Provision #461: Tear Jerk Moments

Laser Provision

Coaching is not all sweetness and light. We are not just nice people to talk with. We are also powerful people who hold open a space in which you can be real with yourself, your values, your relationships, and your dreams. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for tears to flow. When we get beyond SMART goals and strategic plans, we often discover the truth about ourselves in moving and emotional ways. Such encounters are neither to be avoided nor taken lightly. They are the stuff that coaches work with to motivate and move clients forward in life.

LifeTrek Provision


Bob: Ok, men, this Provision is for you. Question: How often do you cry? If you are anything like me, the answer is, “Not often.” My wife, on the other hand, can cry over 30-second sound bites. When the hurt or injustice is particularly evident, she really does feel the pain. I, on the other hand, take note with a measure of emotional distance. Even so, and perhaps especially so, I can distinctly remember some of the moments that I have cried big-time tears:

— As a child, I can remember crying myself to sleep at night when I disobeyed or disappointed my mother and she reprimanded me severely. Those tears, often accompanied by the heartfelt thought that I would be better off dead, were tears of despair and anger. I wanted my mother’s approval and love; the threat of her love being withdrawn was too much to bear.

— As a young man, I can remember crying in the car after parting from my fianc•e at the airport. We had just decided to get married and now we were separating to attend different universities that were 900 miles apart. My heart was broken at the thought of living apart, let alone at the uncertainty of what the coming year would bring into our lives. Those were tears of love.

— It’s hard to say how many times I have cried when George Bailey, in the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life, cries out on the bridge while contemplating suicide, “I want to live. I want to live. I want to live.” That movie gets me almost every time. So does Mr. Holland’s Opus, when Mr. Holland walks into the school auditorium and hundreds of present and former students unexpectedly greet him with a standing ovation to express their appreciation for his impact on their lives. Those are tears of hope and identification, since I too want to live and make a positive difference in the world.

— I cried when my first child was born, although my tears were muted by the effort of my wife’s delivery (almost two hours of pushing!) and the arrival of seven medical interns to the delivery room just as my daughter was being born. The light was streaming in through the windows near the ceiling, and there was a tremendous sense of gift to the occasion. Those were tears of joy. In an instant, the gift of life was mine to touch and to hold.

— I cried eight years ago, when I lost my last job as a pastor. I had poured my heart and soul into that position. It was more than a job; it was a calling. To discover that my efforts led even my friends to recommend a change was an ego wound and a shock to my system. Two months later, with tears in my eyes, I had to pull over to the side of the road with chest pains, shortness of breath, and numbness in my right arm. Those were tears of emptiness and fear. They eventually led to the founding of LifeTrek and the life of my dreams, but at the time they hurt deeply.

— I cried seven years ago when my elderly aunt died and I had the privilege of officiating at her funeral. Those tears were tears of loss. At the cemetery I walked with my children over to the gravestone of my grandparents. They had both died some 30 years earlier, when I was a boy, and neither of my children had the chance to meet or know them. As I began to tell my children that this was were my grandparents were buried, I found myself unable to talk. The grief and tears welled up and left me speechless.

— I cried last year, about a week after I had minor, outpatient surgery. Some of the sutures gave way (at midnight, naturally) causing intense pain and, as the pain continued, a wave of fear and anxiety. The doctor on call suggested that this was normal and that the pain would pass. He was right. But for three hours, it was all I could do to endure the pain. Sometimes, there was nothing to do but cry.

Tears of despair, anger, love, hope, identification, joy, emptiness, fear, grief, loss, and pain are the stuff that remind us we are alive. We feel them in our bodies, our whole bodies, not just in our minds. If we ever have any doubt whether or not we are having a physical experience from the cradle to the grave, tears are a great way to be reminded. They may not happen easily or often in my life, but when they happen they serve the purpose of getting my attention and changing my life. They represent openings to the great unknown. They may set me back but they also lead me forward with new terms and conditions for life.

Understanding this represents a form of emotional intelligence that I use in my coaching work with clients. Because of the transformational power of tears, I aim to listen more to my client’s stories than to talk about the principles of successful and fulfilled living. People seldom cry over bullet points. But the more their stories come out, the more likely they are to connect with the emotion and, in turn, the wisdom of their own experience. Once this happens, the process of moving forward often takes off by leaps and bounds.

I remember one client who, like me, had been let go from a highly prized position. She contracted for coaching in order to map out a career transition and development plan. She was quite interested in taking our Career Planning Insights assessment, based upon the DISC behavioral style analysis. Armed with new insight into her personal characteristics, strengths, basic needs, behavioral styles, present wants, and ideal environments, the instrument presented her with scores of possible career trajectories to consider. She went through the list, marking the ones that were the most intriguing and / or exciting.

As time went on, we narrowed down the list and started to map out her new career path. Her goals were clear and her commitments were specific as to the challenges, skills, and people she would like to work with. As someone who liked to make lists of everything, and to write in her journal every morning, she was incredibly organized and careful in her follow through. There was only one problem: it wasn’t working. From week to week to week, no job opportunities were coming her way.

“Tell me about your last job,” I asked her more than once. “What did you love about it? What values were you able to express? What made you successful? What led to your being let go?” She would usually answer those questions with short, packaged replies. I had the impression they were well rehearsed. But as the weeks turned into months, with no job offers, her replies turned into longer, heartfelt stories. And that made all the difference.

One day she changed the story of what led to her being let go. Instead of blaming the person who had fired her, she took responsibility for some of the ways in which she had been less than supportive, less than a team player, less than honest, and even, at times, insubordinate. It was the first time she had been that real with her self, and she began to cry. The more she told the story, the more she cried. And I did not rush in to wipe away those tears. I let her, and me, feel them fully until she was spent.

