Just this morning, I had one of the best client sessions of my 25-year career! That’s quite a claim to make, when you stop to think about it, so I’ll try to explain it as best I can.
Emily (no, not her real name) placed her first call to me from her car almost two years ago, which was parked for the moment along the side of the road, a couple of miles from the job she hated. She was on her lunch hour. It was a cold, bleak, January day for both of us. She didn’t have much time to talk. I said it sounded to me like she had just escaped from prison, she said it was almost like that, and we laughed. When I asked her how she found me, expecting to hear that someone I had worked with in the past had referred her, she said she googled “career coach,” and as she read through the various options, she liked the way I described my work as including the “personal, spiritual and professional” dimensions of life. Spirituality is very important to her.
She was thrilled that I had answered the phone directly because she only had about 20 minutes before she had to be back at work, and it was hard for her to find a time to call me other than during her lunch hour; she had no time to call me in the evening because of her young son. So right there and then we launched into our first conversation, which in a few minutes included tears, as she blurted out the multiple crises she was in, the last of which was hating her job and not making enough money. Others, to mention only a few, included a painful divorce five years earlier, an abusive, unemployed, ex-husband, the strain of raising her 8-year-old son on her own, and being on the brink of losing her home – all this after having to move out of her house and into a cheap one-bedroom apartment in order to save money.
If I didn’t have five years of experience in social work, four years of experience as a mental health counselor, and so many subsequent years of experience as a career/life coach, I would have fairly quickly explained that I wasn’t in a position or role at this point to give her the help she needed. I would have been compassionate, of course, but ended the call in good conscience with a referral to an appropriate resource center or therapist.
But there was something so unique about the instant bond that Emily and I established during this spontaneous, noisy, tearful call, that it took me in a different direction. We so quickly clicked – personally, spiritually, and professionally – that we were off and running before we had time to think about another option. We each had a strong feeling that this was “meant to be.” This much time later, we know for sure that it was. Mountains have definitely moved.
Emily is one of the most sincere, hard-working, resourceful, intelligent, faithful women I have ever known. I have tremendous respect for her and utter confidence, as of today, that she is on track for a great future. From the very beginning, she took every one of my “homework” assignments to heart; in fact, she went overboard. As one example among many, at my suggestion that she do a little reading on assertiveness training for women, she read eight books on the subject. In our subsequent half-hour call a few months later (always from her parked car about two miles away from the same hated job) she talked non-stop about the insights she had finally had about how much of her current situation had to do with her lack of assertiveness and tendency toward passivity; her fear of confrontation; her lack of confidence in her opinions and abilities; her life-long inability to say NO and mean NO or habit of saying YES when she really meant NO; her way of expending a lot of emotional energy on being angry at other people in secret; and her fear of confronting people who actually needed confronting.
Another time, when her renters began to abuse her house and make late payments that jeopardized her financial situation, I suggested she search out a non-profit program I had heard about that had been established to help property owners deal with legal issues they could afford to deal with (or something to that effect). She took immediate action, found the organization, called them, and arranged an appointment; she not only found a take-immediate-action, pro-bono attorney who could help her with the situation at hand, but one who helped her connect with other resources designed to help people like her to get out from under seemingly impossible burdens. Today, she is back in the house she and her son consider home, with an adjusted mortgage that is more reasonable. Several mountains moved as a result of that one suggestion, taken seriously.
Regarding the job Emily hated so much when she first called me, she still has it but doesn’t hate it so much. With the clarity she now has about herself – who she is, what she wants, what her true gifts, talents, skills and experience are – the job has been transformed. She can’t believe the changes she sees all around her. Her boss and coworkers value and even seek out her opinions and insights. “They seem to actually respect me!” she says. When she negotiated with her boss for a long-overdue raise and the privilege of working from home a couple of days a week to save money on her commute and spend more time with her son (negotiations about which she didn’t even call me!), he agreed, and at the same time changed her pay structure, which resulted in a $1600-a-month raise.
The thing that made me especially happy this morning, was to hear how well Emily’s son is doing and how much fun they are having together this summer. They are taking swimming lessons together, singing and playing music together, and enjoying their own backyard again. They have never been happier! (This expressed with tears of gratitude.)
Emily’s homework for next time, whenever that turns out to be, is to make sure she keeps doing the things she loves, because it is good for her and good for her son. This is the way to nurture herself and her son right in the midst of life, which is always challenging and stressful, to one degree or another. Because Emily is such a diligent seeker and good student, I am hoping she will take this particular homework assignment to heart as well.
This is not the end of the story, of course. I have a strong feeling it is just the beginning of a whole new story for Emily.
What a way for me to begin my day!
Our dear Bonnie Bonetti-Bell was the force behind our Career/Life Coaching services, until her passing in 2019. As a principal of our firm, Bonnie had an innate talent for seeing the best in people. Moreover, she helped others see the best in themselves. Bonnie is fondly remembered and deeply missed.