Breakthrough Coaching Conversations: recent turning points with life coaching clients

A “Show, Don’t Tell” Demonstration of How Life Coaching Works

Janice Tries on a Thought Experiment to Identify What Keeps Her From Leaving the Firm

Janice: I should be recovered from the surgery enough to go back to the law firm in late February. I’m going back on a reduced schedule, three days a week.

Cameron: How does it feel to imagine yourself walking back in there?

Janice: Anxious. I feel anxious. Also a little relieved, to be back in the routine.

Cameron: You mean the routine that might possibly have given you the condition you just had surgery on?

Janice (laughs): Yeah. I am a little anxious.

Cameron: The reduced schedule will reduce the stressors that put you in the hospital, by about two-fifths, but it won’t change whatever your body may have been telling you something about how good, or not, the fit was for you. Remember what we were saying earlier about your illness may have been inner conflict writ upon your body?

Janice: I do believe that. I think we can get illnesses from our situations. But I think my whole family has this thing, where we do really well, like my brother being a very successful cardiologist, but we just aren’t able to enjoy ourselves. We’re not in the present, really.

Cameron: When we’re not in the present what we often feel more than anything else is fear. Fear that the past will repeat itself, worry about the future.

Janice: I know it. I really think that if my family lived closer to me in D.C., or if I had more really close friends there, it wouldn’t be so bad. I know when I go back to the firm I’m really going to miss my mom.

Cameron: Have you ever thought about working in a firm in your hometown?

Janice: That’s the weirdest thing. I have, but I don’t know what this block is that keeps me from looking into it seriously.

Cameron: Well, you’re in a big white-shoe D.C. firm. You’ve been there, what?, eleven, twelve years. You made partner. You probably feel people rely on you, you feel loyalty. Let me ask you a question. I’m not sure where this is coming from but I’ve just had an idea.

Janice: Oh goodie.

Cameron (laughs): Let’s say that a few months after you got back to the firm the managing partner comes into your office and says, “Janice, the firm has just Brobecked. It’s imploded. We’re out of business, the partners are going their own ways, you can have your computer and all the books and supplies in your office. Some of us are going to New York, some have already hooked up with Hogan & Hartson, but the rest are free as birds.” What would you do then?

Janice (long silence): That’s a really interesting question. What made you ask that?

Cameron: I dunno. A hunch.

Janice: Now I have to go back to how I felt when you first said it. I’m just going to say it before my brain kicks in and changes anything. I thought — I thought that if that happened, I would go back to Louisville and work there. Oh my God. I have to think about that.

Cameron: And think about what the difference would be. Why did I kill your firm?

Janice: What you said a while ago — I really feel so much loyalty.

Cameron: And if the firm is gone?

Janice: No one would have any expectations.

Cameron: And if no one had expectations, what would it be impossible for you to do?

Janice: Feel I’d let them down. Yeah. I feel like if I left they’d think I’d just been leeching off them . . .

Cameron: Janice, you’ve spent twelve years at a giant corporate law firm that spits out associates! You’ve worked your way up to partner. And I can tell you that your law school classmates have been in three to eight jobs since then. Can you think about why you’d look at yourself as leeching off them — betraying them or letting them down? Doesn’t that strike you as a really interesting statement?

Janice: I’m going to have to go back and feel that feeling again, when you first asked the question. You’ve really got me thinking.

Cameron: Let’s talk again after your retreat. And before you go back to the firm. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you have in the next week, okay? Don’t judge or rationalize, just observe and take note.

Janice: I’m really interested to see how this is going to develop. Can you give me the name of that book you mentioned, and your friend who runs the institute? . . .


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