Coaching Martin’s Inner Game
As I was looking back over the last few months of our work together, and thinking about writing the story of my experience with you – ticking off the things you have helped me to understand, to manage, to plan – I had a realization. The other day, I mentioned to my sister that you had helped me through the worst, first part of this process, showing me ways to manage my emotional response to the circumstances, which was a necessary first step in attending to the more pragmatic considerations of a career change or job search. After our last discussion and while preparing for the coming interviews, I finally recognized an essential something that has been missing in me and that my work with you has helped me now reach for and to nurture.
I think I told you early in our work that I had been looking to the law firm to provide my sense of self-worth as a provider and, thus, as a father and husband and human being. So when I learned that I was to leave the law firm, I experienced it emotionally as an existential threat. It was easy enough, after the fact, to see the absurdity of making my validation depend upon satisfying the law firm. Becoming aware of the trap I had set for myself in that way helped me to begin to manage my emotions better and, in fact, to feel better. Still, I continued to struggle with the process.
Even while understanding that I had been seeking external validation from the law firm and overcoming that unskillful desire, I somehow continued to believe that my essential value as a human being depended upon securing employment. I simply have not been in touch with an independent and irreducible sense of personal worth. It is unsettling to realize, and a bit embarrassing to admit, that I’ve lived virtually my entire life not attending that part of myself. I think that this finally got through to me as a result of our interview-preparation discussion. The focus you directed was to develop and to refine ways for me to communicate effectively the value that I can bring to the prospective job. That requires me to think seriously and concretely about my value.
Beginning to think consciously about what I can bring to the job, I realized that I was no longer thinking in terms of what I could get from it, including a sense of self-worth. . If I’m thinking about the value I can bring to the job, the things I can give them, then I must already have that value, and I’m not asking the job to validate me in those things. When I realized I was trying to get validation from this job at this law firm, I saw that was causing a lot of my grief!
I was out running, I seem to be able to be alone with my thoughts better that way – thinking about the scene in “Apollo 13”, where Tom Hanks’ character is giving a TV interview, and he’s talking about flying off an aircraft carrier above the Sea of Japan, at night, and he somehow loses his wingman, and he loses radio contact with the ship, and all the lights in his cockpit go out. Worst possible situation. Sea of darkness below him, a sea of darkness above, and he’s running low on fuel. And then he looks down and sees this bioluminescent algae being churned up by the plane’s propellers. “You never know what events will transpire to get you home.”
I started interrogating the circumstance. What is it? Lost a job. How do I feel? Like I’m going to die. Why do I feel that way? I was trying to satisfy the law firm. I spent my working days trying to satisfy the law firm. At night my nights were consumed with thinking I needed to satisfy the law firm. Because that’s what I believed would make me a good provider, and therefore also a good husband and good father. And just thinking through it that way, I saw the fallacy of it. One, you never satisfy a law firm. What are you going to do for me tomorrow? I realized too that there are plenty of hardworking smart law firms out there that are trying to satisfy law firms. What do I bring that’s different from what any smart hardworking lawyer brings.
But I still thought a job would and could validate me. I wasn’t done yet. Doing the interview prep, he realized it wasn’t any job that he needed to validate him. In thinking about the values and strengths I bring, I realized I’ve already go those. I’m bringing those with me. so I’m not asking the potential employer to validate me. And THAT in turn allowed you to approach the interview with a light touch. Not squeezing too tightly to some desired outcome, which is a way of being in uncertainty. I want this job, I need this job – shuts down imagination and expression. If you cling to an idea the creativity stops. But if you’re open – cognition is rampant
If we decide to go forward, they asked, when could you start? It wasn’t me saying, When will you decide so I can start? The power dynamic was much different. They saw you as independent, strong, not needing their validation (even their income). People respect that. I’ve brought to the employment situation a need for validation. But it can’t do that, and I shouldn’t be asking. Approaching a prospective job without that emotional need is very different for me. It’s empowering!
When I inventory my self, or measure the distance between what I think I’m capable of and what I think I’ve accomplished thus far in life, I have found myself lacking in some way. That may always be the case in some measure. But I realize now that no mere job is going to make me whole or to make up for some lack that I feel, and I should not look for validation outside myself. Instead, I want to commit myself to pursuing happiness in the way that the ancient Greeks conceived it as the full use of one’s powers along the lines of excellence. But the opportunity and responsibility to do so are available to me whatever my employment situation may be.
I don’t know if you intended this lesson. It seems to me, however, that in everything we did together you assumed my essential value as a human being, with strengths and talents that are unique to me. In making that assumption, you invited me to do the same thing. It is a new sensation for me. As one consequence, I approach the coming interviews with a sense of expectation, rather than anxiety. In fact, I now have a general sense of expectation and optimism.
I know that I have skills, experience and judgment that I can use to help people. If I don’t quite make that case in a job interview, or if they find someone they like better for whatever reason, my value as an individual remains. Nothing of essential importance changes. I’ll continue to work to improve myself as a father and husband and human being in all circumstances. That challenge and opportunity is available to all of us and I accept it with gratitude.
I’m grateful to you for helping me to see these things more clearly.