Coach’s Challenge for 1/22/12 “Aha Moments”

Good day, team.

This week, I share the writing of one of my clients who, in his honesty and authenticity, describes some aha moments he had this past week. Meaning, he came to deeply understand some things we’ve been working on together for the past year. I was so taken by the sincerity of his writing that I asked him if I could share it in this week’s challenge, and he has generously given me his permission.

As a coach, you can’t be attached to whether your clients fully understand how you’re attempting to assist them. But when you clearly see something that you know will help them, you encourage them to take a path to get that clarity, and when they do, it’s the most gratifying and fulfilling experience.

I am most grateful to my client, Devin Youngman, for allowing me to share his very personal experiences this past week. Here is his e-mail to me:

Hey Kathleen,

I just wanted to follow up after our last conversation. It’s been an interesting week with a lot of new information and a bunch of aha-type moments, especially during the off-site meeting.I’m still sorting through many of my thoughts in an attempt to put them together into something coherent. This week, I learned some stuff and came to some conclusions. I’m attempting to burn through the mental fog, to see the picture clearly that is in my head and set a better course.

I’ve reached a state where I’ve gone beyond what my role here at the company is and into what I really want to be doing. This is where I’ve had most of the aha moments and what is clear to me is that I’m still figuring out what it looks like. To use one of my co-worker’s analogies, some pixels have started to come into focus, but the whole picture is not yet clear.Here are some specifics of what I discovered and a bit about the process.

During our off-site meeting, as we were discussing the various roles of the newly organized teams and how they are supposed to function, I paid close attention to my energy levels: what pulled me in and piqued my interest and where I found myself starting to zone out and lose focus. As it turned out, there were many more moments of engagement than zoning out. I noticed I lost focus when I began thinking about my current situation with my job responsibilities changing and how I would position myself going forward.

As soon as I detached myself from that racket in my head (which I’m still not sure how I did), I found myself getting engaged, energized and running headlong into discussions, mental juices flowing, etc.

This off-site was a lot about building process and creating teams, empowering teams, etc., and I noticed that many of the folks at the off-site had not yet experienced the process we were implementing. So, I found myself in the role of impromptu trainer for how things work currently and the obstacles that we had overcome (or still have) and giving advice on how to do things.

This was a relatively short and minor portion of the off-site sessions, but the aha moment was when I realized that one of the things I enjoy most about what I do is the coaching/mentoring/teaching aspect of my role, which made me think about what else I could add to this list.

I know you suggested something nearly identical to this previously, but what I think was missing (what I was having the most difficulty with) was the sensation or feeling of being energized by something I’m doing. Frankly, I had gotten to a stage where I had started to forget what it was like to feel that kind of energy. I think, maybe, I needed to experience something authentic again before I could go there.

Anyway, this led me to creating two lists. The first was a continuation of the things that I do (or have done) that give me energy with a few examples and the second was a list of things I do not enjoy about my current role that suck energy from me.

(I can’t help but imagine your reaction to this, as you had me do that same exercise when we first talked about energy levels and here I am doing it again months later.)

What made the difference this time was that I didn’t look at my current responsibilities as things I needed to be doing and subsequently didn’t look for ways to find energy. Instead, I looked at what I was doing in the moment at the off-site and seeing how much energy it gave me. In addition, I realized that there were certain things I had previously (either consciously or unconsciously) ignored — probably because I didn’t want to face the reality that certain activities (like tooting my own horn to people I don’t normally work with) were things I felt were necessary and expected by others.

In many ways, I suppose, I wanted to succeed at all the things other people were doing or expected me to be doing and was not ready to admit that I was never going to get energy from doing many of those things. It’s still hard to admit, but as I’m writing this, a story suddenly comes to mind that seems relevant.

When I was in fourth grade we had one of those candy bar fundraisers for the school, which had a prize for the top few sellers.With the help of my dad and all the people he worked with, I ended up winning first prize. I received a nice little cassette player for my bedroom. I was overjoyed! But the reality was that I had only personally sold maybe 20 percent of the candy bars. Dad and his co-workers had done the rest.

The following year, they did the same fundraiser, and I was gung-ho to win first prize again. The competition was much more fierce that year as the prizes were better and the rest of the class realized what they could get if they won. Consequently, that second year it was much harder to win. Also, my dad had changed to the graveyard shift and had far fewer team members so I knew there was no longer an extended team that would help me sell candy bars.

So what did I do? Well, I was damned if I wasn’t going to win that first prize again. My friends all thought I was going to win again, and I had already been imagining what it would feel like to win two years in a row. The expectations were high.

Every day after school I went house to house, until it became too dark to see (even knowing I’d get in trouble if I didn’t get home by dark) because I wanted to win. I hit every nearby neighborhood, family member, church member — some repeatedly. I didn’t go anywhere without a full box of candy bars in case I ran into someone, anyone, who would be willing to buy them.I ended up winning again that year, though I couldn’t even tell you what the prize was. What I didn’t realize until years later was that I didn’t really want to win, but rather, I simply didn’t want to fail. I had built it up in my head that I KNEW I could do it, that people expected me to do it, and therefore I HAD to do it. The prize and recognition had lost all meaning, but how could I let people see me fail? It sucked up so much of my energy and I was so relieved that it was over, I didn’t even care that I won or what the prize was — the point was I hadn’t failed and I didn’t need to sell anymore candy bars (to this day I avoid sales related jobs or tasks like the plague).

Eventually, it occurred to me the following year, that there was a loophole in the system I had created. In the first year, by using my dad and his co-workers, I hadn’t really sold all that candy. I understood that to cheat was not to play fairly. And in the second year, what really motivated me was not failing in the eyes of others. It had nothing to do with selling candy and winning a prize. Also, in the second year, I lost so much energy from the entire experience that in my sixth grade year I didn’t sell a single candy bar. Whenever someone asked me how I was doing in the competition, I just told him or her I wasn’t selling that year. I don’t remember what I said when people asked me further about that, as I’m sure they did, but I never, ever told anyone the real reason.

Anyway, I know that was a long-winded tangent (it just came out as I was typing), but my point is that the feeling is the same today as it was then. There are some aspects to what I’ve been doing in my role that suck so much energy out of me that none of the energizers can balance. I’ve let it drain me to the point of apathy and so, in some cases, I mentally decide not to play. On the other hand, the things I mentioned such as coaching, mentoring and training give me a great deal of energy and are things I truly enjoy.

So where to go from here? I’ll admit, my brain is swirling with thoughts, ideas and events from the day. Now, back at the office, I had more one-on-one meetings today than I think I’ve ever had in one day, some of which should have drained me to my core. The entire day has been very emotional, but somehow it’s given me more energy. My energy level has peaked. I mean, look at the length of this email and I still have three sheets of paper with notes on them that I was going to send you.

But you know what? I’m not going to analyze it at the moment. I think there’s something important swirling in there, and if I’ve learned anything this week, I don’t want to force it.”

Many threads in this writing could be the starting point for your challenge this week. It could be to simply observe what gives you energy in your job and what takes it away. It could be to ponder what it feels like to fail. My client has given us plenty to choose from in his sincere writing. I’m choosing the importance of the aha moments that I’ve had in the past and how they are currently helping me to better understand myself and the world around me. Whatever you choose, I hope it leads you to your own aha moment this week.

Have a good week,

Kathleen


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