Janet’s final point of focus was on exploring and processing through her feelings and thoughts around getting older. The path these coaching sessions took was the most surprising to me because of the awareness she gained into seemingly unrelated areas of life. We had been coaching for nine or ten sessions when we came full circle back around to one of Janet’s responses from her initial questionnaire. She had said, “I feel I’m slowly fading into the faceless persona of a woman over 50. I don’t like it.” She didn’t know quite why she felt like she was fading away. She wasn’t sure how to feel solid and stable again. Despite loosing weight, Janet also described a “gray aura” that seemed to linger from when she was heavier.
To move Janet forward, we explored:
- the emotions she feels as a “faceless persona” and how she describes herself, the circumstances in the past in which she felt formless, invalidated and undefined, versus those in which she felt strong, solid and empowered,
- how she wants to feel in the future and how she wants to describe herself,
- how the “gray aura” is serving her and how it will feel to let go of it,
- and the impact of loosing weight on her and how it has changed her mindset.
- She was able to recount both kinds of experiences from the past. She had many experiences with colleagues, friends, family, and romantic partners that were empowering and also many that were invalidating. She described the events of the past few years and how they made her feel more and more undefined: she had move to a new region, had several job changes, went through menopause, and lost 50 pounds.
- Upon reflecting on all these changes, Janet realized she felt like a faceless persona because she had made so many transitions at once. She lived, looked, functioned and worked in entirely different ways than she had just a few years ago.
- She describes herself now as a “Woman in transition...Trying to get comfortable enough with uncertainty so I don’t panic... no longer finding acceptable excuses for What Feels Right...feeling more at peace with what I am not; more comfortable with my “warts” and able to laugh about them...wanting to make a difference in the world but my way...struggling to expose myself to the world... still basically a person who doesn’t trust others not to hurt [me]... sensitive... thoughtful and compassionate, sometimes excessively so and sort of out of whack with others... protective of own space and time and don’t see that changing in the future... listen more than share self with acquaintances and colleagues.”
- She wants to be able to describe herself as “financially secure... Healthy... Not alone...Independent.”
- Her “gray aura” is serving her by being “a safer predictable place for me. [I] Don’t have to interact so lessen potential of getting hurt. More likely to get my way (sometimes) if I don’t engage. I’m not good at debating a point so I tend to lose to others who know how to present their side or who fight for the final word. My final word tends to be walking away from the debate or confrontation, but not in agreement.”
- She thinks letting go of the “gray aura” would feel “Scary. Unpredictable. Loud. Noisy. Too many voices; too many people too close. I’ll get hurt again – very deeply – which will incapacitate me and make me dysfunctional. Too many emotions. (I see I’m assuming that all experience will be negative.)”
- She described that weight loss has “Made me quietly confident in creating change for myself and identifying how I create change. More about self-empowerment than change in size or how I physically feel. But self-empowerment and not losing my self-identity was the objective to begin with.”
The result was:
- Janet gained significant awareness about her emotions and thoughts about aging and the areas of life it impacts. She acknowledged this new awareness would take time and continued coaching to process through. Her demeanor and energy shifted from heaviness to lightness when she connected her feeling of “fading away” to the transitions over the last few years. She realized that her appearance and self-image were influenced not just by her immediate situation and environment, but also by circumstances of the past. In turn, it affected how she presented herself to the outside world. She continues to work on defining her inner self at her current age and circumstance and bringing the vision of her inner self into alignment with her outer appearance.
Insights as a Coach
The process of coaching Janet was a wonderful opportunity to see the coaching process work from start to finish. I was able to see first hand proof of many of the key coaching principles ICA teaches.
All coaching is life coaching.
When Janet approached me about style-coaching I was excited to use my coach training along with my past experience in the fashion and beauty industry. I expected to talk about her hair, makeup and clothing. These are areas I have expertise. I didn’t expect us to get into so many areas I where I have little or no expertise. In ICA, there is a common adage that “after the first few sessions all coaching is life coaching”. My experience with Janet really solidified that truth to me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have context for some of the topics we explored. My job was to be a coach, not an expert in the areas that she explored.
Trust the coaching process by letting the client be the driver.
The hardest thing for me when I started coaching was to trust the process to work. It’s tempting to have an agenda, try to predict where things need to go, or go into problem solving mode for the client. From the first session with Janet, my goal was to step out of the way and let her choose the direction we took each week. At times, it was difficult to let her steer because I wanted to follow up on something from the last session or get back to a question that I hadn’t had a chance to explore. However, I noticed that when I let her continue on the path she was on, she gained new awareness in areas I wouldn’t have investigated and often times she circled back to a subject I wanted to explore. I learned to stay in a coach role and let her do the work she needed to do at her own pace.
It all comes down to core values.
Janet’s initial issue was pretty surface level. She just wanted to learn how to look professional for her new business. By coaching her, I’ve learned that surface-level issues usually have deep roots. Janet’s deeper issues were a misalignment of core values of worth, purpose, and identity. What she looked like on the outside was only a symptom of the turmoil that she felt within. By asking powerful questions, it’s possible to get to the root of every issue. Coaching is about helping the client discover their core values and helping do what’s necessary to align everything to them.
Setting a strong foundation is key.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I learned is the power of creating a safe and trusted space for the client. Janet and I were nine or ten sessions into coaching when she started sharing the deeper more painful parts of her of story with me. She was only comfortable being open because she had been listened to, supported, and encouraged through the more surface-level issues. Being in safe and trusted space allowed her to open up and process through things she hadn’t been able to before.