Earlier this week, someone I met asked me about my coaching practice: “Who do I coach, and what is your coaching about?” I answered the question as I usually do, saying most of my clients are between 40 and 60 and contemplating career transition, and I also have a special interest in coaching young adults who are just starting out in their careers.
In the back of my mind, though, I noticed the same thought that’s been there for a while: fundamentally, my coaching is about self-trust. I help people believe in themselves again, the ideas they have and their ability to take action around them.
Why don’t we trust ourselves more in the first place? I sometimes wonder. And why do we experience more self-doubt when we think about trying something new? These questions have been studied in many branches of behavioural psychology, and they’re well worth contemplating. Personally, I think we’ve become so fixated on end states and consumer-based status ideals (keeping up with the Joneses) that we’ve forgotten our true nature; our innate capacity to create and evolve whenever we experience a source of tension that demands new growth and learning.
Twelve years ago, I was on a path that was taking me farther and farther away from my true nature when an unexpected event challenged me to think differently; to appreciate and prioritize the quality of my life over the quantity of its outputs and expenditures. I was diagnosed with cancer and initially given a high possibility of remission and long-term survival, which was later downgraded when I relapsed shortly after treatment. After enduring the physical and emotional hardships of a stem cell transplant I found myself asking a question I’d never considered before: “If I may only live for another three, five, or even ten years, do I want them to be like this?”; by which I meant did I want to be totally stressed out, highly anxious and always feeling inadequate in comparison to others? Hell, no.
Hell, no, I didn’t. I wanted my remaining years, however few or many there were, to be worthwhile. I wanted to experience quality in my day, which meant slowing down long enough to be in each moment, however joyous, un-noteworthy or painful those moments might be. It required me to learn how to slow down and be with my thoughts and emotions which I did with the help of a variety of practitioners including counsellors, coaches and mindfulness instructors. The more presently aware I became, the more I learned about what’s important to me and was able to start making conscious decisions from that calm place of understanding (rather than chaotic and impulsive ones from a mostly reactive state of mind).
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Victor Frankl
Making these changes hasn’t been easy but it has been worthwhile, and even enjoyable. My life feels more intentional and spacious even as the years seem to pass by more quickly. Just as astronauts float in zero gravity while their bulky, metallic rocket ships tear across the universe, I have a greater sense of weightlessness in life, having learned how to let go of internal and external pressures to be anything I’m not (and this is an ongoing, evolving practice).
Do you have to have cancer in order to see life from a different perspective? I don’t think so. We all undergo significant experiences of some kind that can be our door to a more fulfilling existence if we let them. For some it’s the prospect of turning fifty or going through menopause, for others it’s losing a job or an important relationship, or meeting someone new who changes everything. I do believe these experiences must be jarring enough (or slowly transformative over time) to change our perspective and allow us to see how things could be different in our lives, motivating us to make the first of many new choices.
Then we can begin the journey back to ourselves and our true nature, learning to trust ourselves in each and every moment. Nothing feels more satisfying than being your whole self and choosing from that place of realness, at least to those of us who value that experience. The rest doesn’t truly matter.
For your own reflection:
- What has been a significant and perspective-changing event in your life?
- How has this influenced the choices you’ve made since?
- What has it taught you about trusting yourself and your true nature?