"What's your coachable issue?" I asked, in response to a business owner's email request to interview me as her potential coach. Her answer: "I want to remember how to have fun."
Seriously. She wants to remember how to have fun. I could feel my inner arbiter awakening, eyes narrowed, arms crossed, words clipped, tone dismissive. Circle back once you've got a real problem, a worthy goal, I thought. That can't really be your final answer to my "What's Up?" question. Surely there's a hidden landscape of related conundrums that qualify as coachable. Trusting that hopeful hunch, I replied, "Great, how about we explore that next Wednesday?"
Flashback with me to exactly a year ago, when I had a disturbing conversation with a fellow coach/facilitator. It was during dinner, the night before we were launching a transition workshop for retiring partners at a financial services firm. I was sharing my typical pre-game concerns about how it would go, when he interrupted me. "Why do you do this work?" he asked. "Because it's important," I replied. "I believe it makes a difference. It's connected to what I care about. It's core to my purpose, and I really--" He interrupted my ramble yet again. "Really, huh, that's interesting. I do it for one reason. It's fun." That same inner arbiter rushed in, and before I could censor her, she retorted, "How nice for you. This is serious business for me."
I think fun might be my coachable issue.
It stresses me out to think about coaching something I stink at. We know that coaching does not require mastery of the issue at hand--in fact, our perceived expertise can actually get us too far out in front. I'm stressed because I'm a masterful practitioner (and proud of it) of the very behaviors and beliefs I suspect she is trying to change.
Gliding right up that Ladder of Inference, I assume she suffers from the very paradigms and practices that I cling to. Delaying fun until work is done. Insisting that fun serve a useful purpose. Narrowly defining what counts as fun. Believing that fun has a pre-set expiration date, after which it sours to sloth. These rigid mandates have served my career-centered life well, but are nearing their own expiration date as I face the final year of my 50's in a few months. How do I come to this coaching conversation clean, without my own unresolved stuff infecting my attitude about her and corrupting my questions? Can I be fully engaged in the story of her unfun life, or will I distort it by projecting my own story onto hers?
What do we do when asked to coach what we fear, what we haven't faced, or what we've determined is not deserving of our focused attention? Here are two approaches:
1. Come clean and share that you, too, are wrestling with the same question, and don't feel that you can currently be in a coaching conversation. If you know you don't have the distance or discipline required to focus on them without also equally sharing your own experiences, opinions, and frustrations, own it. If commiseration is precisely what you both want, it can be a comforting exchange, but it won't be coaching.
2. Quiet your own chatter about the matter, get curious as usual, and let your questions flow from that curiosity and the coaching process. Soon you'll be out of your own story and into the coachee's. Their struggles will be unique to them, no matter how similar they may seem to yours at the outset. Here's the bonus: their discoveries, experiments, and solutions may very well inspire your own changes.
Whether you choose to check out, to commiserate, or to coach, I encourage you to examine your own resistance. There are plenty of issues we are asked to coach that we have not personally mastered, and we do so effectively and without angst. Why do certain issues carry an emotional charge for us? Just as we are irritated more by someone's behavior that too-closely mirrors our own unfixed flaws, recognize that when a coachee's struggle bugs you, it may be surfacing your own unresolved struggle. That I reacted defensively to my colleague and my potential coachee, claiming fun to be an irrelevant indulgence, is a clue that something is unsettled within me. Some submerged part of me wants more fun, too, and my new coachee has inconveniently dredged up that desire.
So, Fun. I looked it up. The noun is defined as "enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure." It's almost summer. Time for having fun in the sun. Isn't it our shared responsibility to do so?
Warmly and lightheartedly yours,
P.S. Is it wrong that I had fun writing this?