Reading time: 7 minutes
Thinking time: You have a lifetime
Recently I read this post on social media. A colleague of mine, coach herself, was pretty hard on coaches that don’t have their own shit together. She wrote she would ‘never pick a coach to work with that didn’t have it all.’ The money. The clients. The fit body. The good relationship. The vibrant sex life. ‘How could you ever attain the perfect life, if you were trained by a coach that doesn’t have made it him- or herself’?, she wrote. Perfectly understanding that her ambition was to challenge the audience, responses of all kinds came up below her post. I even smiled while scrolling further down the page, briefly reflecting on how she succeeded in getting the return she aimed for. My conclusion? Smart move.
Nevertheless, I kept thinking about it. Why? Because, if it were true that coaches need to have it all, it would make me a lousy coach. And I’m not. On the contrary, I am a true expert in human behavior. Psychological background. Years of corporate experience. Specialized in female leadership in male environments. Behavior always at the core of my role and responsibilities. Years of experience in 1-1 coaching at the top of multinational organizations. Entrepreneurial. Independent. Very well trained and certified at international and even global level. A lousy coach, nevertheless, as I don’t have all my shit together. It seems. I even took it one step further and believed I myself would never pick a coach that pretends to have it all. Simply because I do know that nobody has. Not even the Dalai Lama. If you doubt that, read the Book of Joy, where he and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, his best friend for many years and together two of the most important spiritual figures of our time, interact as ‘normal’ human beings. You’ll have so much fun reading it. “If you want to be perceived as a holy man, you’d better behave like one,” Tutu tells the Lama laughing.
Let’s be clear, I don’t agree with the saying that you need to have a flawless life in order to be a great coach. Although I must admit, a little while ago, I thought I was very close to living the life of my dreams. My business thriving and earning money following my true passion. ‘Being in the flow’ a good friend of mine. Driving my dream car. Being as free as a bird. Able to go and ride one of my bikes whenever the sun shines. With or without my smart, kind and sexy boyfriend. Having the sweetest kid in the world and being so proud of her. Dear friends that support me. Family I don’t see a lot but who are very important to me. And last but not least, I knew where my heart was. And it was exactly where I was. In my work, and in my life. With only one more thing to tackle: my eating habits and weight.
People that know me do know that my weight is an issue. Always has been. Living proof of the fact that working out a lot (just follow me on STRAVA) doesn’t necessarily gives you the perfect body, I have been struggling with eating disorder for all of my life. Once I lost 47 kilos, just to prove the world that I am not lazy and that I can achieve anything as long as I set my mind to it. That happened after a man asked me whether my company was named Big Fish because I am a BBW (at that time I only heard the ‘big’ part, not the ‘beautiful’ part, only later I discovered he was only trying to talk to me because he liked me). So, I lost the damn weight. But losing all that weight didn’t make me happy. On the contrary. And just when I thought I could embrace my size, and felt as if, eating wise, I finally had everything under control, my boyfriend decided to break up and told me I am simply too fat. Ouch. Of course, I know that wasn’t the real reason. But anyway. So much for a perfect life. Can’t get much worse, does it?
Well, it did. Two weeks ago, I fell on the tennis court. Being my fanatic self, I tried to get a sideways ball I probably should have let go. I broke my ankle and tore my ligaments. Right now, 2 weeks down the road, I’m still facing 4 weeks of cast. No driving. No walking around. No grocery shopping. No bathing. No working out. And no boyfriend. On top of that, my kid in Central Exam week. Poor child. But hey, life goes on, right? So covered in pain medication and with one leg up, a day later I started my coaching sessions from home. My first client of that day being an all independent, strong and successful woman. Single mom just like me. Very talented. Ambitious. Always aiming for more. I almost teared up during that session. As if I was looking in the mirror. And all I wanted to tell her was to be kind to herself. To take a break. To breathe. I didn’t. I knew it was what I had to tell myself. It had nothing to do with her. It’s what we call transfer and countertransference in coaching. You touch the life of your client. And your client touches yours. It’s unavoidable. As we are all human (wink).
This is something I’ve learned over the years: when looking at human behavior, solutions aren’t one size fits all. What works for one person, doesn’t always work for another one. Even when they encounter what seems to be exactly the same issue or problem situation. Even when goals are more or less aligned. It can be stakeholder management, creating more impact, making deliberate choices in work or life. It can be a financial struggle, health, relationships. Or anything else. Bottom line, what works or worked for me in the past, doesn’t necessarily work for my clients. And the other way around. There’s the theory on one side, and then there is the translation into each very specific and always complex situation we call work and life on the other side. For me, just as for my clients, the strategy part is always the easy part. Knowing what to do isn’t the most difficult. It is doing it. Being ready to do it. Closing the knowing-doing gap. Just doing it (which doesn’t exist).
Not every former number one tennis player is a great coach. Not every great coach once was a former number one tennis player. Please keep that in mind when choosing your partner in growth. We are all human. And it is inherent to human nature to grow by struggle. One advice from me. Don’t go with the coach that pretends to have the perfect life. Go with the one that is prepared to show his or her vulnerable self. Knowing that break-ups, health struggles, and sometimes even broken bones are an inherent part of life.
I wish you a life filled with happiness and gratefulness. Even when things aren’t as perfect as you’d wish. Enjoy it and keep growing. After all, it is your life. Perfectly imperfect. And it’s up to you to get the most out of it. When you are ready. Good luck :)
About me – Being a certified executive and personal coach, I am associated to the Global Coach Group and Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching team and owner of the global executive coaching practice BigFish4.me where I am working on an ambitious scale-up plan now that I’ve learned to ‘not having to do it all on my own’. Next to that I’ve co-founded thehouseofgrowth.org in December 2018 and started working some hours a month for my old love, the Adecco Group (LHH) as well as for one of the biggest Dutch coaching practices in Amsterdam. My passions include playing my quarter grand piano and messing around with acrylic paint on large sized linen canvas. When I’m not catching some proverbial Big Fish, for now I’ve partially replaced the gym for my now brand-new mountain- and race bikes, and I am loving it. But then again, I am still luckiest doing what I do best, challenging others and myself to perform at ‘our’ best