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The way out is in

I recently got an email asking for an update on a coaching client, a woman I’ve worked with for about 3 months. Typically, I submit a list of coaching goals early in an engagement. But just a few days before this request arrived, I realized that the client and I hadn’t finalized any goals. So when the request came, I felt badly for letting this slip through the cracks. I began drafting a response. I tried to explain why the goals weren’t done. It was tough because I couldn’t violate the client’s confidential privilege, and I couldn’t adequately explain without providing details. I’d write and delete, write and delete. Then it hit me: the struggle wasn’t my desire to protect the client; it was my desire to protect me!

I had to laugh at myself. All the time I spent trying to craft a response boiled down to a simple truth: I’d failed to submit goals and to keep this third party informed.

Thoughts rattled through my head. I had good reasons: the client was slow to trust, I was building a relationship, we’d both been traveling and hadn’t met frequently, the client’s boss was sending mixed messages, blah blah blah. And I’d taken action: I’d contacted the client, goals were on the agenda for our next meeting. Yet underneath, the meek voice of fear was working its way to the surface: I was afraid. I wanted to look good. I’d let something important slip through the cracks. This organization had given me lots of business. I didn’t want to lose it. I’d better convince this person that I’m worthy of the work.

I remind my clients regularly that fear is always, always about the future. In the moment, we’re okay; it’s what might happen next that scares us. So here I was, entangled in my own fear and suffering. I smiled at my silly self. All of this dancing with the external rationale was just a way to cling to a version of myself that I was pretending to be: fully competent, totally on top of my game, a masterful coach worthy of hiring.

How often do you find yourself in a similar situation? Justifying your actions or striving to look good in order to protect who you think you are? Digging in your heels because you know you’re right, or going silent because you fear being wrong? What’s the image you’re trying to project?

Here’s another question: what if that image is limiting rather than enhancing the “self” that you’re presenting to the world?

The thing about all of this fancy dancing is that it distracts us from the real work. Trying to look good or be right or fit in keeps us outwardly focused. Meanwhile, those raw, pulpy emotions — fear, shame, anxiety, embarrassment, self-doubt — are churning away inside.

What do we lose, really, if we put the image aside and step fully into whatever we’re feeling? After all, who among us has not known moments of fear or shame? Who hasn’t wrestled with self doubt?

Sometimes when I’m in the throes of fear or self doubt, I get so constricted that I can’t see beyond them. I forget that they’re just a small part of who and how I am. I also forget that they’re signals, little reminders that I’m mired in a narrow frame of reference. When I can remember to step back and look for a bigger frame, I can see them for what they are: just a form of energy. The suffering comes from everything I’m telling myself about them.

So what’s the antidote? Non-judging awareness. “Oh, I’m scaring myself again.” Or, “There I go, getting attached to my identity as a fully competent coach.” When I can just notice and accept them, they lose their power.

The irony is that when we’re blindly caught up in them, we quit paying attention. We lose our ability to be present to whatever else is arising. We get trapped in old habits of thinking and reacting. There’s always a bigger picture, something else unfolding that can lead us in a new direction. To find it, we just have to step back and observe ourselves in action. The more conscious we are of what’s unfolding inside, stripped of our judgments and our attachments or aversions to it, the more present we become. And presence, I find, is the door to new opportunity.

Oh, yea, I sent a note to the woman who asked for an update, saying I’d clearly been remiss in clarifying and sending the goals to her in a timely way, and I apologized. She wrote back, “That’s fine. Just send a brief summary after your next session.”








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