I’m six years old and my parents have just purchased a new fridge. They bring it in to our tight Bloor West Village kitchen only to discover it doesn’t fit in the space available for it. Tensions rise. They begin arguing. I walk into the kitchen, put my hands on my hips, look up at them with an alleged “deeply concerned look” and ask “What’s my matter here?”
I’ve identified a few takeaways from this story:
- That I have a knack for picking up on other peoples’ tension
- That I have a tendency to take responsibility for other peoples’ tension
- That I can play a role in helping people resolve tension
- That I have the ability to dispel tension simply by being a source of amusement to others
I was a pretty eccentric kid. Those who know me now are likely not surprised by this.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about lately is what this inadvertently wise question means to me now in terms of my matter here, in life, on this earth. And it seems like lately I’ve been getting some answers that give me this mix of chills and nausea: a clear indication that I’ve stumbled upon something huge. It’s something I’ve known all along, as demonstrated in our family kitchen all those years ago.
I’ve never had a hard time seeing the best in people or doing what I can to help them see the best in themselves. A friend recently said of me at a dinner party, “when she’s rooting for you, you really believe it” and it’s true. I don’t know any other way to be. I love people and want to support people so hard it hurts me sometimes. Because in a quest for seeing only the best in people I’ve often sacrificed seeing the worst.
There’s a podcast I really like called Invisibilia and it’s essentially an exploration of things unseen. In the episode called Mirror touch, the hosts interview a woman who can physically feel what other people are feeling. Listening to this woman – who has essentially become a recluse because it’s too difficult for her to leave the house in her condition – had me in tears of recognition on the TTC. Don’t get me wrong, I am not this woman, I am perfectly capable of leaving the house (most days!), but if there’s one thing I’ve struggled with throughout my life it’s the inability to differentiate my own pain and the pain of those around me.
Women are taught from a very early age how to take care of people. We’re given tiny plastic humans and expected to feed them and rock them to sleep. There have been so many people in my life that I’ve felt obligated to feed and rock to sleep, thinking that even if I sacrificed my own food and rest, it would all come back to me in return for my efforts. Much of the time it didn’t. But I stuck to it, assuming that in relieving the pain of others I could relieve my own pain too. I wrote in my journal once, “treat others better than you want to be treated,” thinking I was clever for out-kind-ing the original saying. Reading that now makes me feel sick to my stomach having learned that it didn’t always work out so well for me.
Sometimes you get burned by your own warmth. Sometimes you wake up and realize all the work you put in to certain people isn’t coming back to you, it’s just making you more tired. I was slapped in the face by that reality a few times, but ignored it. I just kept taking the hits, reassuring myself that the reciprocation was on its way.
I think part of why I kept working at the particularly demanding relationships and situations in my life was because I’m really good at loving. It’s easy for me to love people. I love listening to people. I love helping them realize things that can get them where they want to go. I love making people laugh! I love rooting for people. I want people to succeed. Because of this, it’s really hard for me to walk away from even the ones who take too much.
One day I realized there were too many parts of myself that hurt to continue giving so much love away to other people. This realization happened around three years ago when under the suggestion of a good friend I started seeing a life coach.
I hadn’t heard of life coaching before this friend mentioned it to me. I’m so grateful that she mentioned it. I won’t go deep into what my first sessions were like but let’s just say I used up a lot of Kleenex boxes. I also came to realize a few things about myself that I knew but didn’t necessarily want to admit:
- I’m a leader
- I’m capable of receiving the love I work so hard to give and
- In many ways I’m already receiving this love
- There is a way to love people without sacrificing so much and
- Loving people in this new way was actually better for me and them
My coach always uses the phrase “put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” I get it now. I get that the question is not what’s my matter here, because it’s not my matter. I know now to not take responsibility for the matter if it isn’t mine to take responsibility for.
I also realized how much my coach and I had in common – that’s when the sparks really started flying. After almost three years of going to sessions every other week, my coach has helped me realize that since I love rooting for people and loving people so much, I can coach for a living. After all, I have so much experience in it!
My coach helped me realize that I could be a coach too. In many ways, I already am one. She helped me realize that I can make a living out of loving and not get abused by it. I can channel my ability to read people and listen to people into to helping people help themselves. I think I’d find this work really fulfilling. I already do.
Not to get all new-agey but do you ever feel like the universe is totally cheering you on? After weeks of humming and hawing I finally decided to submit a request for reimbursement to my HR department for the Fundamentals course at the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). CTI is a leading school for coaches and it was where my own coach studied. The request was approved barely an hour after I sent the email. Next Friday at 1 pm my coaching odyssey begins. I get that chills/nausea combo when I think about it.
For now (!), I’m not quitting my day job. The way I see it, coaching skills feed into the communications work I do quite nicely. Eventually I’d like to take on my own clients outside of work. If it really takes off, I’ll start my own business. But for now I’m just enjoying the ride and resisting being terrified by the possibility that the thing you decide you want more than anything won’t work out.
This is so exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Also, I need some practice coaching clients so if you’re down to be a guinea pig, holler at me! We could even meet over skype if that works for you.