Why I’m a career coach
Since a career coach is kind of a unique occupation - a career helping others with their careers - I often get asked how it came about for me. In a nutshell, I developed a chronic illness that forced me to question pretty much everything about my life, how I saw the world and thought I had to be, and how I choose to spend my time here on earth. The more I reflect the harder it is to capture it all in one piece, but here is one version of what happened that, for now, feels true.
The fatigue started in fall of 2012. I had just finished graduate school and initially thought it was just residual tiredness from that marathon. I was living and working in Italy at the time and went to the doctor who did notice my thyroid was underactive. I went on medication, but never really felt back to my normal self. I moved to Canada in the spring and continued to see various medical doctors and alternative practitioners. Main complaints: mild to moderate fatigue and now, inexplicable weight gain. I no longer felt like myself or recognized myself in the mirror. I was determined to find a solution but very disheartened by all the health professionals (medical and alternative) who were quick to give up on me when they couldn’t find an immediate answer.
During this time and over the next while I had various things going on in my life that were stressful. I mention this because these events set the stage for the continued deterioration of my health status. I was living apart from my husband (he was in the US, myself in Canada), I was running a startup company, I was taking a rather intensive fellowship course for entrepreneurs, and eventually I also took a full time position with a top management consulting company. All at once! To say I was spread too thin would be a gross understatement. I was trying to do it all. And most of my day-to-day activities I found to be pretty stressful. Stress was my main state of being and I couldn’t catch a breath.
Inevitably, I couldn’t keep it up and something had to give. I finally owned up to the fact that the job was just not for me. The stress of trying to do a job all wrong for me was huge. It took a mounting toll on my mental and physical health. And I was fully aware, thinking to myself, there is no way someone can live this way, feel this much stress, be this unhappy, and not have it impact their health. And I was right. When I left that job, the bottom fell out. Any last bits of strength I had that was keeping me together evaporated and my body just sort of fell apart. I liken it to getting sick when you go on vacation, but on a massive scale.
Specifically, I was deliriously exhausted. I could sleep 14hrs, then be up for an hour and need to go back to bed. Crippling is the word I would use to describe the fatigue. I could only do a bit of work (still trying to run my company) from bed. I also started to get what in the chronic illness community is called “brain fog” - where you can’t think clearly, reading and writing is challenging, you have poor memory. I started fainting randomly with no warning in public places. My world became my bed and doctors offices. And still, no one knew what the issue was. Until I just happened to go to a doctor who unbeknownst to me at the time specializes in Lyme disease. She tested me and I finally got a diagnosis; chronic Lyme disease.
But diagnosis is just the first step. It is a very contentious, complicated and not well understood illness. The path to recovery is not clear. And so I began on an odyssey of treatments. I won’t go into deep detail, but I have spent thousands of dollars on both traditional medical and alternative treatments and supplements. I stopped working, stopped everything, and dedicated my time to getting better. At one point when I added up all I was doing, I was spending 40 hrs+ a week on activities for my health. It was a mission. I was desperate to get better. And underneath there was a deep panic to regain the social status and esteem I thought I had lost. The “success” I had worked so hard for my whole life to get - the supposed payoff of a solid career and happy life we're taught we will get from working "hard" - felt ripped from my fingers.
And I thought if I just continue to try and work hard enough - stick to the special diets, take all the pills, do everything I’m being told to do I will get better. But I wasn’t getting better.
Because, as I then with the help of therapy realized, trying hard and doing everything I’m told to do is actually in fact the problem. Treatment plan aside, I had spent my whole life trying hard and doing what one is “supposed” to do. Pushing, laboring, forcing myself to achieve and be “successful” on paper in order to be enough, be ok, be safe. It’s this approach to life that created a life so stressful and unpleasant my body had to take me out of the game. And, it was telling me, re-entry is only possible from a new vantage point.
And so, I still do what I consider the basics of taking care of myself (which is still vastly more effort and money than the average soul) but my focus has been on uncovering and discovering, once all the societal conditioning and stories of who I should be are put aside, who is left standing here - who am I and what do I want for my life?
