When I completed my coach training I stood in front of my classmates and declared “I am a coach”. Declarations such as this one are pivotal in our lives because they mould our identity.
That moment felt like a finish line. I had completed my coach training and I was telling myself ‘done, you are a coach now’. I didn’t realise then that it was the start of a journey, not the end. If you are a parent you may identify with this - when we have a first child, we become a mother or a father, which is an added dimension to our identity and the start of a journey. We can never stop being a parent.
After that declaration years ago, a number of questions arose: from the more mundane “Now what?”, to the more profound “Who do I best serve?”, “Why do I serve?”. These questions are about finding your niche, but also about polishing that raw diamond that is your coach identity.
In addition to standing up as coaches, we were also asked to share a meaningful quote. I chose: Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves […]. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. – Rainer Maria Rilke
Little did I know how relevant that quote was to my journey as a coach and also now, in these times of uncertainty. Loving the questions is uncomfortable, yet it is through discomfort that we grow.
Say it out loud
As I contemplated making coaching my full-time career, my first answers were "effective leadership coach". It combined what was my idea of leading oneself and others with getting results. Effective is another word I use to describe who I am.
I had also moved to Australia and I needed to build relationships so I joined a networking group. Every week for a year, I stood up and shared what I do. This exercise helped me bring nuance to ‘effective leadership’. I spoke about clients, about trust, about performance, teams, project managers, strengths, goals, habits and much more. As I write this list I am stunned at the range and lack of focus. All I was doing was voicing my many questions about my coach identity.
Try it. Create opportunities to declare out loud who you are as a coach and who you serve. Whether it is in networking, with friends, or to yourself in front of the mirror. Listen to how it resonates.
What was troubling was that it was not working. I was not getting clients. I was struggling. Granted, there are many more elements to building a coaching practice, but if there is dissonance when you articulate what you do, others feel it too.
Have many conversations
In networking you have many conversations. In getting to know each other, conversations bring together your personal and professional questions.
I was having a coffee with a family lawyer in my networking group. It was the first time we had met one to one, so we spoke about our families, our backgrounds, our different stories. Part of my story is that I am a mother and former-step-mother in a very effective and caring blended family. Then her question came: Why aren’t you a divorce coach? Something clicked. The diffuse shape of an answer to the question “who do I best serve?”.
The question struck. It brought together my personal and professional self in a way that leadership coach never did. This rolls off my tongue effortlessly: I help parents build amicable and effective relationships after separation.
When you listen for the answers and something starts to take shape a new set of questions appears. I do not know where mine will lead, it is all very new, yet there is a feeling of harmony there.
Our world is being shaken. We are having to face disruption in our lives and help our clients navigate the disruption in theirs. Learning to love the questions is the best thing we can do for ourselves and those we serve.
Eva Samaranch, ACC is a member of ICF Australasia Queensland Branch. She is a leadership coach who is disrupting herself and moving to a new field, that of separated parents and families. Until her new project has a business name, Eva can be reached at email@example.com.