From that point on, everything was different. Her quest for a new position was less desperate and more authentic. She didn’t do anything different in terms of her search, but suddenly people started responding to her differently. As a result, in less than six weeks from when those tears flowed, she had interviews and a job offer that she is still with today, many years later. That’s what tears will do for you when it comes to coaching and life. By connecting us with who we are, they empower us to be who we want to be.

Kate: I have always found a “good cry” to be cathartic. So, I experience tears as a very natural part of the coaching process, while old skins are shed, and new ones grown. Letting our emotions flow is a very healthy release, and may be a signal of something occurring deep in our psyche.

Many times the tears are part of a grief process, as was the case with a particular client of mine. Sue was coming to grips with needs not being met in her professional and personal lives. She was feeling awash in unsupportive relationships and feeling lost in terms of her future direction, with little hope. As she named her desires and let herself begin to believe that they were possible, it meant releasing old bonds and facing the dissatisfaction that had become a burdensome weight.

Through her willingness to expand her vision of what was possible, she began to let go of the weight and to free herself of the pain. Of course, this process does not occur without an emotional release. It is part and parcel of making a clean break, in order to engage in a new reality. It takes some bravery to square off with the reality and the emotion. Yet those who open themselves to it are much more likely to make the tough changes and to fully process the accompanying loss.

Christina: Tear jerk moments occur at the drop of a touching story or even a commercial set to tender music, if you’re like me. But for others it may take a real tragedy to bring out a single tear. Celebration moments, tragic moments, stuck moments, moments of change, all sorts of moments can move us to tears.

My client had completed nearly two decades of service to students as a teacher, had been named Teacher of Year three years in a row, and was recognized as an experienced mentor throughout her school district. But the zeal and love she had for teaching had faded away almost as if it had been drained from her being. The pool of passion she’d tapped as a teacher had run dry and she was in a state of sadness as well as panic. Because of her well decorated tenure as a teacher, there were high expectations of her continuing to offer herself not only as a teacher to her students, but also as a teacher to all of those who sought her out wanting to learn how to be like her as a teacher. Close to retirement, she felt trapped, exhausted, and a tremendous amount of pressure.

Sharing a love for teaching with my client, emotion struck me in the form of a tear jerk moment and it became very difficult for me to speak as I listened to her story through her words of tears that day. During that coaching session, I cried with my client and she knew it. Embarrassed initially, I tried to quickly move away from the emotion, but then something stopped me from pressuring myself to do so and we both acknowledged the presence of the tears. I don’t remember our exact words, but it was something like: “Wow, between the two of us, we could easily go through a box of tissue right now.” My client graciously responded at the end of the call that even though she didn’t know it when we started her session, being able to genuinely express her pain in a safe space was what she needed in that moment.

There wasn’t a lot of doing that came from that particular coaching session. It was not the right time for us to have a conversation about what she was “going to do” about this. This was a session of moving through the process by exploring all that the emotion had to offer. Like this session, robust coaching sessions don’t always result in a lot of “doing” for clients. This coaching was simply about being with my client and her emotion. It was only later that we came back to learn from the experience of it.

Erika: Until I began my coaching career, I underestimated the value of crying. I’ve certainly always been “a crier.” I well-up when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, and when I’m tired. Though my tear ducts are well in-tune with my emotions, I dismissed crying, especially in moments of sadness and anger, as unproductive and weak. It has been a wonderful discovery, taught to me through raw and intimate moments with clients, that Tear Jerk Moments can be strengthening and revealing. 

First, there is power in feeling the freedom to express one’s deepness, through tears, that is precious and rare in our all-too-busy and superficial world. Katherine and I experienced tears as a common part of our conversations. Struggling with physical pain and the frustrations associated with it, Katherine often expressed herself through tears. For her, the benefit of the crying was in the ability to release and move forward. Instead of allowing the anger to contribute to the pain, literally, she chose to release it from her body. Crying enabled her to fully embrace, not battle with, her negative emotions. This allowed her to be at choice with how she was going to feel that day, rather than a victim. Katherine was made stronger through her tears.

Tear Jerk Moments have also contributed to the discovery of unnoticed dreams. Tom, for example, came to coaching with a clear plan of action. Dedicated to his work, he wanted to improve productivity and make an outstanding impression with his customers. To get a clearer picture of what that looked like for Tom, we began our relationship with a guided meditation in which Tom was to visualize himself, twenty years from that moment, and engage in a conversation with his “future self.”

The imagined conversation with his self of the future, or his psyche, evoked a meaningful revelation. He was surprised to find that the subconscious-Tom wasn’t interested in “moving ahead” at all. Instead, the message Tom received was to slow down, to enjoy the present, and to place his focus on life outside of the workplace. As a person who couldn’t remember crying in his adulthood, Tom found himself moved to tears during the meditation. Though he was unprepared for the images and messages of the experience, his tears were joy filled. It was as if, for the first time in his life, he had heard his own voice and connected to his truest desires. Tom was revealed through his tears.

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you had a good cry? When was the last time that you had a good cry with someone else present? How have those tears assisted you to know yourself and to move forward? How can tears become a more precious and valuable part of your experience? Who can coach you into a new relationship with yourself and your future? 

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..


Your Provision on breakthroughs, breakdowns, and breakups Click was at once profound and troubling. I hope I don’t have to have the latter in order to get the former! Thanks for the food for though.


I need a breakthrough and a transformation desperately as I feel I am stuck in a wrong relationship at a wrong place. It is downright suffocating having to endure this for the last 15 years. I think I need a coaching to this effect. Please inform me about the same. Thanks! (Ed. Note: We’ve been in touch.)  



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

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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