Research Paper By Ana Friendly
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
One of the first things I heard, when I joined the International Coach Academy (ICA), was the importance of creating a self-development plan and of having a peer coach.
The concept of a self-development plan was not new to me. Many years before I started my ICA coaching training program, I had worked with several coaches and had worked on a few self-development plans.
As I look back on almost three years of ICA coaching training, I am amazed to see that not only did I learn to be a professional coach but that personally I have had many breakthroughs in my life as a result of my ICA self-development plan and peer coaching.
This assignment feels like the right opportunity for me to evaluate my pre-ICA coaching experiences and my ICA training journey and to distill lessons learned and discern how I can apply these lessons to my coaching practice.
There have been many lessons-learned during my pre-ICA coaching experience (as a client), and during my ICA training (both as a coach and a client). For the purpose of this paper, I would like to focus on a specific topic, one which was the inspiration for creating my power tool “True to Yourself vs Pleasing Others”.
About me and my struggle (Coaching Experience Before ICA)
I grew up in Costa Rica, in a very loving home, where my parents acknowledged me frequently. They would tell me what a good child I was, what a good example I was to my brother and sisters, what a hard-working student I was, what amazing grades I was getting, and how well I played the piano or cooked desserts.
In spite of this loving environment and all those acknowledgements, I struggled most of my life with a poor self-image and low self-esteem. Why, I kept asking myself, am I such an insecure person? After much introspection I started to suspect that my people-pleasing behaviors had something to do with this issue.
Through my work with a therapist, but mostly with several coaches, I was able to bring much awareness to this issue. I became aware that it was very important to me to feel validated by others and liked by everyone.
I also discovered that my culture had played a strong role in my people pleasing behaviors. I was taught that a woman’s role was to take care of others and that the needs of others would come first. I saw the women in my family; my mother, grandmother, and aunt, working hard and taking care of everyone and seldom taking time to take care of themselves. Furthermore, it seemed that those women who did take care of themselves were deemed selfish in my culture. As a result, I grew up taking care of others, trying to anticipate people’s needs and meeting those needs. I became a “people pleaser” at the expense of my own well-being.
I wanted so badly for people to like me and say nice things about me; I was constantly seeking validation and acceptance. I was scared about the thought that someone might not like me. Consequently, I became fearful of saying “no” to people, of sharing my opinions and of making decisions because I might disappoint someone and they might stop liking me.
I also became a perfectionist because I felt I had to do things really well. If I did things well I would get praised more. I was afraid of making mistakes, of taking risks; as a matter of fact I was very good at following rules.
The above perspective and beliefs did not serve me well in my life, particularly, in a time of my life when I was working, I had a child and my husband was travelling abroad frequently due to his work. My physical and emotional health suffered a lot.
It was through coaching that I changed my beliefs and shifted into more empowering perspectives.
New Beliefs and Behaviors:
As a result of my coaching experience I created new beliefs for myself:
- I don’t need to please people and take care of their needs.
- Seeking outside approval and validation is a self-defeating process. I would continue to feel bad about myself as long as I seek everyone’s approval.
- Not everyone needs to like me and it is fine for me not to like some people in this world.
- It is important for me to say no and create healthy personal boundaries.
- I do not have to strive to be perfect, instead I want to focus on doing my personal “best”. Also, I need to remember that to become good at doing something takes practice.
- It is important for me to learn to make decisions and to take responsibility for the consequences.
- It is fine to make mistakes, because I will learn important things in life through my mistakes.
- To live a fulfilling life I need to take risks and move away from my comfort zone, otherwise I am going to miss many interesting opportunities in life.
- I have needs and wants and it is not selfish to take care of myself.
- It is important for me to know myself, like myself, respect myself and to validate myself in order to lead a happy life.
In my opinion, the major breakthrough for me, as I dealt with this “people pleaser” struggle, was that my need to seek outside approval and validation had handicapped me from building a strong self-image and from developing a high self-esteem.
This breakthrough became a game-changer for me. It was, at this point in time, that I knew I had to learn to look inward and to get to know myself, to like myself, validate myself and allow my inner wisdom to guide me in life.
With the support of my coaches and friends and family, I succeeded. I began a journey of getting to know and value myself. I explored my strengths, my values and uncovered my true essence. I learned to look inward and to allow my inner wisdom to guide me.
