Katherine Golub of Center for Callings & Courage: “Settling your body doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop feeling angry or sad”

Settling your body doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop feeling angry or sad. It means that you have an easier time shifting into a perspective from which you can make decisions that serve you. The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. […]

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Settling your body doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop feeling angry or sad. It means that you have an easier time shifting into a perspective from which you can make decisions that serve you.

The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.

How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katherine Golub.

Katherine Golub, MBA, PCC, is the founder of the Center for Callings & Courage. She is a career and leadership coach who specializes in helping burned out changemakers who are uncertain about what’s next to get clear and confident and create work-lives they love. Her forthcoming book, When You’re Standing at Life’s Gate: How to Get Clear & Confident About What’s Calling You Next, guides readers through big life transitions toward a place a clarity and joy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

As a child, I was most happy when surrounded by books, reading all day long for days on end. I did well in school academically, but I was also the girl with big teeth and big glasses who struggled with shyness, bullying, and a super awkward body who couldn’t throw or catch a ball.

I grew up in the fairly wealthy, mostly white, bedroom town of Middlefield, Connecticut. My parents divorced after going bankrupt when I was thirteen, the bank foreclosed on our house, and my parents rented two of the only rental properties in town.

I wasn’t a very happy kiddo, but I trusted that I was “born old” and that I would be much happier as a grown-up. And that has gratefully proven to be true.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The quote I repeat most often is, “Never waste a good trigger.” In 2009, I participated in a month-long, super-intense yoga teacher training, and my teacher, Ana Forrest, wrote this on the backs of our graduation teachers.

Now, as a professional coach, I share this with my clients all the time.

I understand this quote to mean that no matter how much work we’ve done on ourselves, we will get triggered as human beings navigating this challenging world. Things will happen that activate our nervous systems and make us feel sad, angry, uncomfortable. But when we can pause and witness the triggered part of ourselves with compassion, we discover old beliefs and behavior patterns that no longer serve us. And with this awareness, we gain the opportunity to let things go.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Learning. I believe that the reason I am alive is to learn. For example, right now, I’m learning about social media. After developing an overly full private coaching practice, I’m currently working to shift my business model to larger group work. To do that, it will help if I have a more robust social media presence. At first, I resisted going on Instagram, but I’m now embracing it as an opportunity to learn more about myself, my work, and the world. I’m surprised to say I love it.
  2. Gratitude. Mid-way through the pandemic, I began a practice of going outside to sit on my Eastern-facing porch at sunrise and write about what I’m grateful for. I already considered myself a very grateful person, but this practice has turned up the volume on my gratitude and my joy big time.
  3. Compassion. When things get hard, rather than beating myself up, I witness the parts of myself with compassion, and that feels like landing on a soft pillow at the end of a long day. My clients and friends frequently tell me that they appreciate my ability to listen with compassion, so I’m grateful that this ability benefits more people than just myself.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

Sure! It wasn’t actually just one loss but a series of really significant changes.

It began in October 2006. I was working in Strategic Affairs for the hotel workers’ union, UNITE HERE, and I was on a work trip to DC when I received a phone call from my partner, Erick. He was undocumented and from Mexico, and he told me that a cop had pulled him over while driving to work and asked for his visa (which he did not have).

The police officer got on the phone and told me that he was detaining Erick. Six months later, he was deported back to Mexico.

To be closer to Erick, I transferred from New Haven to Phoenix.

The plan was that I would spend one week each month in Mexico City. But soon after I moved to Phoenix, I went to a routine doctors’ office to get on a different type of birth control, and I discovered that I was pregnant.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

There were a lot of scary parts to this experience and those that were to come, but honestly, the worst thing that I could imagine at the time was that my son would believe that either his dad or I didn’t love him.

How did you react in the short term?

I tried hard to get my work to transfer me to Toronto because, as my husband, Erick could have gotten a Canadian visa. But ultimately, the union said no.

So, I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, when I was seven months pregnant. I joined an international solidarity collective, gave birth to my son, Kai, at home with midwives, and lived off my maternity leave. I made the best of things.

However, I was very lonely. I had a hard time finding ways to sustain myself financially in Mexico for the long term, and my relationship with Erick was rocky.

I lived in Mexico for a year and a half, returned to the states with Kai for a year and a half, and then moved back to Mexico for another year and a half. After six years of battling for a visa (even though we were married the whole time), in 2012, Erick finally got a visa, and we moved back to the states.

Soon after I returned, Erick and I separated, and I faced a whole new challenge of raising my son as a single mother. I only a BA in Latin American Studies, which is not the most lucrative degree, and the two options I saw were one, getting a low-wage job in human services, or two, becoming a coach.

