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Sean Carney: “Do the hard, internal work first”

Do the hard, internal work first. Sooner or later, you’ve got to do the work. We all have something we need to look at, be better at, or overcome. It will sit there and wait for you your whole life until you deal with it. So I wish someone just told me to get after […]

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Do the hard, internal work first. Sooner or later, you’ve got to do the work. We all have something we need to look at, be better at, or overcome. It will sit there and wait for you your whole life until you deal with it. So I wish someone just told me to get after it and go to the hard places. Things get better after that.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Carney.

Sean helps people think and be better versions of themselves by providing results-driven coaching and partnering with his clients. He has helped individuals in North America, the UK, and Asia in their pursuit of better: to be better versions of themselves, to make their ideas better, to be a better leader. Sean was trained in Brain-Based Coaching by the NeuroLeadership Institute and utilizes their coaching methodology based on neuroscience, structure, and growth mindset.


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?

I grew up in a small town about 2 hours outside of Buffalo, NY.

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

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ―C. S. Lewis

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.

Love of learning. My love of learning is integral to any personal or professional evolution I have made. First, it serves as a driver, and the need to learn new things keeps me curious and relevant. I use the love of learning to see what’s next and satisfy my intellectual curiosity to identify the skills needed for the future or the opportunities, and always make sure I can participate in them. The fastest path to irrelevancy is to stop learning new things.

Humor. My sense of humor was honed in some pretty hard times, and I will admit it probably would be defined as gallows humor. My first chapter was working in the Emergency Department as a Physician Assistant, and it’s pretty hard to survive that chaos without a sense of humor.

Creativity-My creativity isn’t expressed in art or writing — unfortunately, it’s more boring than that. My imagination shows up in problem solving and innovation. I love looking for new ways to do things and how to solve problems.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

Well, technically, I am on my 4th chapter, and I think finally in my spot.

I started off working clinically in the emergency department as a Physician Assistant. I did this for about ten years until I completely burned out.

I went into healthcare IT working as a new product manager, and after that went into consulting, working to change how hospitals operate and healthcare was delivered. My final chapter, your “second,” and my fourth is as a professional executive coach.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I reinvented myself as an executive coach through the qualities of the love of learning and creativity. Working as a consultant on large system transformation projects, I could see what the rest of consulting couldn’t, that any real, sustainable change happens at the individual level.

I also found myself supporting executives as they attempted to drive change through their organizations and found myself coaching them. I could see that consulting wasn’t offering this level of support, and I also become much more curious about formal coaching.

At the same time, I had been a road warrior consultant for several years and was looking for a way to still make an impact, with much less travel, but still had the feel of consulting. One of the benefits of consulting is many problems to solve and variety in clients. I wouldn’t get that if I got off the road and took a regular corporate gig.

I saw coaching as a path that would give me endless opportunities to learn and be creative, and at the same time, make an impact at the individual level, which in turn creates more significant results. I also could choose to do it remotely, and this was even before the pandemic.

So I started the pivot from consultant to coach. I invested in formal coach training and certifications and began to take coaching clients. I now work full time as an executive coach from home.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

I wasn’t so much triggered but saw an opportunity to exploit. Coaching certainly wasn’t new. But recognizing that there was an even greater need and benefit for it, my natural affinity for coaching and that I wanted a career that would have limitless learning opportunities and more balance in my life made me take the plunge.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I was working with healthcare executives on large organizational transition projects. I became a confidant and coach; I just thought I was helping another human in a challenging time. Honestly, my partner at home told me I was coaching. I didn’t know anything about coaching until that point, and I’m not sure I’d ever run into one.

But recognizing that coaching at the individual level is the most tangible way to see real change and when people have those “aha moments” or try something they think they can’t do because of a conversation we had honestly made me feel helpful. I love that level of partnership with clients.

I suppose the barriers to being a great coach, and I’m not saying I am one, but I’d like to be someday, are the battles we all fight in our heads, and we fight them every day, hopefully getting a little better each day. The barriers I have to overcome usually revolve around imposter syndrome and my natural pessimistic nature. If one spends ten years in an emergency room trained to expect the worst, that imprints on you and can be a filter that, while served you well in the ED, for the most part, isn’t an asset outside of it. To help mitigate it, I’ve done some therapy and learned about positive psychology. I’m still a work in progress, hoping to rise to the level of a pragmatic optimist. 😊

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

Things are going quite well. I’m in my spot. I’ve coached hundreds of people and have had a chance to partner with some fantastic people to make meaningful changes for them.

“Sean and I crossed paths at a crucial moment in my career. He listened — he’s a tremendous listener — and was able to quickly understand and articulate my challenges and opportunities in ways I could not. Moreover, Sean has helped me identify and focus on my core values, drivers, strengths, and areas for development, and he has done so with intellectual depth, encouragement, authenticity, and humor. Sean is absolutely the primary reason that I persevered through tremendous challenges and have successfully taken the next step up in my career journey. I strongly and without reservation recommend Sean as an Executive and Leadership coach.”

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

That would be my partner Lucy. I wouldn’t be here without her. She helped me see this opportunity and then fully supported me to go after it. I want to say I recognized this opportunity all on my own, seized it, and never had a moment of self-doubt. That would all be bullshit. She saw things in myself that I didn’t see and helped me become what I’ve become.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I’ve probably become more comfortable with being uncomfortable, both my own emotions and those of my clients. My first chapter, the emergency department, was about learning how to survive by suppressing my feelings. This chapter, my coaching chapter, is mainly about embracing them and exploring where they lead. It is still a challenge for me to sit with emotions, thus uncomfortable, but the real work is sometimes with clients and myself supporting them as best I can..