Aside from getting to know my strengths and my values, I also learned about my weaknesses. I realized that these weaknesses would allow me the opportunity to continue learning new things in life and would help me decide what I wanted or did not want for me in my life.
I learned to challenge myself and to move away from my comfort zone. As the world opened up for me and as I succeeded in my endeavors, I began to have a new appreciation for who I was.
I learned not to allow my fears to stop me from doing things in life and I learned to quiet down that loud negative voice that many of us carry around. Those fears and the loud voice were getting in the way of living a happy and fulfilling life.
As I worked in all of these areas, I began to feel confident and to build a high self-esteem; I no longer was seeking people’s approval and validation. I no longer was defining myself by any outside things such as my work title or any material possessions. I began to define myself by my true essence. I began to live my life by being true to my values and by striving to accomplish my purpose in life.
I am grateful that at this point in my life I feel happy; I like who I have become and that I know that my purpose in life is to help others.
It was hard work for me to get to this point in my life, but I believe that besides learning about my true essence and acknowledging it, there was one tool I utilized that made a big difference in helping me change my people-pleasing behaviors.
This tool, which I still practice to this day, is to ask myself: What do I want and how do I feel about it? This tool was my idea, I figured out that, if I implemented this tool on a daily basis, that I would be able to change my behaviors. I was right! This tool was very helpful to me, in my personal and professional life.
These two questions, “What do I want and how do I feel about it?,” were questions I had never asked myself before because I was too concerned about other people’s wants and their feelings.
As I used this tool, and tapped into my inner wisdom and true essence to find the answers, I noticed that, without fail, I would make decisions that were the right ones for me.
Saying no, setting healthy personal boundaries, reducing stress in my life, taking care of myself didn’t seem so hard anymore. As a matter of fact, not only did I begin to feel happy and in harmony whenever I allowed my inner voice and my true essence guide me, but people around me were reacting differently. People began to respect me and my time and to be understanding when I would say no.
It was also at this time in my life that I became a strong leader at work. I was able to make decisions quickly, to deliver my messages to the point, to deliver bad news on a timely basis, to ask for what I needed and to say no when necessary.
Lessons-learned from my ICA coaching training
There are a few main lessons-learned that come to mind right away:
1. Coaching is an inspirational and transformational action-oriented journey. It helps clients look at their present situation and decide where they want to go and to bridge the two by moving forward, making changes and removing obstacles as they go about building the life they truly want for themselves.
2. Each client is unique, resourceful, creative and whole and the answers to their questions lie within.
3. As a professional coach I need to abide by ICF ethical guidelines, professional standards and the ICF core competencies. These competencies have guided me to structure my coaching sessions as follows:
- By setting a foundation
- By asking for permission to do a relaxation exercise.
- By establishing a trusting and comfortable environment.
- By setting a contract with the client
- By listen carefully and being present
- By asking powerful open-ended questions
- By providing the space for the client to speak and create awareness.
- By acknowledging the client
- By inviting the client to take action and to create specific goals.
- By asking about any obstacles
- By asking the client about securing support or outside resources to help them stay committed to reaching their goals and by talking about accountability
- By asking for a take-away
- By asking the client if she or he feels complete with the session before closing.
4. I learned that the power of the coaching process is better appreciated when you see it from the role of the coach and the client. This great opportunity allowed me to grow as a person and as a professional coach. It also helped me realize that even though, all of us coaches are following the same ICF competencies we all coached clients in different ways. This motivated me to discover my own coaching style.
How do I see my pre-ICA and ICA coaching experiences and lessons-learned influencing my coaching practice?
So far I have looked into my pre-ICA and ICA coaching experiences and I have been able to distill some lessons-learned from both of those experiences.
I would like to go a little deeper and figure out how I can use the above information and incorporate it into my coaching practice.
As coaches, we are supposed to ask powerful questions and allow our clients to bring clarity to their lives by having them connect the dots. Now it is my opportunity to try to start connecting the dots.
I have decided to start by looking at a book I have been reading, Reset Your Life Path by Mark Gelhaus. In his book, Mark wrote the following sentence: “Your life’s lesson is part of your purpose.”
