Eyes on the prize

I’m still working out the best way to explain what life coaching is, what I do exactly.  One quip has been in every attempt to explain: it’s helping you get out of your own way.  I’ve heard a lot of coaches spend precious time explaining in detail what they don’t do life coaches don’t solve your problems, they don’t find the answer – the client does. The client is creative, resourceful and whole. Hearing this explanation is what put me off coaching in the beginning – if I have everything I need to solve my own problems doing all the work, why pay a coach?

Coaches help you get out of your own way.

If you think of any mistake you’ve made, it’s easy to see where you got in your own way.  A coach holds your attention to the problem, reorienting you when you get distracted, have self doubt, or try to break the tension (and focus!) with a joke.  A friend can play the devil’s advocate and punch holes in your idea to help you clarify and defend your plans.  A coach holds your focus and your agenda when you want to have a pity party or let inertia take you away from your goals and back to the status quo, instead of making real progress.

This March, I’ve watched myself get in my own way at work.  I noticed, because I’ve watched myself do this in a lot of the jobs I’ve held.  When I lose track of my career path I focus on what I don’t like about the job and start make clumsy mistakes and my managers notice my utter lack of focus and then I really don’t have a career path.  I get in my own way of changing direction within that company or getting on with my next job (and forget about a reference).

The first time was my first “paycheck” job at a pizza joint that I could walk to before I had a license.  I answered phones and took down the pizza order in a short hand that the cooks could quickly read.  The other phone girls got promoted to hot counter, heaping Italian beef into buns and toasting garlic bread.  I wanted to make pizza.  I thought it looked fun tossing the dough and swirling the sauce, and the pizza guys didn’t have to help out with the phones on busy nights.  In the end I didn’t get to, for reasons that I thought were unjust.  I was told I could stay on the phones if I didn’t want the hot counter promotion.  Which was fine, I should’ve put the word “promotion” in quotes since it didn’t pay any more.  But as soon as progressing to what brought me to the company in the first place was off the table, I couldn’t handle the phones. I was late to work, made mistakes on the pizza orders and ultimately got fired.

Tachi Yamada has the right idea on how to reorient yourself to get around this conundrum.  His perspective is of a manager assessing his employees, but it applies to individuals because we are all managers of our own careers.

One of the things I’ve learned is that you can’t go into an organization, fire everybody and bring in everybody you want. You have to work with the people you have. I’ve gone into different organizations in completely different walks of life several times, and you walk into the organization and you realize that some people are very good, some people are average and some people are not so good. And if I spend my time focusing on everything that’s bad, I’ll get nothing done.

Or I could say, what are really the best things about the people I have? What makes them great, and how can I really improve them one or two notches? And if I spend my time on that, then I’ll have a great organization. Everybody has their good points. Everybody has their bad points. If you can bring out the best in everybody, then you can have a great organization. If you bring out the worst in everybody, you’re going to have a bad organization.

Now, to revisit his words, from the perspective of managing one’s own career:

You can’t control every aspect of your work life.  You have to work with the people you have. No matter what my situation is, I’m sure it includes some people who are very good, some people who are average and some people who are not so good. And if I spend my time focusing on everything that’s bad, I’ll get nothing done I’ll alienate myself from the aspects I do like and I’ll make clumsy mistakes.

Or I could say, what are really the best things about my situations here? What makes them great, and how can I really improve them one or two notches? And if I spend my time on that, then I’ll have a great career.

Have a great organization, a great career and a great week, folks.

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