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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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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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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.
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A straight line brings predictability. I love predictability – devising a plan and then watching it materialize. Yet, my friends will often say that they think I am spontaneous and have a “go-with-the-flow” approach to life. Some might call that more of a curved line. What I’ve come to learn is that this perceived spontaneity is, in fact, something else – resiliency in disguise.
I’ll give you an example. In January, I gave notice to my employer. As is the case for most people giving notice, I had a strategy and plan in place. My strategy was, in short, to launch my own consulting practice. My plan was, in short, to land two big projects relatively quickly after coming off payroll from my employer.
I needed the plan – the belief in the plan – to rationalize that jump.