Pulling Out of My Coaching Program Tailspin: Lessons in Pausing and Pacing
For the first six months of my coaching program, I was in heaven. I had enrolled in the iACT Center Certified ADHD/Life coaching program hoping to learn more about ADHD, the process of coaching, and gaining a sense of where I wanted to take my coaching as far as who to work with and how. Things were falling into place beautifully. I was learning so much through the classes I was taking, and the insights and experiences shared by my teachers and fellow classmates. I began to see a way to combine my work with justice-involved adults and youth and ADHD coaching. And as I began to learn about the coaching process (TOMSS & TOMBS), I began to see the power and potential of coaching.
Then things started to unravel. About midway through the final formal course of our program (“CORE”), the primary teacher for the course seemed to vanish, without any advance notice. Her co-teacher, an extremely talented teacher and coach, took over the teaching. My classmates and I began to wonder what was going on. Where did our primary teacher go and why? What we learned was that our primary teacher, who was also the founder of the program, was now heavily involved in a new certification process for the program. Some of us wondered whether we were at risk of losing our certification (we were not – it was more a matter of meeting higher level certification standards). We began to hear about potential and actual changes in the graduation requirements – changes that were aligned with the new certification standards, but ones we had not seen coming and had not planned for.
Along with my classmates, I felt a mix of uncertainty, anxiety, anger, and a loss of trust. All of this was happening right as we were hitting the point in the program where a significant focus shifted to meeting graduation requirements: coaching a certain number of hours, fulfilling writing requirements, building the business (e.g., setting up a home page or website, designing a business card)…It began to feel like so much of what my classmates and I were talking and sharing via social media about was graduation requirements – What are we accountable for? Would there be other changes in the next week, month? How would we get all of this done before our graduation deadline? I watched as my classmates shared their progress on meeting these requirements. I felt like I was at risk of not keeping up, falling behind, failing to graduate “on time.” I was spiraling down – losing confidence in myself as a coach as I began to compare myself too much with others, losing the joy I had found in the first six months of the program, and worst of all, losing my sense of purpose for being in this program.
As has been the case at other points in my life, it was my running and my journal writing that helped me bottom out and halt what had been a steep and fast descent. I was on one of my regular morning runs looking as I often do at the runners passing me by, noticing the runners and walkers I am passing by…just taking everything in without judgment, without comparing, without any agenda beyond simply experiencing the joy and freedom I feel when I run (or should I say “jog” these days!). And for some reason, for which I have no explanation, I began to look at everything that had been pulling me down in my coaching program through a new lens – the lens of my running.
Rather than keeping my focus on myself – my goals for running, my pace, my running route, my experience of running in the moment, I had been paying too much attention to others – especially my classmates. It was as if I was reacting to them, trying to follow their pace, their running style, their goals, their concerns…Is it any wonder, I asked myself, that I had been feeling so out of sync, so off-stride, so directionless and unsure what to do next? And the issue was not them…it was me!
I turned to my journal to write out all that I was feeling. Using my running as a lens, a frame for seeing what was happening to me, I was able to better understand what had happened and why. I came back to what had shaped my running for close to 50 years and made running not only a habit, but a way of life for me: running for the intrinsic rewards (the rhythm and routine, time to process what might be going on in my life, seeing the world on runs through neighborhoods, parks, etc.); running for the long-term, pacing myself daily and over the course of my life; running at my pace and staying within myself; running with a sense of deep gratitude for the gifts of health, sound mind, the peace that made running possible.
I asked myself, What can I learn from my running that will help me move through the graduation requirements for my coaching program and beyond?
First, I would need to focus on creating and sustaining a habit for completing my graduation requirements. This meant devoting time each day at a particular time (9:30 a.m.) and place (home office) to starting the work on completing my graduation requirements. I would need to determine each day what to work on based on where I am, not others. I would need to identify how long I would devote to this work each day, (one hour) and stay with this commitment. Finally, I would need to determine how I would end this time and reinforce my commitment to the habit, for example, going on a walk with my dogs.
Second, I would want to work in ways that mirrored my running. This meant working at a relaxed, steady, pace – my pace, not others.’ I would want to be patient, recognizing that as with my running, some days I might struggle with the requirements, and other days I would breeze through the work. I would have to remind myself to persist, thinking of these program requirements as a part of a much broader and deeper commitment to ADHD life/coaching. Finally, I would want to think about completing these requirements as part of a wholistic practice, much as I do with my running. I would want to remind myself that I am not in a race either with myself or with others. I am in this for the practice of coaching, to serve others guided by values at the core of my running, my coaching, and my life: humility, gratitude, dedication, reflection, reverence.
I was reminded recently of a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I plan to take this to heart as I work to regain lost altitude, complete the remaining requirements for my ADHD/Life coaching program, and step into a new life centered on coaching that one year ago, I could hardly have imagined.