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Absolutely. I wrote this week on it.

I have full-blown imposter syndrome.

There, I said it.

Imposter syndrome is something I’ve had my entire professional life, in every position I have held, even now as a professional coach, regardless of how competent or experienced I might be.

I often coach clients in the grips of imposter syndrome while experiencing imposter syndrome in real-time myself is an irony not lost on me and only serves to amplify my imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.

But I suspect I’m not alone here, and studies have shown that 70% of the population is afflicted with imposter syndrome, so I’m gathering I’m in some pretty good company.

If you’re fortunate to be in the 30% of the population wondering what is the big deal here, please share some of your trade secrets.

For the rest of us firmly in the 70%, I wonder if the approach to managing imposter syndrome as a self-improvement project is flawed.

Now, what I’m about to propose presumably goes against every coaching methodology on the planet. And, as a fervent believer that one can always evolve by embracing a growth mindset, it makes me feel squeamish.

But here we go.

What if imposter syndrome isn’t a personality defect to be corrected, it’s a strength to build on? Maybe we should stop trying to manage or overcome imposter syndrome and accept it.

Here is how I got there.

If we look at how we show up on a spectrum, on one end is Imposter syndrome, and on the other end lies the Dunning-Kruger Effect; one could argue that imposter syndrome could be a relative strength.

Anyone struggling with imposter syndrome generally fights this battle internally, and they are its only victim. In contrast, those who bring on The Dunning-Kruger effect can wreak havoc and terror at scale.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills.

If you are struggling for a real-world example of this effect, one portly, perpetually spray-tanned person we all know could be your use case.

As complexity increases around us, and there’s more data for our brains to process than neurons to do it, perhaps a little imposter syndrome isn’t such a bad thing after all.

I like the idea of accepting imposter syndrome as a strength and reframing it as confident humility.

What would it look like to show up with confident humility?

It might look a little like this.

Not worrying about imposter syndrome anymore and all the machinations on how to manage it.

Being prepared for everything you do and interaction you have.

Going for the small wins to build momentum and de-risk.

Giving failures their due as the badges of learning they are, and collect them with pride.

Getting comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.”

Thanking the fear in you for its evolutionary role in keeping you alive, but despite it, do what you need to do anyhow.

Being kind to yourself.

If you are fortunate to be one of the 70% of the population with the gift of confident humility, be sure to make the most of it!

As always, let me know your thoughts.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Well, admittedly, my new chapter had fewer moving parts than what others might be doing, I suppose. My new chapter didn’t require large amounts of capital, staff, etc. It was my downsizing my work and looking for a way to work by myself remotely. I had the support that mattered, Lucy, so I was okay..

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

Getting out of one’s comfort zone probably has a lot to do with how comfortable we are with change. The metaphor that comes to mind is getting in a swimming pool. Some of us jump in to get over the cold as quickly as possible; others of us stick a toe in and use the stairs into the pool. One method isn’t better than the other so long as we get in the pool.

For me, I jumped, cannonball style, in the deep end, without knowing how to swim.

I don’t think I would do that again if I could do it over. I would have made smaller “bets” or changes, run experiments, and learned.

I’d have planned more. I made many mistakes in my leap and think that making little but significant and meaningful progress, with a little bit of discomfort to get out of the comfort zone, would be a better approach. It has to hurt a little bit, but not too much.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why?

Define your own success. I spent too much time comparing my success against my perception of others’ success and listening to people tell me what I should or should not be doing. I wish someone told me to spend the time getting crystal clear on my values and getting super clear on what is important to me. I define my own success by looking inward, not outward by comparisons.

Maintain the lowest center of gravity as possible-its easier to take advantage of opportunities or seize moments when we are nimble. Having resources to go after things helps as well. I wish someone told me to stay lean, have prioritized what I need, or truly value. All the time and money spent on things that didn’t matter cost me opportunities in the things that really did matter. Keep as low of a center of gravity as possible.

Do the hard, internal work first. Sooner or later, you’ve got to do the work. We all have something we need to look at, be better at, or overcome. It will sit there and wait for you your whole life until you deal with it. So I wish someone just told me to get after it and go to the hard places. Things get better after that.

Place matters. I’ve lived in a lot of places for work. Many of them I hated. I wish someone told me that living in an area you want to be in will have a more positive impact on your well being than anything else. Live where you want to live.

Laugh more. I wish someone told me I lost my sense of humor and began to take myself too seriously a long time ago. Lighten up, dude.

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?

I remember too well 9/11, and I remember how everyone looked after one another, and we were all one. I would love to inspire a movement, without the trauma, of course, that gets us to find common ground, see each other as human beings, and collective kindness to solve real problems. I know that sounds like an old Coke commercial without the singing, but you asked. 😊

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. 🙂

I will give you two names. I wish I could have met Bill Campbell. He was a coach at Google, but he also seemed like an amazing person and authentic.

He passed away from cancer at had hundreds of people show up at his funeral. He just seemed like a solid, caring, smart guy who profoundly impacted me, and I admire him.

The other person is very much alive and living. I’d love to meet Marshawn Lynch. I love his honesty and authenticity, and his sense of humor. I admire his talent, business acumen, personality, and the fact that he does everything his way. Everything. Great man and inspiring. Under challenging days I still laugh at his “I’m just here, so I don’t get fined” speech. Love that!!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/carneysean/

www.seanmcarney.com

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

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