My father loaned me the money for my coach training, and I started my full-time professional coaching practice in January 2013. I experienced non-stop financial stress for the first several years, but slowly yet surely, I developed a thriving coaching practice.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

Soon after Kai was born, I realized that I could not go back to my work with the union, and I decided that I wanted to become a birth doula and prenatal yoga teacher to support other parents on similar rites of passage.

I began studying a type of childbirth preparation called Birthing from Within, which is all about supporting clients through rites of passage. Since I was on my own hero’s journey, the Birthing from Within framework was incredibly helpful.

One of the life-changing practices that Birthing from Within introduced me to was the Four Agreements, a practice in letting go of limiting belief patterns that hold us back. While I was in Mexico, I decided to engage in a year-long apprenticeship in the Four Agreements. Every day, I journaled, shining light on my inner Judge and Victim and the stories they tell. This practice helped me let go of the self-judgment that had held me back since childhood and fully embody a compassionate witness perspective.

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

It is incredible to look back on the last fifteen years from this vantage point. As I shared earlier, my biggest fear was that this situation would somehow negatively impact my son.

Indeed, the deportation, unexpected pregnancy, and moving back and forth for five years all impacted my relationship with Erick. Ultimately, we decided that it was best to separate.

But we’ve also learned how to co-parent incredibly well, so well that we all just went on vacation to the beach together a couple of weeks ago.

So, what helped me heal and let go and come to such a healthy relationship with my son’s father? In addition to journaling and embodiment practices such as yoga, one practice that helped was Nonviolent Communication. Nonviolent Communication is a transformative way of communicating that helps those of us who use it to get clear about what’s really going on (as opposed to our interpretations of what’s happening), share how we feel in a way that is compassionate toward ourselves and others, identify and communicate what we need, and make specific requests that are easier to receive.

I’m so grateful to see how all my relationships have benefitted from Nonviolent Communication, and this practice has helped my clients change their lives, too.

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Having the map of the labyrinth helped me to do that. Seekers and adventurers worldwide have used unicursal labyrinths as a map for personal transformation since time immemorial. There is one path in and one path out (and it’s the same path, as you turn around once you reach the center).

I learned to see my journey like a labyrinth. To make my way through, I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep getting on my horse when I fell off.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

I am profoundly grateful to my three teachers during that time:

  1. Pam England, who created Birthing from Within;
  2. Ana Forrest, my yoga teacher; and
  3. Allan Hardman, my mentor in the Four Agreements.

Each of them guided me through learning and embodying the practices I shared above.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

Absolutely. Before all of this happened, I was not on a path that I loved. I was a super high-achiever.

I based my self-worth on how “successful” I was. I exhausted myself trying to take on every bit of work I could handle. As a result, I struggled with constant anxiety, migraines, and other health problems.

A voice inside me demanded that I stop and ask myself what I truly wanted. But I was terrified to let people down. So, I ignored my heart and continued to work all day, almost every day.

I love the life I have now, and if all of this hadn’t happened, I would likely have continued down that path for a long time.

Thank goodness that when I was pregnant, I realized that this path would take me somewhere far better than where I had been. It was just going to take some time.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

One of the most important things I learned during this journey is that I have a lot of courage. When it felt like life was whooping me upside the head, I kept bouncing back up, not in some unrealistically chipper way, but by rising to the challenge and the next one and the next.

I believe that courage is a skill that everyone can learn. As Mary Daly writes, “Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Pause and Settle Your Body

When you’re going through a difficult life challenge, you are apt to feel emotionally worked up, activated, and raw. During these moments, you need to settle your body.

Settling your body means shifting internally from a dysregulated state in which you feel triggered, activated, and reactive into a regulated state from which you can consciously choose your response. When you’re settled, you feel your feet on the floor, gravity on your skin, the air in your lungs, a sense of the cells in your body settling down into the support of the land below you.

Settling your body doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop feeling angry or sad. It means that you have an easier time shifting into a perspective from which you can make decisions that serve you.

When you settle your body, you have an easier time returning to a sense of calm in the midst of a challenge, feeling what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, collapsed, ashamed, or enraged, and quieting the mental and emotional noise within, and having an easier time understanding what you really need.

2. Embody the Compassionate Witness

I invite you to imagine that you’re a little kid, and you’re upset. You’re crying and screaming, trying to get your parents to understand how you feel. But the more you clamor for them to hear you, the more they insist that nothing is wrong.

Imagine how you’d feel.

Not good, right?

Although your parents might be trying to make you feel better, you’d probably feel worse. It doesn’t feel good when someone — including yourself — tells you to stop feeling how you’re feeling. Even though you’re grown up, you still have a need to be heard, seen, and understood.

Likewise, when you’re going through a really hard time, you are bound to feel scared, alone, sad, angry. If you tell yourself to stop feeling how you feel, you’re bound to feel worse.

Now, I invite you to try to recall a time when you truly felt loved. It might have been by a pet, friend, teacher, aunt, uncle, grandparent, parent, partner, or life itself.

