even more. If you were having difficulties with your manager at work, there might be even a larger strain on your relationship. If you weren’t full engaged, this might be an excuse to disengage even more. And, we can’t forget the people who were in a good space prior to this outbreak – who may or may not be continuing to feel good about things.
We are all here for the long-haul. Whatever comes or doesn’t come from the COVID-19 situation most of us will have our lives greatly impacted because of either getting sick, knowing someone who gets sick or the short-term and long-term impact of the stress that caused changes to our work and home environments. To say the long-term implications is unknown, well that is maybe the one statement that I believe, truly believe to be true out of everything I have heard about this virus.
It’s no wonder the emotional stakes in the world are so high.
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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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Imagine a rubber bouncy ball. In fact, imagine a ball of any sort. When the ball is at its best, it is inflated so that when you drop it, it bounces. Without air in the ball, the ball just doesn’t work properly. Period.
I shared this with a client, Ana, the other day. She told me she was completely with me. From my perspective, she was currently the bouncy ball with the small leak – and if she leaked too much more, she would be completely deflated.
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I spent yesterday leading a workshop with a group of professionals, facilitating dialogue and providing tips and tools that would allow them to become “better” problem solvers. Our discussion led us to the topic of models, which are good and helpful and can be applied to several issues such as problem solving, change, or influencing.
Here’s where I brought in another perspective. What if there is something more important that must happen before you are able to implement a model? What if the key to success – the secret sauce per se – has very little to do with the model and more to do with your emotional reaction to triggers?
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Writing is a tricky thing. I am beginning to believe that all writers go through several phases of thinking, and therefore believing, they are not good enough. It’s a feeling I often get when I read over an article of mine. Then this morning, a colleague reached out for advice on how to get started writing more – and added that he thought my articles were really good. Perspective shift.
In writing these articles, I consistently balance my commitment to maintaining the privacy of others and sheltering a bit of myself – my family, my life. There is some measure of vulnerability in sharing personal stories. That said, today I am choosing to write about experiences with my family over the last week, as I think many will be able to relate.