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FROM HOPELESSNESS TO POSSIBILITY: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A COACH

APRIL 4, 2018

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I’m an Integral Coach. I’m also a martial arts instructor, creative director, and workshop leader. I couldn't have imagined even one of these things as a possibility when I embarked on my year of training at New Ventures West.

Many people come into the Professional Coaching Course with particular intentions for what awaits them at the end of the year. Some envision going into private practice as a coach, becoming a better HR professional or manager, adding depth to a role as a therapist or teacher, or in some way building out their professional repertoire and creating more options for themselves.

Sometimes it looks just like the vision. Other times — oftentimes — folks are surprised. Going through the PCC almost always results in a greater sense of freedom and possibility, but not the way we expect. Here’s how it went for me.

Feeling Trapped

I was sitting on a sloping green lawn on the campus of a large university where I was working in fundraising. Far from a pleasant mid-day breather, I had been dragged to this spot – to the ground, really – by the weight of my situation. No aspect of the job I was doing had any meaning for me, except that I could contribute to the mortgage my partner and I had just taken on. We’d moved across the country to start a new life in the bay area. Having worked in a small nonprofit back east, this job was, at the moment, the closest I could find to what I’d done in my previous life. Except it wasn’t close at all.

Feeling more deflated and suffocated with each passing day, it was increasingly evident that I couldn’t stay where I was. Yet I couldn’t perceive a way forward. I was trapped in vapidity, desperate for meaning and connection. I wasn’t exactly positioned on my knees that afternoon, but definitely in a mood of postulation.

Finding the Thread

It suddenly occurred to me to engage in an informal thought experiment around the old question, “if money wasn’t an issue, what would I do?” Immediately what rose to mind was a writing workshop I’d been attending for years: one in which connection and healing are the real takeaways — writing being the vehicle by which this occurs. By diving into personal, sometimes painful stories in a safe, non-critical space, folks mine the depths of their souls and memories, and come out more in touch with themselves and with deep compassion for those around them. No activity had ever been more nourishing and meaningful for me. That, I realized, was what I wanted my life to look like.

I didn’t see a way from here to there. I wasn’t even sure if that’s precisely what I wanted to do, but I was drawn to the essence of the possibility. I loved to write but understood that, to be able to hold a container for a powerful process like what occurred in the workshops, I needed to develop myself in some way I couldn’t yet perceive.

Still, there it was: the whisper of the thread connecting me from hopelessness to possibility.

First Steps

What happened next is both the most inexplicable yet undeniable piece of the whole journey. An inner voice I’d never heard before whispered, “What about life coaching?”

Huh. “What is life coaching?” I wondered. I’d heard of it but had always found the term kind of trite (still do, honestly). And yet, in direct answer to my desperate questioning about the direction of my life, something about this mysterious ‘suggestion’ took hold, moving me to take steps.

The first step was to google “life coach,” find someone local, and book a session with him to see what the voice in my mind was talking about. It was lovely. I felt seen and understood, and came to some big insights about myself. I asked where he trained, and had the experience that (I’ve since discovered) many who wind up at NVW have: he’d trained somewhere else but wished he’d known about NVW because he definitely would have come here. The depth of the learning and transformation, he heard, was unlike any other.

Okay then. A few weeks later I came to an orientation session at NVW and felt immediately clicked into my tribe. My cells seemed to understand that whatever I needed would happen for me here. I cursorily investigated one or two other schools, though I knew this was where I’d end up. (Beyond the physical, intuitive draw, I realized the term “life coaching” tends not to apply.)

Beyond Expectations

As many a PCC graduate will probably attest, the year was a washing machine of transformation. On the very first day I found myself in a room with 19 other vulnerable people bravely sharing their stories: precisely the kind of space that nourished me most. The things I found out about myself throughout the year were staggering in quantity and depth. I discovered those aspects I personally needed to develop, among them groundedness, voice, power, even anger: qualities I’d always resisted and thought I could skirt around (nope, not if I wanted to help anyone else!). I learned why they were important and concrete ways I could cultivate them.

The moorings to my current life slowly began to release as I found hidden pockets of capacity and possibility in myself. A new part-time job, far more aligned with my values, presented itself serendipitously. My partner and I found a way to make the finances work, showing me that I was never as trapped as I thought I was. I watched my external landscape morph as my internal world shifted seismically.

Only the Beginning

This, of course, is only a fraction of what happened, but it was a powerful start to what has now been an eight-year ongoing journey. For instance, once I understood that embodiment and power were important and why, I took up a martial art, Aikido, and am now a second-degree black belt and an instructor at my dojo. I rediscovered a creative side that I had all but buried during my professional life, and now have the privilege of working at NVW sharing this life-changing work with the world in ways that I enjoy. I even lead workshops — not writing ones as I’d originally thought, but in a realm that is nonetheless about healing and compassion. My life fits me now in ways I only ever fantasized about a decade ago. And it continues to deepen and unfold.

