I’m a life coach. For a living. I see girls from around the world via videoconference, talk to them about their conflicts in life, and help them figure out solutions. I think I’m pretty qualified for this—I studied psychology and earned my master’s in counseling and all of that jazz. Plus I really enjoy it.
But, every time I admit my profession in a social setting, a few people will inevitably pull me aside, and start asking me questions. You know, things like, “so when so and so is doing this, and so and so responds like this, what is REALLY happening?” or “if I’m acting this way because of x y and z, that’s about my relationship with my mom, right?” Or my personal favorite, “we fight like this and react like that, so are we a bad match? Should I move on?”
I hate to break their heart, but in reality, I don’t have an answer for their questions. In fact, I don’t have a clue.
I’m assuming there is some misconception that coaches or counselors know everything there is to know about life in general. Or at least in our specialization. But I’m here to tell you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, I know stuff. But understanding a human through and through takes time, it takes trust, it takes work. I wish I had all of the answers tucked away in a magical purse, but I don’t. I’ll admit, when I was 20, maybe I actually believed that a little bit.
I thought I was really smart, I knew that I was really, really good at connecting with others, and thus I convinced myself I had just as much wisdom as THE Mary Poppins herself. (As you can see I think Ms. Poppins is exceptionally bright.)
And then I started working.
Needless to say, there is way more that I don’t know than I do know, and I am still learning every single day. I am finishing up my first year as a true bona fide life coach after practicing counseling, and I wanted to share with everyone what I learned. And no, these lessons did not come from my amazingly cunning professional skills — they came from my clients.
Oh, the irony.
Yes, these lessons come from my amazing clients who ask me for help on a weekly basis. As it turns out, I learn as much from them as they learn from me. I hope.
So, to my fabulous clients, thank you for teaching me these much-needed lessons. This one’s for you.
1. Being “That” Girl Is A Compliment
I’m fairly certain that the majority of us live in fear of being labeled “that girl.” Many have told me this themselves, and honestly, I completely get it. Girls don’t want to nag, demand, need, or want for anything. We want to be the laid back girl, the chill girl. We want to drink scotch neat and ignore the fact that it tastes like a dirty campfire. We want to not care when guys blow us off to watch other guys in tight pants chase a ball. And we certainly don’t want to blink an eye when he chooses not to call because he ‘lost track of time’. Because, if we do, it means we’re that girl.
Yep. Congratulations! You’re officially the girl who constantly nags her boyfriend to be more considerate. You’re the girl who flips her shit when someone slaughters your feelings, or the girl who sets her standards “too high.” You’re for sure the girl who is too tightly wound for fun and you’re definitely the girl who can’t take a joke. And last but not least, you’re the crazy girl, and your insecurity has hijacked the logical side of your brain.
So, I’m just going to go ahead and call bullshit.
After talking to client after client, I’ve realized that perhaps being “that girl” is maybe the best possible label I could wear. I like that we demand respect. I like that we show our emotions and tell it like it is. I like that we know ourselves well enough to understand what we will and will not settle for. And I for sure like that we don’t put up with people who aren’t sensitive to others. Maybe being “that girl” means being a girl who is confident enough to be honest with others.
I invite all of you who are afraid of being “that girl,” to instead own it. I’m really freaking proud of you, and I hope you are, too.
2. Having A Career You Love Is Worth it.
Two years ago, my boyfriend and I were living the dream. I was working at a private practice in Austin improving my baller counseling skills, and my boyfriend was an associate at the largest law firm in town. We were making money (well, he was…and I kinda sorta was), we had friends, and we felt at home.
And then we both quit.
Fast forward two years and we are poor as pennies living in Los Angeles, California, pursuing our dreams. He is an ex corporate lawyer pushing mail around at a top talent agency, hoping to land a position as someone else’s assistant, and started my own online life coaching website that a lot of people really aren’t sure what to make of.
But we frankly don’t care. Because we couldn’t live one more day not loving what we were doing.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up things that aren’t your career, but feel like your career.
Things like benefits, things like salary, things like perks. They all FEEL like our career, but they don’t really make up our 9-5 days. Not even close. It’s not easy forgoing the planned path or quitting a job after years of financial and mental investment, but we aren’t the only ones doing that. I have heard so many stories of clients bailing on the ‘dream life’ because we’re all so friggin’ miserable! We have realized it’s not worth waking up every day in a giant pool of anxiety sweat FREAKING out over what Monday will hurl at us. It’s not worth wondering if you’ll have time to wind down for even a lousy 15 minutes at the end of the day. And it absolutely not worth feeling like you’re wasting your time doing something you absolutely cannot stand.
So I quit. He quit. They quit.
In all honesty, I used to focus a lot on a certain kind of ambition with my clients: get the degree, get the job, move up via this path, etc. And sure, I am still all for girls pursuing challenging programs and chasing the big girl jobs, but not at the expense of a stressful life. I know there is more to a career than what’s on paper, because I live it. And my clients do, too.
