Once a month I have a session with a woman who is a shaman, healer and coach. I meet with her on top of my traditional coaching support, as her energetic healing work seems to accelerate insight and clear the way for decision making. Last week, in our first session of the year, I was sharing how much urgency -- borderline obsession, in fact -- I was feeling about getting our new home decorated just as I wanted. That I felt somewhat out of control staying up late, challenging my budget, and spending hours searching for just the right chair or rug. Sharing this led to uncovering a memory of a life-changing moment that happened when I was 20. And the insight was sparked from one simple question, “Wow, this urgency feels stressful. When did this sense of urgency, this pace of life, start for you?”
Huh. I couldn’t remember any time of my life that wasn’t lived with urgency. It had become such a way of being for me. If I had a work idea that I was excited about, I felt driven to create and launch it ASAP. If I wanted to do something with my kids, I had to do it ASAP (even if bedtime was approaching). If someone emailed me asking for a response, I would stay up or miss a meal to respond ASAP. This behavior was not coming from a pleasing or perfection energy, but something else.
I began to think of my life as a child, was I living with this huge sense of urgency at that time?
I thought of my high school years and remembered feeling calm, methodical, easygoing. There was no rush. College was full of play, last-minute cramming, laughter and exploration. No big sense of urgency then. I remember feeling very in control: if I wanted something to happen, I would take the steps to create the outcome and the outcome would arrive.
And then a memory popped up, seemingly out of nowhere, that I hadn’t thought about in two decades. I had erased this memory and this part of my corporate life story. This wasn’t about my first job (shout-out to Jamba Juice!), it was about my first corporate job in which I was fired. In one week.
In my own personal story I have never been fired. Laid off once, yes. Fired no. What I discovered was that during this first corporate experience, when I was still a sophomore in college, my easygoing, I-can-try-again, time-is-on-my-side attitude was shattered -- and my sense of urgency began.
I can remember hearing the head of marketing and my boss talking in the hallway right outside my cubicle. The head of marketing had a feverish energy, drive and directness. She had asked me to complete a PowerPoint presentation. I had never really used PowerPoint but did the best I could and sent it in. My experience level did not match her expectations. At 20 years old, hearing professionals I looked up to put down my abilities and then ask me to never come back felt traumatic. It felt like rejection. It was rejection.
That moment changed how I lived the next 20 years of my life. I went from being a laid-back, methodical person to one who had to get it right ASAP. A person striving to deliver more than what was asked. A professional who lived with fear that I wasn’t good enough, so I efforted my way to be better every day. The result was the opposite of what I had experienced at 20 years old. Instead of being fired, I got raises and was promoted every year for 13 years. This validation and unlocking of how to win in the system of work quickly became my identity. It was who I was, entirely. Becoming who I needed to be in a capitalistic system worked, and so the pace, performance, and attempted perfection continued without reflection or question as to what it was costing me, or what was being excluded by this way of being.
In an instant, I had changed how I showed up and transformed my experience. In this one moment, how I experienced and lived my life had shifted.
This is how we become someone new. We arrive at a place in our lives where we don't fully know the person looking back at us in the mirror. That person is created from a million life-changing moments that we made meaning from and then shifted ourselves to accommodate -- to heal our own trauma, protect our precious hearts, or hide from a truth we didn’t yet understand.
Yet there’s a point in life where the bending, the shifting of who we really are, becomes too much… When there are too many layers on top of who we really are, our real self, our raw unaltered self, can’t handle the pressure and begins to crumble. Where life loses its joy, things that had meaning no longer feel important, and our passion dwindles to apathy and tolerance.
This is how I felt 20 years later when I quit my last corporate job. But it didn’t have to evolve that way. I didn’t have to abandon all I had become to find out who I really was. There is a way to excavate, inquire, and explore while being exactly where you are. After all, changing who you are and how you show up in any system, especially at work, means that your experience will be different. If you’ve found success, changing how you show up might mean exchanging upward mobility for peace and presence. If you’ve hit a plateau, unburying yourself to reveal who you really are may bring about your full power and catapult you into the success you know you’re built for.
Both take courage. Both invite risk.
And to live a life that feels rich and real, I think we have no choice but to examine the life-changing moments that have built us and choose which we want to keep as part of who we are and which we want to bid adieu to in order to welcome what we seek.
Simply to identify and admit there are areas of our lives that feel out of control is healing in itself, and then when we dive deeper, ideally with support around us, we enter into a realm of choice and power.
This is the power of coaching. This is why my life’s mission has e