Coaching 101

For a brief moment in time, I had a life coach. When I made the decision to end my seven-year-long employment with a small and steady office, my boss gave me a parting gift. A couple sessions with his longtime friend and life coach, Bob Kauffman.

I didn’t really want to do it. I was pretty sure he’d tell me what I already knew, which was that with my skill set and experience, I’d likely never make more money than I was currently making. That throwing away stability comes at a price. Or that I could take a couple Excel classes and really amp up my resume.

He didn’t tell me any of those things. He asked me questions — questions to which I didn’t know the answer — and he told me a lot of stories. Stories of struggle, and how it was overcome. I listened to his past client’s struggles and how, with just a little bit of tooling, they turned things around.

He also ran some tests on me. They took hours, and they were timed. I would have to throw down my pencil, the very second his watch beeped! I took them in his office, overlooking the city of Chicago, trying my best not to stare out the window. The tests were ridiculous, I thought. They were like returning to grade school. Pictures and graphs and math and words. I prefer talking.

Upon ending the testing, I thought he was going to tell me I was either a) kind of smart b) pretty smart or c) really smart. Instead, he said:

“You notice everything. Your eye for detail is incredibly sharp.”

“You are terribly stubborn. You will stay on one problem — one you do not comprehend — and battle with it, at the risk of not advancing further.”

“You are absolutely horrible at reading directions. In short — you do not read them.”

I looked at the man as if he were a wizard. As if he wasn’t wearing a red polo shirt and khakis, but a head scarf and many large rings, and seated in front of a crystal ball. How the hell did he get all that, while I was counting how many piano keys were in a certain set of images? It was like he knew me! I have eyes like a hawk, cannot stand to not ‘win’ at anything, and have absolutely no patience. Not enough to read directions, no. And these three things plague me. I see all and yet I can’t let anything go. I desperately want to do the best I can, while operating on a zero-tolerance patience level.

Now, he can’t fix those things for me. But he showed me how all-encompassing they can be. If they  were showing up there, on those dry, generic graph tests, they they were showing up all over my life. Maybe I should think about working on them. He told me to hold my criticism, and consider doing puzzles. I told him I hated them. He said of course. He also said to work on them. Over and over again. Read the directions, don’t battle a specific part, and be patient, from beginning to end. (I’ve done one since our meeting, and I gave up on it.)

The biggest lesson Mr. Kauffman left me with, however, was one I am working on implementing, despite its previously foreign concept. Criteria. He was asking me about my criteria for the things I let in my life, be it from men to jobs to everything in between, and I couldn’t-for-the-life-of-me answer. I actually asked ‘What do you mean?’ He proceeded to explain the very simple act of making a list — conscious or written — of requirements for a partner or position. “What were you looking for in your last relationship?”, he inquired. “Nothing,” I honestly responded. “Well, what qualities did he have that you knew you needed?” “None.” “I mean, I didn’t think about that. He intrigued me. That was it.”

So it has come to seem that intrigue has been my main criteria all along. Not what I needed, when I needed it. Not the right pay scale or the right hours or being surrounded by the right people. Intrigue.

As with all things, it goes deeper than that, of course. It took me only a few minutes to understand why I had never even considered the concept of criteria: I didn’t think it was for poor people. I thought poor people were supposed to take what they could get – and be grateful for it. I thought they weren’t supposed to make lists of ‘what they need’; they were supposed to take what was offered. I thought my life would be a constant game of settling. The intrigue was a bonus, or rather, a consolation prize.

I am doing my best to break up with intrigue. To, at the very least, relegate it to the  back burner. I’m trying to make lists of what I need, whether it be from me, from you, from a job, or from just this day today. I’m going to start with a cup of tea and a puzzle. Wish me luck.

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