What I learned from professional coaching

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I highly recommend that everyone work with a professional coach no matter where they are in their life or career. Through my coaching experience, I’ve been able to discover things about myself that would have been either impossible or taken a really long time to discover on my own. In other words, working with a coach has easily been the most impactful professional development work I’ve done in years.

The following is a collection of thoughts and more context on my experience (still ongoing) that I hope will convince anyone who might still be on the fence to try coaching for themselves.

Note: I know that professional coaching can be an expensive proposition for many, but I also know that many out there probably already have a benefit or similar through their company (or come work with mine). Ask around, you might be surprised!

Why I started working with a coach

Everyone has different goals and motivations for coaching, and my reason for starting was three-fold.

First, I had a really draining experience when working on a project. So much so, that it made me question what I thought I was good at. Almost everything about the last three years has been what I would characterize as the best work experience of my life, and this should have been more of the same, I thought. It was unsettling and I wanted to see if I could find out why some work made me feel energized beyond measure and other work made me feel the opposite. In short, I wanted help identifying my unique zone of genius and any limiting beliefs holding me back.

Second, I moved to part-time work last year and have had challenges adjusting my expectations for my work.

Lastly, I’ve experienced the impact that coaching could have in previous roles and so I kind of already knew it could help me (and I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long)!

How I chose my coach

I interviewed a couple of coaches before choosing one, and they couldn’t have been more different. One was very direct and structured, the other was more inquisitive and open.

There are a lot of great questions that can help you make a decision about the right coach to work with. In the end, I just went with the one that felt the best. I tend to bristle against too much structure and because my goal was broad and open-ended, I felt like an organic process would suit me best.

What I learned during coaching

I had nine coaching sessions over the course of last year and, even though my coach didn’t have a set structure or process (that she told me about anyway), each one built on the previous. My coach was clearly leading me somewhere. It was up to me to discover where that was.

Here are some of the big questions/themes that I’ve taken away.

Why does doing work that I built my previous career on leave me feeling drained?
I learned about the difference between learned competencies vs strengths. In other words, a lot of the work that I built my early career on was based on skills that I learned out of necessity, and that those skills only sometimes overlapped with my strengths/talents. When I’m feeling flat or drained, it’s because I’ve fallen into work where I’m using my strengths very little and relying on my competencies instead.

I thrive on change, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s neither, but it is a choice and each choice has a cost. My coach helped me to look at change differently. Dealing with change was a survival skill in my younger years when I moved schools and cities often. I learned how to fit in and be a pleaser, and now it’s easy for me to move into new situations, projects, and companies. In fact, I kind of need it. But my coach helped me to see that change can be either about moving away from something or moving towards something, and it’s worth looking at where my motivation for change is coming from.

What does my love of change mean for the kind of work I should do?
I realized that I am, in many ways, an initiator and not a sustainer. I love organizing and developing processes, but I tire quickly of being responsible for them. This flies directly in the face of some of the work that I thought I was built for, but after examining it more, I can see how true it is.

How might I be limiting myself?

I’ve learned to look more closely at the fact that my assumptions are decisions I’m making, rather than some other category of stuff that can’t be changed or negotiated with. Assumptions are the breeding ground of imposter syndrome, fomo, self-pity, self-loathing, and all the other bad self-things in my life.

How can I do more work that is in my zone of genius?
The answer for me here was pretty simple but still profound: build a reputation around the type of work I want to do. You don’t always have a choice, and work can be “work”, but the more you can talk about, highlight, enhance, and/or otherwise seek out the type of work you want to do, the more that work will be a part of your life. There are so many opportunities to do that at A8C once you start looking.

In Conclusion (this is not the end)

I have a framework now for understanding work that lights me up (strengths) and work that I’m good at but doesn’t light my fire (learned competencies). I have a lens to look at my decisions (what am I moving away from or towards). I understand what’s behind my strengths (I’m an initiator). When I’m feeling off, I have a place to look for discontent (what assumptions are limiting me). And I know how I can do more of the work that I want to do (by building a reputation around it).

All of this from nine sessions of coaching (and plenty of writing/journaling/thinking in between)!

It’s funny, because I look at some of my learnings as things that are so obvious in retrospect, but twelve months ago they were completely invisible to me. This is the magic of good coaching.

Which leads me to the end, or the lack of one really. Although I’ve accomplished what I set out to do last year, there is no such thing as “done”.

I know that even as I write this, different behaviors and thoughts are taking root and some of those will soon be conspiring against me. I’ll be calling on my coach again soon.

Comments welcome!

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