I learned that it’s important to choose passion over money, risk over security, and ambition over the status quo. And yes, just in case you’re wondering, sometimes I freak the hell out that I actually went through with it. I eat a lot of tuna fish. But I did it. And you can too.
3. Acting Is Better Than Reacting
We all get in ruts. You know it just as well as I do. But, what I have learned this year, maybe more than anything, is that so many times these ruts can be changed through a simple shift in perspective. Before, clients came to me with a problem, and I would go over behavior tactics, set new goals, work on relaxation, and more and more and blah blah blah. Until I had a thought. Maybe instead of reacting to what life throws at us, we need to just act.
Of course, this wasn’t some amazing epiphany I had on my own. I think at one point my client and I just got sick of talking about it. You know? Like we could sit here, and talk about it from this angle and look at it from that angle, or, ya know, you could just do it.
When we let the ball hang out in someone else’s court, we’ll never get the chance to shoot the three pointer. We have to exert energy into life in order to get something out of it. Or else, we’re simply reacting. We’re actually wasting energy getting upset, angry, or jealous for not much of a reason. And we certainly don’t get much out of that.
So I learned together, with my clients, that changing this pattern is what changes your life. We make the first move. We initiate the conversations. We express ourselves. Because if we wait for someone else to do it, we’re just reacting to what comes at us, and that’s no life to live at all.
4. Trusting Yourself Is Everything
Cliché. But hear me out.
Have you ever realized that most of the time when you think something’s up, you’re normally right? I mean, you’re not always completely clear on the why or the how something is off, but 9 times out of 10, there is definitely something shady going on. And when I first started counseling way back when, my clients and I would challenge it, pick it apart, and rip it apart…but only to come back to the initial conclusion: Yeah. Something is totally funky over here. Obviously I needed to change my tactics.
So, I asked my clients to start trusting themselves.
There is nothing more powerful than your own sense or intuition that something is not quite right. Maybe it comes from the facts you notice or the information you’ve pulled. Perhaps it comes from within, and there’s really no reason or explanation. Whatever it is, we must give it the benefit of the doubt. Consider it. Follow it. Then, and then alone, can we go through the details and figure out the answers. I’m here to talk it out, dive deeper, and figure out why the smoke is causing a fire within you. That’s my job. But it’s your job to trust yourself. Because if you don’t, you’ll miss out on moments to better sculpt your sense of identity.
I’ve learned to trust myself, too, through coaching. If I hear something off, I follow it. If I get a gut feeling that this emotion is creeping in, or that this is how someone may feel, I go with it. Because that’s how life works. We sense feelings or hunches, and we explore them. But we have to start somewhere, so why not start with yourself?
5. Forgiving Is Not Caving
Forgiveness is something I have struggled with my entire life. At a young age, I think I was just immature, and refused to let my anger subside when anyone wronged me. Then I got older, and I would forgive because I knew it was really stupid to let go of relationships when friends were already so hard to come by in the tumultuous years of middle and high school. And then, I grew into a budding feminist. I was so riled up, so exuberant, so READY to break the shit out of that glass ceiling! So, I fell into the hard ass trap. I convinced myself that any form of sensitivity or mercy was a sign of weakness—and people would peg me for being the helpless women antiquated society believed me to be.
Oh goodness how wrong I was.
When we cut people out of our lives for one mistake, it doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help us. It really only serves a principle that we have planted inside our heads–that forgiveness is weakness. But being able to forgive is a sign of strength, of endurance. When we forgive, we are able to put things behind us and move forward with our lives without feeling bitter, resentful, or angry. That’s pretty amazing.
I have had many times throughout the year where my protective instincts flare up and I just want to advise my clients to tell certain humans to get the hell out of their lives. But of course, as always, they teach me a valuable a lesson. They consider the situation carefully, and choose forgiveness over anger. As such, my journey with forgiveness is still very much alive, and hopefully growing day by day.
6. Setting Boundaries Is Necessary
Yes, we forgive. But no, we do not let people walk all over us. You knew that was coming, right?
Setting boundaries is not easy to do. Maybe we’re scared of hurting someone else’s feelings while setting them, or we think we’re being too harsh in the first place for even wanting to. It’s possible we’re nervous someone will fight back, or that we don’t believe people will take us seriously. Whatever it is, not true. I know this, because sometimes I have difficulty setting boundaries for one of the four above mentioned reasons, but I’ve watched with my own eyes how it’s done.
I’ve watched my clients this year go from being scared out of their minds of speaking up, to only having to say things once. Some went from letting others invade their personal space in fear of hurting their feelings, to being crystal clear about what is and what is not acceptable. You went from letting toxic people run rampant in your life, to kindly and forgivingly showing them the door. And, above all, you went from not being sure you deserved any personal boundaries, to knowing that it is a human right.
Bravo. May we all learn from that.
Many thanks to my fabulous clients who taught me such valuable lessons over the course of one year. I sincerely hope all of you learned just as much from your life experiences in the past year, and may you learn many more in the years to come.