“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ― C.G. Jung
“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.” ― André Malraux
Jane Wu (name changed) is a senior executive in a law firm. Originally from Beijing, moved to Hong Kong after her studies from an Ivy league more than a decade ago. She is frail and thin - even by Chinese standards. As we went through our first coaching session and talked about what was happening in her life, she shared that she’d been unable to focus and often disengaged at work.
Moving deeper she shared about her life and family. She was born to school teachers during the cultural revolution. She said as she was a girl child and often she felt unaccepted by the family(which included the grandparents). Her mother had felt the pressure to have a boy, and as only one child was allowed, it showed up in the way the family dynamics worked at home. Times were tough; there were not many resources to go around. During the coaching session, we dove more in-depth, and she recognized somewhere she internalized this early childhood insecurity and unacceptance and this it showed up in her ability to feel more stable and present in her current life.
I work with senior executives and entrepreneurs as a coach on self-awareness. We go through several life stages of development (from childhood onwards) and how these contribute to their belief systems - such as their perspective about power, financial growth, focus, relationships, communication styles, etc. These are intense hours of looking through early childhood to adulthood. Many deeply hidden insecurities come from the pain of neglect or overindulgence during development stages ( In defence of their caretakers and as a parent myself it is not a blame game but an exercise in awareness and acceptance).
Jane did work through her issues which helped her find a more rooted and stable career growth. Now, we meet quarterly to catch up and for updates.
Whilst we unearth a lot during the session which could range from emotionally uninvolved parents, poverty, abuse or unspoken and unacknowledged family secrets and many many more the work of letting go has to be done by my client. I create a psychologically safe environment for them to do so. A place without judgment!
There are two kinds of people who go to coaches, and each of these has different outcomes. Borrowing vocabulary for this from psychologist and philosopher James Willams at the beginning of the twentieth century said that there were two kinds of people. Some born-once and others born-twice.
Here is how he separates them.
Those who are born-once follow authority, feel safe within boundaries and are reluctant to question rules. They always worry about what others would think of them and repeatedly look for validation. They are not innovative and usually do well in repetitive jobs. These people are transactional leaders. Their followers are those whom they reward for following orders. These people are at the coaching session because someone told them to be or will get them brownie points from perhaps someone senior. They avoid any change in perspective and are not open to sharing and mostly want a ‘coaching-pill’ - a quick fix without reaching the source of the issue. It does not work, and I have learned the hard way not to take up these assignments.
Those who are born-twice take their adversities, depression, and stress into and go into action mode. They use these moments self-awareness through coaching and turn them into learning and reflection. They know that journey into the past can be uncomfortable and do it anyway. Fortunately, Jane was one such born-twice person. She knew that the shortest way out of the woods is going to be walking through it and was ready to do the work. Her motivation was also her daughter whom she believed deserved a more rooted and present mother.
Any personal development cannot be successful without understanding the whole person. We are all products of our past, and we have to let it go to monsters by facing them.
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