Welcome to January! The dumpster fire that was 2020 is giving way to a new decade, a new administration, a new vaccine, and a new hope (though not of the Star Wars variety).
Whether you've spent the last few days culling down your social media friend lists, clearing out your inbox, or clearing off your countertops, I suspect you're also mentally preparing for the year ahead.
At the start of every year, that hope and mental preparation typically equates to goal-setting. I know: how predictable that a coach is posting about goals in January. I'm disappointed in myself, too... but before I get to goals I want to say one thing
(hoists herself onto a soap box)
Resolutions and all the inspirational quotes and social media churn surrounding them may make you think that you have to change or overhaul your life because it's a new year. That's absolutely not true.
This one's gonna be quick.
When we sit down together to identify your "I Want" statement (that's the big goal that brought you to coaching), I'm going to ask you a series of follow-on questions. They usually go something like this:
I ask you these questions because I want to make sure it's clear to both of us what we're working towards. I want to make sure you hear yourself establishing milestones, intended behaviors or thought processes, and that you begin to envision yourself in success. This is a crucial component of self-accountability.
Then, I'm going to ask you a follow-up question that my clients always, always get annoyed at me for bringing up: How are we going to measure your progress? (I'm going to pause here to say that if the opening chords of Seasons of Love just started worming their way into your ear... well... you're welcome.)
It's not a trick question. You've told me only moments ago how success appears against your senses. This "ugh" question forces you to quantify the qualitative: Where are you (today), where do you want to go (your goal), where are you challenged (the Funknown) and where are you making progress (measures). Measures-- or metrics, if you're Six Sigma kinda person-- drive your goals and catapult your achievements. They are unique to you and reflect what's important to you.
If we don't know what we're measuring your progress towards your success, then how will we know when to celebrate?
When you're starting a coaching business-- or any business, for that matter-- you're encouraged to "niche-down". Who are your clients? Where do you find them? How will they know you're of their tribe? And then you're encouraged to niche down further, to dig deeper and focus on your target Person.
As I was launching this business, my internal soundtrack swung between "I can coach anyone who is ready to be coached" and "why should anyone listen to me?" [Here's the thing: I'm going to blatantly ignore that second question for this blog post, but we'll come back to it in the future, ok? Cool.] When I really gave myself a moment to check my ego, I understood that the first statement was untrue. Am I capable of coaching anyone? Sure, but what about people whose values are in conflict with mine? What about folks whose core beliefs are of oppression, racism, misogyny...? Those are not my people. It's likely they wouldn't want what I bring to the table, anyway. My niche-down journey was an exploration of who I wanted to elevate, to support through transformation and to signal boost.
"Tell me about a time you've failed" is a trick question. Interviewers ask it to gain a sense of your ego, your ability to handle adversity, and how you rebound. But it is a trick question. Let me explain.
During coaching sessions, I often ask my clients, "what does X mean to you?" or "what does Y look like to you"? Some variation on that. Words have specific definitions and, since language is fluid, we have the ability to express ourselves in whatever manner we want and need to characterize our experiences. Recently, I asked a client what success looks like, and they asked back "didn't we already cover this last time"? Well... yes. But they defined success about a specific Thing and this was another Thing. The markers for one don't necessarily describe the other.
Shortly before the pandemic arrived, boss bitch Amy Maniscalco wrote a piece for Medium called 6 Phrases to Replace "I'm Sorry." In it, she introduces "strong replacements for the meaningless apologies that do nothing but diminish the value of your time, your words, and ultimately your worth." I immediately bookmarked the article, sent it to five friends, and began to incorporate those replacement phrases in my daily life.
Perhaps because it was on my mind, I became aware of how often those two words were blurted for non-apologetic reasons. I listened for it in public and in the workplace. I noticed, too, when my coaching clients would apologize to me:
I'm sorry I'm talking so much.
I'm sorry I'm crying.
I'm sorry I'm laughing.
I'm sorry I didn't do my thought exercises.
I'm sorry to cut you off, but I just had a thought!
Several years ago, I was a civil servant. I first landed a government job not because I was particularly driven to the mission of the agency I was hired into-- it has a good, noble, important mission-- but because I needed A Job after being unemployed for three months (more on this in a later post).
Most mornings after my alarm sounded and I started to get myself assembled for the day, I'd open the closet door, sit on the floor and gaze at my options. Usually, I'd grab my phone or, once I was senior enough, my government-issued Blackberry (TM) and check out what I had on the books for the day. And then I'd think, "who do I need to be today?"
My first job after college was as an English and Drama teacher at a small private school in Maryland. I studied theatre (yep, of the -re variety) at Syracuse University, and I knew I'd need to come home, get a job and save money before making The Big Move to New York. For a long time, I wanted to be a writer, but I allowed a college counselor to convince me that the only way my magna-cum-laude-high-school-grades-with-several-AP-credits-and-some-very-mediocre-SAT-scores would matriculate was through performance; at that time, I'd been a professional actor for a good portion of my life and this college counselor was an authority, so I believed her.
We bought our house right before the winter holidays in 2019, and my partner, James, has been spending his quaran-times setting up his basement woodworking shop.
Earlier this week, I was making dinner when he came upstairs, paused the podcast that was accompanying my preparations, and presented me with this. James was excited. It took me a moment to grok what I was looking at. When I understood, I got a little misty.
Not too long ago, a client asked me how she should explain coaching to her friends. When they asked her, she wasn't sure where to begin. We talked more conceptually about coaching: What made her commit to it? What did she get out of it? How might she describe coaching?
The International Coaching Federation writes, "Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative partnership that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential, often unlocking previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership." You know where you are and where you want to be, but you see a gap between those two points in your life. You don't know how to bridge them; coaching will help.
I call that gap the FUNKNOWN. It's the in-between. It's a place of opportunity, choice and risk. It's where you assert your bravery to let go of old tactics for the new world you're creating. That's where we play.
When you're asked about what coaching is, there's no wrong answer. But I hope you'll tell them you're exploring the funknown. I'll see you there.