Remember what it felt like to have that person hold you in their loving presence. Notice what happens in your body when you remember receiving this love. Do you feel your body settling, relaxing, letting go of tension? Do you feel calmer in your solar plexus? Do you feel warmer?

You may feel a big change. Or the shifts may be subtle. Both are okay.

The compassionate witness is the core, essential part of yourself who is able to observe what’s going on within you without judgment and respond with kindness. It will be far easier to heal through hard times when you embody the compassionate witness.

3. Shine Light on the Stories You’re Telling Yourself

Imagine that you’re driving along the path through life looking at the world — and at yourself — through a windshield. This windshield may be clean and uncluttered, offering a pristine view of your surroundings. Or it may be cloudy and covered by the residues of life, making it hard for you to see your way forward.

Like a car windshield that gets dirty over decades, our belief patterns can make it hard to see our path forward in life. Throughout our lives, we develop all sorts of beliefs — about what we’re capable of, what’s possible, how people are, and so forth. These beliefs patterns build up so gradually that we mistake our filtered views of reality for reality itself and don’t realize that we’re looking through a lens in the first place.

To get clear about what’s really happening and navigate through your situation as clear-sighted as possible, you need to clean your inner windshield. One of the most effective ways to do this is to shine light on the stories that you tell yourself. When you’re aware of your stories (beliefs, interpretations, thoughts, opinions, etcetera), you can identify which ones serve you and which do not, and choose the stories you want to live by.

When you have a clear lens, you will be far more able to discern which response will serve you and the people you care about at any given moment and to take that next step forward.

4. Identify What You Really Need

If you’re like most of my clients, you may have learned to ignore what you need and want at an early age.

Your parents, church, television, and other grown-ups may have taught you that desire is dirty, that your needs are shameful, or that other people knew what you needed better than you.

If you’re a woman, people might have told you that your desires were too much.

If you grew up in poverty, your inner Judge might chastise you for having too many needs or not being able to meet them yourself.

If your basic needs are met and you witness many horrible things happening to other people, you might think it’s selfish to consider your own needs.

With the way the world is currently set up, it is not always possible to meet our needs or honor our desires, especially during big life challenges. However, when you know what you need (even if you can’t currently meet those needs), you can imagine a life in which your needs are met, and that vision can serve as a beacon light that calls you forward.

When you know what you need, you are more likely to get unstuck, take steps to care for your needs and make trustworthy decisions that serve you in the long run.

5. Take in the Good

I invite you to imagine that you’re living thirty thousand years ago. You and your family are hanging out around the fire, telling stories, having a good time, when suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you spot a shadow. The first thought that enters your mind: “Tiger!”

You don’t know whether it’s a real tiger or not, so what do you do? Investigate the shadow? Or run and hide with your family?

If you hide, you miss out on the opportunity of discovering what the shadow was. But, if you check it out, you risk death.

Most people would probably run and hide and with good reason.

Fast forward to the present day: Our ancestors’ habit of being hyper-alert for potential danger is still alive and well in our brains. You and I are the descendants of people who ran from the shaking bush.

Largely because of this, most of us have an easier time noticing what’s not working well than what is. When we can shift our attention to also notice what is good, even in the midst of really hard moments, we can bring ourselves short moments of joy and detect otherwise hidden opportunities that help us navigate through the hard moments.

Let me be clear: Taking in the good is not the same as gaslighting, sugarcoating, or bypassing what’s hard. Western culture perpetuates a belief that if we’re not happy, it means something’s wrong with us. We’re told to be more positive or just get over it. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

We can witness the hard stuff and take in the good in the same day, in the same hour, sometimes even in the same exact moment. When you do that, you are more apt to heal and navigate the challenging times with a sense of gratitude and grace.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Although I’ve been engaged in social justice work since my teens, I am currently most engaged in antiracist activism.

As a white woman, I believe that my work is to help other white people do the inner and outer work of antiracism, redistributing wealth, and creating systems based not on supremacy and oppression but on equity and respect for all people.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Definitely Resmaa Menakem, the author of My Grandmother’s Hands. Manakem’s work is all about healing intergenerational racialized trauma. I believe his work is having a powerful ripple effect throughout the worlds of personal and collective healing, and I’d be so grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation with him about how to heal racialized trauma in white bodies.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Sure! Readers can find me in a few different places.

First, my website, callingandcourage.com. I encourage readers to subscribe to my weekly newsletter. Every week, I send out a rich compilation with many teachings and resources to help readers navigate challenging times and discover clarity and confidence about what’s next.

I also post teachings and practices on Instagram nearly every day, and I invite readers to follow me and join in the conversation there.

And, finally, email! If readers have a question they’d like to ask me, I invite them to reach out to me directly at [email protected]

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you so much for inviting me into this conversation! I’ve had a great time, and I wish you all the best.

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