As I mentioned earlier, I know that my life purpose is to help people. In my role as a coach, I am supposed to support my clients as they go through their life journeys and to remember that my clients are creative, resourceful and whole people who have the answers to their questions within.
If I read this sentence one more time, “Your life’s lesson is part of your purpose,” and I go back to the beginning of this article and think about what I have learned throughout my coaching journey, I have to say that my personal struggles are giving me the opportunity to become a better coach.
How are my personal struggles giving me the opportunity to become a better coach?
The first response is easy, because the personal struggle I described in this article was the main reason I decided to write my power tool: “True to Yourself vs Pleasing Others.”
The second response, based on my experiences, is that I believe that my clients’ coaching process will become more powerful for them if I encourage and support them to build a strong foundation from which to create the life they want for themselves.
Some of the components I think should be part of this solid foundation are:
- Getting to know “who you really are”. What are your values, strengths, passions, beliefs, desires, your true essence?
- Learn to access your inner wisdom.
- Trust, love, respect and validate yourself.
- Discovering your needs and how you want to take care of yourself.
I have often used the metaphor in my life; a house with a strong foundation will withstand many disasters.
Having my clients align their goals to this strong foundation will help them overcome challenges and obstacles and will help them make the necessary changes in order to get the results they desire to live purposeful and fulfilling lives.
As I am writing this article, I am discovering how strongly I feel about the importance of having people know themselves well, to appreciate who they are and to know how to access their inner wisdom. My past leadership development experience and my coaching experience are helping me see the similarities between the tools that are used to develop leaders and those tools I want to use to help my clients build a strong foundation in their lives. It is my desire as a coach, to support my clients to become the leaders in their own lives.
Furthermore, I am becoming clear that within my life coaching niche and my life purpose, I would like to help women 25-50 years old and women who are reinventing themselves. I want to help women develop confidence, build high self-esteem and become strong leaders. I want to help women embrace life and be who they want to be and lead themselves into creating the life of their dreams.
My pre-ICA coaching experience gave me the opportunity to grow and develop into the person I wanted to be and to discover my life purpose.
My ICA coaching training, provided me with a strong foundation to become a credentialed coach and in addition helped me discover the power of the coaching process by experiencing it as a client, a coach and by observing peers coach other peers.
By looking closely at my pre-ICA and ICA coaching experiences and by distilling lessons-learned, I have come to realize that I have unique experiences and attributes that I would like to incorporate into my coaching practice.
I have concluded that within my life coach niche, I would like to work with women and to support them as they build a strong foundation (knowing, liking and validating themselves) to become who they want to be and to build the lives they want.
I would like to share a story about a session I recently had with a client. I will call my client Carmen (due to confidentiality guidelines I am giving my client a different name).
When Carmen started to work with me she was very frustrated with her job, she felt that she was not being appreciated, she was not getting much money and she was not learning new things anymore. Another of Carmen’s complaints was that she did not feel in control of anything in her life.
In this particular session she wanted to focus on the fact that she left her job for a new part-time job and that due to loyalty, she had told her those at her former workplace that she would work for them per diem. She had just gone back that day to do per diem work at her old job and she was confronted with the fact that she did not feel appreciated and that people at her new job liked her and were offering her more hours with them. She was conflicted because she had given her word to those at her former job and she felt a sense of loyalty.
After a while and after I had asked her several questions, I said to Carmen, “I hear you saying that you choose to cut ties with your old job and allow yourself the opportunity to work more hours in your new job, which pays better and that this decision will also give you more time to spend with your 18 month old son.”
Carmen was quiet for a second and immediately screamed in happiness, “YES! I had not seen it that way but I am choosing to do this and I am taking control over my life. Yes! I had not thought about it in this way, I am choosing what’s best for me and my family and I no longer feel that I need to be pulled by this sense of loyalty toward my old job.” Needless to say, Carmen was so happy and I was so happy for her.
Coaching is an inspirational journey for the client and the coach. At the end of most of my sessions I feel very energized and happy for my client and for me for having the opportunity to partner up with a special human being.
My coaching experience has been a defining experience in my life. It is an honor for me to be able to witness these transformations in my client’s lives. I am committed to being a lifelong-learner and to becoming a better person and a great coach as I continue my coaching journey as a client and as a coach.