I’ve been coaching in one form or another for 20 years. For a long time it was around health and wellness. Lately it’s mostly parenting advice for dads trying to hold it together after divorce, and life coaching for stepmoms trying to hold it together as they support those divorced dads and their kids in a “challenging” family dynamic*.
*Insert emoji for “based on her robust personal experience”.
I like to think of myself as pretty self-aware. I’ve been to therapy. I’m a devoted meditator. I journal regularly.
Maybe that’s why I was so caught off-guard by what happened when I was interviewing a guest for an episode of my podcast.
I’ve admired this guy ever since I first heard him interviewed on a podcast a year or two ago. He’s a great story teller and he shares his experiences in a warm and funny and vulnerable way. I think I started my own podcast with the hope of having him on as a guest one day, so I was fan-girl-ing big time.
I hit “Record” and we started the interview. I asked questions, he answered. I interjected with my observations and highlighted what I thought my listeners should pay special attention to. And then, with no warning, he reached both hands right through the video screen into my office and gently, lovingly grabbed me by the virtual lapels. Looking me straight in the eye, he asked with a smile:
“Can I offer you some coaching in this moment?”
There was nowhere to run. I was already in my own home. And I was the host of this party.
“Of course” I said in my outside voice. I won’t repeat here what I said inside my head.
I truly had no idea what had prompted this spontaneous coaching-the-coach. Had I made a social gaffe? Blown my pronouns? Missed the entire point of what he had been talking about?
Worse. He had my number. In the ten minutes that had passed since meeting me, he had astutely observed that I have a habit of framing all my comments in the third person.
“Lots of women seem to feel….”
“Stepmoms have a hard time understanding that….”
“In general, dads are likely to….”
He continued, “If we’re going to connect as human beings here, right now, you have to say “I”. Speak about yourself.
O.M.G. Busted! And so glad this was a podcast recording and not a video because there’d be no way to “touch up my appearance” enough to hide my crimson cheeks.
I try to tell myself it’s because I spent 20 learning to keep my mouth shut in my practice as a homeopath. I can say it’s a learned reflex to avoid speaking about myself when I’m talking to clients, but I know perfectly well that my listeners are not my clients. They’re people in their cars and kitchens and out for a walk, looking for resonance with their own lived experience so they feel like someone understands what they’re going through.
And at that moment, I was recording a conversation for my listeners between two human beings. It was a conversation about feelings and I was letting him do all the heavy lifting.
There’s no way around it, I was hiding. And I had just been outed on my own show.
Every day, I encourage my coaching clients to be authentic, to step outside their comfort zone in order to grow towards whoever it is they’re called to be. And here I sat: avoiding, rationalizing, philosphizing.
Congratulations, Tracy, you’ve taken zero of ten-thousand steps today!
So I took a deep breath and started.
“I remember feeling insecure as a mother. Back then, I didn’t yet know that all mothers feel insecure, like, someone’s going to see that you don’t know what you’re doing!”
“I have personal experience with overstepping as a stepmom. I can come across like a freight train and my husband lets me know when I’m doing it.”
“I’ve come to know my own limits as a stepmom. There are some things I really wanted that I wasn’t able to get from my mother, even though she was a great mother. Even if I ultimately got those things from other people, nobody can help me not to feel sad about what I didn’t get from my mother. I wanted to get them from my own mom.”
It was like opening a curtain and seeing a peek of another me. It felt awkward to talk about myself, but liberating at the same time. I often have to stop myself from referring to my own experience when I’m with a client. I’ve become a really good listener, but I haven’t perfected the art of sharing my story.
I found myself slipping back into my old ways again and again during the interview. I cringed when I listened to the replay, but the curtain has been drawn; I can’t un-see myself hiding and I can start to deal with it now.
And I owe it all to a stranger at the other end of a Zoom call who could clearly see what was in my way and cared enough to tell me. With the mic on and the tape running. What a rush.
Next challenge: call him back and see if he’s taking any new coaching clients. I have a feeling that was just the beginning.