Did I see myself ending up here? Of course not; how could I have? But these are the kinds of stories of possibility we hear from graduates all the time. It’s impossible to say how it will go for you; each journey is as unique as the person on it (just as every Integral Coaching® relationship is completely customized for the client). But what will happen is that lost or missing parts of you will be restored, and you will feel more in harmony with your own life — and more equipped to be of service — than you ever have.

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HOW DEEP CAN YOU GO AS A COACH?

MARCH 15, 2018

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How deep we go in as a coach may well come down to three factors:

  • how open and capable of deep exploration our client is
  • the depth of presence and skill of the coach
  • the intention of the program.

I guess as you read this there are a lot more than three factors in the bullet points just listed, but at least they lay out some interesting territory for exploration.

Let’s start with the third point: What is the real intention of our coaching work? Whom do we really work for when we coach? The simple, direct and readily acceptable answer to this question is that we work for our client and s/he gets to tell us the topic, the success criteria, the duration and pace of the coaching engagement. These are everyday bromides in our current culture of consumerism. Clients are customers, coaches are providers of services, their roles determine even before they meet what they should do – everyone knows this, everyone should abide by this because that is what it is to act in accordance with prevailing cultural values. The central tenet of the consumer world is the person who pays gets to say what will happen. But I don’t think this works in coaching, which is why I am bringing it up.

I know that besides there being commercial reasons for accepting the full lead of the client, there is also the philosophical point – the clients know themselves best – but can this possibly be true? Does anyone really know the real basis for her/his actions without reference to any one else? For me this is the quintessential example of an experiential blind spot – we cannot see where we’re standing; we can only see the view from there. We confuse people’s ability to explain for truth, and because of that (when we merely go along with the explanation) we are not much help to our client. When we take as truth a client’s explanation, we are reinforcing blindness and leaving the client no more capable, wise or fulfilled as a person.

What if the intention of coaching was to fully meet the client as a phenomenon of life – dynamic, shifting, alive, and always seeking relationship to herself/himself, others and the process of life itself? What if we worked in service of this unfoldment? Could that be our intent as coaches?

If that was the intent of coaching and it showed up in different ways each time, then to do good coaching we would have to be in deep contact with ourselves, our clients, and the living moment of our meeting. We would have to be deeply, sensitively present with a ceaseless wondering about what was happening. This is well beyond not having an agenda. It’s more of our being dedicated to finding out what life’s agenda is. We would have to be very careful not to have a pre-existing idea of human purpose that we’d bring no matter who the client was. Radical openness such as I’m describing here is like the trembling moment of an artist standing before a blank canvas, not knowing what is to be painted, yet feeling somehow that something wants to come into existence at this very time and place. Can we live in this moment of unknowing with an underlying confidence? What are we trusting at such times? You can see it’s much easier to just do as we are told by our clients, even if this often makes the client’s situation much worse.

Not every client may be up for what I’m describing here. Many too many of us are powerfully convinced that we know what we really want and that when we get it we will be happy, satisfied and peaceful. Sometimes that happens; usually not.

Clients, though, can learn to tune to themselves in a way that’s deeper than their personal history or cultural surround. All of us have done this. The real problem remains that tuning in takes time, and often when we slow we feel empty, uncomfortable, bereft of meaning, lonely, unsupported and confused. Nearly all of us will become very busy to avoid experiencing any of these things (it’s a rare person these days who does not answer the question “how are you?” with “really busy”).

Are we helping our client much when we assist them in becoming quicker at what they are doing? I don’t think so. It seems to me that the current numbness of our world is maintained primarily through our cooperation with avoidance in the form of business. And that the numbness allows for 3 billion of us to live in deep poverty, for systemic cruelty to exist widely, for the world to be consistently at war — we don’t feel all this as a culture. Coaching can lessen the numbness and unfreeze our vast potential to act. For me this is what’s missing in the world today.

Do you want to be up to this when you coach? Do you want to work at a depth that begins to shift the whole world?

This short article has presented what will it take to coach that way. Will you take it up? What do you find when you listen to your heart?

This article originally appeared in the Distinctions Newsletter in 2008. Discover for yourself how deep coaching can go in our two-day foundational workshop, Coaching To Excellence.

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TRANSCENDING UNCONSCIOUS STORIES

FEBRUARY 8, 2018

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It was one of these weeks where things were quickly going downhill. Or so it seemed. My partner was away for work. My dog got diarrhea. My daughter got the flu. My network of support was on vacation… and so on. I could see that I was looking outside myself, trying to identify the perpetrator of such a lousy plan. Looking in all directions but me.