It’s quite the undertaking and not for the faint of heart. You come face to face with everything you have spent your life running from. As one of my favorite spiritual teachers and fellow wayfinders, Kiran Trace, says, the process of finding peace takes courage. It’s no wonder most of us put off doing this work, sometimes forever. But I know this is the path back to health. Not only because of the huge amount of freedom, peace, and happiness that I’ve unearthed through this process, but the more I continue to shed the old (false?) self and come into me the more my health improves and energy returns to my body.
I’ve embarked on this journey with the help of a lot of excellent therapy and coaching. And I’ve read a tremendous amount, with a keen ear to the ground for what sounds true (to me at least). One author whose work profoundly resonates is Dr. Martha Beck. She's a Harvard-educated coaching expert and also happens to have been Oprah Winfrey's life coach. She has a life coach training program. I enrolled as a way to deepen my own learning and connect with others on a similar inner journey while contemplating the potential to help others.
Through this formal training from Martha, through the many lessons and tools I’ve picked up along the way from other guides and healers, and most importantly, through my real world experience of my own journey, I know I have something unique to give. And I know what works and what doesn’t (as myself as the guinea pig) to help others find their own way, their truth, health and happiness. And the sign I am on my right path is that doing this gives me energy - my own life force is charged by the experience of guiding others towards their own truth. It brings a state of natural enjoyment, flowing energy, and ease - the only sustainable way to be and build a life, and what I most want to help others achieve for themselves.
I have no doubt this illness is a divine intervention. One that has interrupted a life that was, quite frankly, miserable and unsustainable. It has brought me the opportunity to uncover who I am, learn how to live a life that is authentic to me and discover natural gifts I can bring to the world and be of service. And it keeps me on the path, symptoms quickly returning if I lose my way (as you are never really cured of Lyme). It is an excellent commitment mechanism that keeps me tethered to self-love and to the truth. And for this I am honestly grateful as in this world and society it can be easy to get caught up and wake up a million miles away. Our bodies are full of wisdom and often know the way before (and perhaps despite) our minds. If you are dealing with mild to severe signs (aka symptoms) from your body we can learn to tune in, listen and decipher its messages. As Martha Beck says, our bodies are a compass to our own personal North Star.
I have chosen for now to focus my coaching on the area of work. Our career is often the linchpin that holds everything together in our mind - where we do the most striving, pushing for achievement, and harshest self-evaluations of worth. An unsustainable amount of effort is often involved. And if we were to remove our work from our lives our identity is shaken. For this reason we tend to hold on to some pretty unhappy situations and feel trapped. This was true for me. Work is a portal (one of many) to the deeper layer of beliefs and pervasive ways of being that keep us in pain and suffering. And if we are brave enough to take a look at what’s really going on there below the surface, we have the opportunity to, for perhaps the first time in our lives, have clarity. As I’ve learned firsthand, without clarity our success in the world is built on precarious footings. Clarity is the cornerstone to building the life you want. Lasting success, happiness, peace, health, whatever you desire, comes through clarity.
My journey continues and I know it will go on until I die. The important thing is that at some point in this lifetime I got to start asking the deeper questions. My illness jolted me awake to this one precious life and to that I, in fact, have a choice in how I spend it. I got off the superhighway of shoulds and on to my own personal winding path I get to create as I go.
As a coach, I am honored to be a witness to and guiding hand to others personal transformations and growth. I want to create the same space for others that was so loving and graciously created for me. A sacred space to start asking questions, gain new perspectives, meet myself and learn to love myself and my life, a concept I didn’t even understand let alone think was possible. And I know I could not have done this myself. I needed to borrow the vision of someone else to help me see the scaffolding I built around myself and mistook for the real me. Then with their help I dismantled it to uncover my truth. I want to be that person for others.
As a coach, I am not a teacher or someone with “advice” telling you what to do. I am simply a person, who's been through some stuff and who's learned some things I think could help you because they have helped me. My illness is really just a symptom of a larger ailment that plagues most of us in modern day society. And I don’t have THE answers. No one does. Only you have the answers for you. I do have some signposts to nudge you along your way, some skills in the cryptography of life, and tremendous respect for you on your unique journey.
Thank you for reading about mine.