You’ll likely hear from a lot of coaches that they started coaching long before they became a professional. “Friends were always seeking my advice,” and “I’ve just always seemed to have a good idea how to solve problems,” and “I feel like I’ve been unofficially coaching people basically all my life.”
I’m no different, really. One of my dearest friends calls me The Good Advice Fairy, another says I should be a Professional Pep-talker. But professional coaching isn’t about telling people what to do (however tempting it might be), it’s about walking the path with them while they figure out where they’re going. I began learning how to do that on September 22nd of 2016.
On a beautiful afternoon in September four years ago I walked into the classroom with an neuro-oncology nurse by my side. We were there to explain to seventy-five seven and eight-year-olds that one of their classmates was dying from brain cancer.
Jenny was there to explain the medical side of things, to help the kids understand at an age appropriate level what was happening, and to assure them that they weren’t going to get this cancer just because their friend had it. Kids are smart and savvy and resilient, but they’re still just kids and they need as much information as we can provide them.
I was there to tell them who was dying.
Jenny made my job easier when she introduced herself. I will never forget the way my breath caught and how quiet those usually-boisterous kids got when she said, “My job is to help kids die.”
She explained what that meant, that making sure it didn’t hurt and they weren’t afraid was part of her job. Then she went on to talk about different kinds of cancer, how we don’t know what causes all kinds of cancer. They were rapt and engaged and so very smart through it all.
Finally, one of the children I had known since she was in pre-school turned to me and said, “Miss Sasha? Did Gus die?”
He’d been in treatment since kindergarten, and she wasn’t the only one making the connections, It was time for me to take my turn and tell them what was coming.
No, he hadn’t died yet, but he was going to.
I don’t remember how long it took, and I don’t remember everything I said. I know I had to tell them no less than three times that yes, he really was going to die and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Their disbelief and shock and grief was palpable. But I do remember the promises I made, because those were important.
I would not keep secrets from them. I would not lie to them. I would tell them when he was gone and together we would get through this. Their teachers and their principal would be with us through this, they could talk about how they were feeling any time, they could ask for a hug or information whenever they needed.
Then we sent them outside to play and process what they’d just heard. The children hit the hardest were pulled together in a group to start talking and work on some art therapy.
Nurse Jenny came to me and hugged me so tightly. I was still so focused on not falling apart in front of the kids that I don’t remember her exact words, and I wish I could. Because she told me how glad she was to be with me that day, that I’d done a wonderful job, and she could see my future in this, that she just knew I was going to do something with this.
This grief, this pain, this gift I have for making the hardest of things seem manageable.
When I tell this story I usually leave out the more personal parts, the emotional payoff is better if I haven’t made it quite so obvious that this is my tragedy, my trauma.
Why I feel that my calling is to be a coach resonates much more deeply if I haven’t quite let on where the story is going when I get to the part where I say, “my son died a week later, at seven years old.”
What came after that is why I’m here now. I’d had sixteen months to prepare for what was coming, and I used that time as best I could to make sure I would stay on my feet and not be completely overwhelmed by grief. My youngest son would still need me, would need me more than ever. My husband could not survive his own grief alone, much less be at his best for our youngest, either.
I found in the months and years after Gus died that there is solace for me in helping others manage their own pain. I coached teachers through helping the kids deal, I coached the kids through processing what they were feeling, I coached parents through supporting their kids. Eventually I coached strangers through talking to their kids about hard and tragic and scary things, managing their own reactions to those hard and scary things.
My psychiatrist told me he expects to see me giving a TED talk one day about living with and thriving in spite of grief. My therapist began pushing me to go back to school and get a degree in counseling.
Coaching was the middle ground we agreed to.
When we begin the process of becoming a Certified Coach we’re encouraged to find our niche – that precise place where our experience and education and passion meet and we can best serve our clients.
My passion is for thriving after strife.
There is a point in the therapeutic process when all the hardest work has been processed and a person starts looking around going…so what do I do with this new-found knowledge? How do I start to build the life I want now that I’ve let go of all this emotional burden?
That’s where I live.
How do you compensate for executive dysfunction so that you can pursue your goals? Let’s talk, I bet you have some ideas. How do you know what to do next when the grief stops being so overwhelming? I would love to hear where you’re thinking you’d like to go. Has your therapist released you into the great wide world to live and breathe with the tools you’ve learned in your time together, and you’re just not sure what to do next? Let’s see if you’re already on a path you didn’t even know to look for.
I can’t give you the answers, because you already have them. I’d love to help you uncover them, because I have some experience in what that feels like, in how hard the journey can be, and how good it feels when you get there.
That’s why I coach.