Provision #370: Coaching as Philosopher’s Stone

Laser Provision

Coaching doesn’t always assist people to leave their old lives behind. Sometimes, we learn how to squeeze more meaning and joy, more success and fulfillment, out of the lives we have long been living. That was certainly the experience of today’s featured client, a director of relationship marketing for a major pharmaceutical company. His story is an inspiration for anyone who wants to overcome bad habits in order to do better in their personal and professional lives.

LifeTrek Provision

Coaching has been described as an inter-developmental learning relationship. In other words, coaching is a relationship in which both parties learn to do better through the process of focusing on one person’s passion, possibility, and potential. There’s never any confusion as to who owns the agenda; that always belongs to the client. But through the process of working on the client’s agenda, both parties learn new things along the way.

If ever there was an example of how this works, today’s client interview tells the story. As the director of relationship marketing for a major pharmaceutical company, this client needs to understand both technology and people in order to position his company for success. And he often does this through the lens of classical literature and philosophy.

Take the myth of Sisyphus. In this classic tale, admired by our client, the gods condemn Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence it would fall back of its own weight. The gods thought they had condemned Sisyphus to the most dreadful punishment of futile and hopeless labor.

But Sisyphus had the last laugh. That’s because, according to the French philosopher Albert Camus, Sisyphus turned his punishment on its head. He came to find meaning and joy in pushing that rock up the mountain. That’s why Homer called him the “wisest and most prudent of mortals.” While Camus concluded, “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a person’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

And so it is with many a coaching project. We don’t always move our clients on to something entirely new and different. Sometimes we assist them to find new meaning and joy in the very tasks they have long been doing.

After more than 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry, today’s client found himself doing well, but worried that he would not be able to continue working at the same level of vigor. Was there a better way to go about his life and work? That’s where we started on our exciting venture together.

Q: How and when did you first learn about LifeTrek Coaching and what did you want to work on?

A: In the first half of 2002, or perhaps even in the second half of 2001, I discovered LifeTrek Coaching on my handheld device through AvantGo. Your weekly Provisions were one of the few things I didn’t erase, and I found them to be quite interesting and motivational. So in September of 2002 I decided to call because I wanted something to help keep me sharp.

In my business you’re either making a contribution, or you get fired; you’re either the best or you’re on the way out. It’s a cultural ethic and I figured a coach could assist me to do better. That’s why Olympic athletes work with coaches; why not corporate executives?

Q: So how did that work out?

A: Well, I quickly brought a very personal matter to our coaching that on the surface had nothing to do with my success and fulfillment at work. I remember mentioning at the end of our first session that I needed to lose some weight. You asked how much, and I said a lot. You asked how much I weighed, and I said a lot. One of my first homework assignments was to get on the scale and weigh myself. I was dismayed to learn that I had gotten all the way up to 365 pounds. So I was honest when I said a lot.

For the next 16 months, we included weight loss in every one of our conversations. And, over time, we sought to apply the lessons learned to my work in the office. The two projects • losing weight and doing my best at work • had incredible synergy. It proved to be absolutely essential that we worked on the personal and the professional at the same time. The two are integrally connected.

Q: So did coaching assist you to lose the weight and do better at work? Can you describe the process?

A: At first I had a hard time getting inspired to lose the weight. But I had done it once before and I knew I could do it again. As my coach, you were the sounding board I used to correct my thinking and get focused on what really needed to be done. All of us block out things that we don’t want to deal with. I know I do. But as my coach, you made sure the important issues didn’t get swept under the rug.

The “fires” that I fought at work each day seemed to be more important than taking time for self-care and strategic business planning. At times it made me uncomfortable, but you kept these issues in view and you enabled me to see the larger picture. I became more effective as well as able to fix problems before they happened. Our conversations were very helpful.

In the end, I lost almost half my body weight, down to the 190s, and I was considered at work for a very important promotion. Those two are not unrelated. It’s hard to lose almost half your body weight and not be noticed! As I was doing better personally, I was also doing better professionally. It made a huge difference. Most importantly, I brought more zest to my job and my life. I started to laugh more.

Q: You lost an enormous weight. What were the shifts you had to make to get this done?

A: The primary shift was to nurture my own passions. As you know, I love to train and compete with my dogs. I was not only failing to keep myself in great physical shape, I was also failing to keep them in great physical shape. As a result, we were not doing as well as and not enjoying ourselves as much as we could.

By making the connection between my physical fitness and my performance in the ring, let alone in the office, I was able to find the inspiration to get going. I joined Weight Watchers, went to meetings, and kept track of my points. Every week I checked in with you and reported my weight as well. We would talk about health and fitness, drawing upon your own experience, and then you drove 600 miles round-trip to celebrate my birthday with a 20-mile “walkabout.” That extra effort was greatly appreciated.

It was certainly part of what inspired me to think I could get in shape to run a marathon with you. Now that was something I had never done before. Talk about an inspirational goal! The prospect of running a marathon really got me going. We developed a training schedule and I followed it religiously. Everything revolved around my morning run.

That schedule became a model for scheduling my time at work in new ways. I had always just worked on things until they were finished, at times slaving away until late at night. Marathon training taught me the importance of pacing myself, of working and recovering for set periods of time. Everything doesn’t have to be done all at once; in fact, I learned that trying to do so actually interferes with long-term success. The important thing was to look at the big milestones and to plan accordingly. Leaving things to the last moment makes everything a “fire drill”.

Q: It sounds like your morning routine became much more active and important to you.

A: Yes, I learned that fitness can be fun. That has really become the focus for our work together. Not, “How can I make myself do something?” But, “How can I have fun and be the best at what I love to do?” There’s nothing better than getting up early in the morning and going for a run or walk with the dogs. It fills me with thankfulness, spirit, and companionship. I become like Sisyphus, the happiest man in the world.

I might add that I’ve come to see my morning routine as starting at 9:30 in the evening. If I get myself to bed early enough, in the right frame of mind, it enables me to have that great morning run or walk with the dogs before I have to go to work. If I let myself stay up too late, then the morning gets compromised.

Q: Has coaching stretched you beyond your comfort zone?

A: Running a marathon certainly stretched me beyond my comfort zone. That is more your thing than my thing, but it became an important part of my weight loss project. And it taught me valuable lessons that we applied to the office.

Coaching also stretched me by just getting someone else’s perspective on my life and work. The whole focus of the conversation was on assisting me to reach my goals. But you saw things that I didn’t see and you had ideas that I would not have come up with myself. Coaching gets you up in the crow’s nest so you can see where you are going and stay on course. Heck, with your help I came up with better goals to work towards.

Q: Do you have any recommendations or advice for our readers who may be considering coaching?

A: Coaching is one of the nicest gifts you can give yourself. If you care about yourself and want to be the best you can be, then get a coach. Do it for yourself. This is not about getting yelled at or forced to do what you don’t want. It is about learning to enjoy the moveable feast that Hemmingway called life. Remember the myth of Sisyphus. We can all learn to find meaning and joy in our everyday tasks. Doing a task well, towards a greater goal, is a wonderful feeling.

Coaching Inquiries: Are your days filled with meaning and joy? Are there any “Big, Hairy Audacious Goals” that could spice them up with passion and possibility? Who could you turn to for help with the trek of life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

Thanks in grace for passing on my letter about the atmosphere. I’m praying to keep the idea alive…. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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