Success may be very satisfying but it can come at huge cost.
I was giving a free introductory coaching session yesterday, where I spoke with a member on the executive team of a well-known financial institution. This highly regarded specialist, a success by anyone’s standards, was paid far less than her male equivalents. So what’s new! What surprised me was hearing she was the sole breadwinner, who for years had supported four close relatives, a dependent son of 30, her unemployed husband and her parents both with chronic dementia! She told me her life was one long ‘to do’ list and she could no longer distinguish between the things she had to do from the things she wanted to do! This was so ingrained in her, that she wondered if, at this late stage in her career, it was even worth trying to behave any differently!
Red rag to a bull
Well, that’s like a red rag to a bull to someone like me! I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t passionately believe that if you want things to be different it’s never too late to start! She had a long history of being the dutiful daughter, wife and mother. It had always been that way, and it was only because her parents had recently died that she was daring to consider that something else might be possible. It was a free session - she had nothing to lose, and I suspect she really thought I would agree that it was too late for her.
The cost of reluctant helping
But as the session unfolded and I asked about her life, she told me she often felt stressed, taken advantage of and lacking in energy. Her deep sense of duty and tendency to feel responsible for everything and everyone, made it difficult for her to allow people at work or at home, to fail and learn from their mistakes. She gained great pleasure from ‘helping’ people but was confused about the balance between helping others and helping herself.
I needed to find the spark of energy in this conversation that would tell me she had seen the possibility of a different, more positive future. It came when she started to explore the idea of helping. She realised that if she knew how to distinguish between helping because you want to and helping because you have to, it would be “stand out extraordinary!!!” Her colleagues might even take her more seriously at work! Until this point I had been aware of a deep underlying sadness, born of the conviction that nothing would ever change; now we had something to work with!
We discussed the internal dialogue that comes up when she strays from the dutiful superhighway she feels compelled to travel. How we would find easy things at first to help her turn off into the quieter byroads, where she could indulge her natural curiosity and take pleasure in her own choices, so that over time she would build muscle and enthusiasm for the new skills she was learning.
Believing is enough.
She experienced some scary moments of anxiety about whether this was even allowed and I explained that she didn’t need to know how she would achieve this outcome: she only needed to connect with the deep emotional conviction that she wanted it. In our conversation she experienced that moment and was willing to trust me enough to choose a new more growthful and exciting journey towards having success on her own terms! Over the next year we will work together to find out who she is and how that woman gets what she wants in life!