Looking at the projector

When I decided to look at the projector—me—I realized that if there was a perpetrator in the story I was telling myself, then I was the victim. Pulling this slippery thread, I got deeper into the story. It went something like, “hard work is kind of unfair, and at some point this has to end, as I deserve something better.” The more I got in touch with this narrative, the question I then asked myself was, “where the hell did I get this…crap?!” I started looking in the usual places: culture, society, family… I immediately could spot similar patterns in my family of origin, not to mention mainstream culture. Indeed, it was Cinderella’s tale—so not surprising that it was so familiar! I have consciously been inspired by the idea of dying having fully contributed to my community. But unconscious stories can have a stronger effect than our best intentions … until they become conscious.

Integrating and transcending our stories

And yet, having discovered my story did not allow me to get rid of it completely. I’m still working on it. Stories, as forms of mental patterns or personal complexes, are attached to our bodies, bones and skins: sticky coats with a particular shape. Gaining awareness of our stories can change how we relate to them, allowing us to disidentify from them. But how can we integrate and transcend them?

There are two ways we use in Integral Coaching to achieve this. The first one by inviting a new narrative. In my case, the Cinderella story was replaced by the story of a Dakini, an empowering Buddhist feminine archetype.

The second way to transcend and integrate our stories is by bringing awareness to our bodies. Our bodies become the repositories of our unconscious, and by finding and letting go of tensions that hold these patterns, we loosen the power of them and create space for something new. For this, Hatha yoga has been the path that has opened me the most, as well as embodied meditation from the Shambhala tradition.

Self-reflection

To end, I would like to invite you to take up this self-reflection daily for one week. At the end of your day, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What narrative have I lived by today? How could I tell? How did it feel?
  • What did this narrative create?
  • What different different story could I live by? What could this make possible?

Magda is an Integral Coach based in Spain. You can read more on her blog.  

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INTEGRATING WHAT IS BROKEN IN US

NOVEMBER 7, 2017

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We are all broken.

In some circles, this is a radical thing to say (“Hey, some of us are doing just fine, thank you!”); for others, it’s a downer (“That’s a pretty negative view of people”).

But for me, this is an uplifting truth and a fundamental tenant for coaching.

For most of my youth, I experienced life as something that unfolded for me just the way I wanted it to—all according to plan. Sure, I had some romantic heartbreak and some disappointments, but overall things were good. I had two loving parents, a stable, middle-class upbringing, and went to a great high school and four-year college. I got a great job out of college and moved to NYC to live that big life I’d always dreamed of. I moved up the ladder within my chosen profession and eventually moved to San Francisco, where I met and married my husband and we had a child.

Then everything fell apart. When my son was born, I experienced crushing post-partum depression. I was brutal with myself about it, sure that I was a terrible mother who couldn’t love her son. When he was a year old, my reproductive system shut down and I discovered I couldn’t have more children. I struggled with motherhood and my crazy work hours and felt I wasn’t doing either one well, so I stepped down and took a new job with no big title or compensation package.   Eventually, my husband and I separated and divorced.

Failing?

During this time, I felt all these experiences as “failures.” I felt sadness and loss and pain. Eventually, I came to see that my old life and my old self were actually dying, and I was grieving the loss. I had constructed a life based on what I thought I was supposed to do and want—what was supposed to make me and others happy. I had constructed a sense of self that was based on ideas of achieving and succeeding and getting everything just right. The truth is that, even before my post-partum depression, I was really pretty miserable. My work didn’t have much meaning and I didn’t have much time for relationships or much ability to really be present with others.

Loving what's broken

Many of these realizations began when I entered the Professional Coaching Course at New Ventures West. I came into the class hoping to learn “how to be a coach” so that I could make a career transition. What I learned is that coaching is really not about helping people solve their problems or get their next promotion. In fact, coaching is incredibly powerful because both coach and client can learn to face and love what’s broken in all of us. Without judgment or shame. We can see how we might be living in ways that have us close off parts of ourselves—that have us deny truths or constrict our hearts or bodies. Loving our broken parts helps us to breathe more life into our selves, our endeavors and our relationships.

At this time in our history, it’s quite easy to allow and even to nurture feelings of rage and horror, grief and despair about the state of the world. But what helps me right now is to return to this teaching. There is much brokenness on display in the world. Can we love it and love those who show it to us? Can we look at our culture, our leaders and our decaying systems without judgment or shame? When we do this, can we see the truth of how we are living and face our own contributions to this reality? Most importantly, can we see opportunities to bring our own unique gifts in support of healing?
To me, this is the invitation—no, the promise—of integral coaching. Join us on the path.

You can engage in this kind of inquiry into your own life in our new two-day course, The Integral Path

Melinda is a New Ventures West faculty member and owner of the coaching and consulting firm Impact Leadership. 

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