I received a note the other day from a woman who has flirted with the idea of coaching for nearly two years. She’s sent me several letters during this time and in each and every one she recounts the same sad story about living with her deadbeat boyfriend, how she wishes she could work up the guts to kick him out of HER house because he contributes nothing, not even sex.
Walt and I are fascinated with change, more specifically, why some people are able or willing to do so, while others just can’t or won’t. He, too, has folks circling him for coaching, who tell him the same tale of woe year in and year out, as if addicted to it, yet are unwilling to take the leap.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for some folks to mistake circling a coach for doing something about their situation.
It’s said that we humans are motivated to change by two things only, the pursuit of pleasure, or the avoidance of pain. For me, a person with limited imagination, particularly of the pleasurable sort, I’m all about the latter.
I’m very clear on where I do NOT want to end up. Far less sure on where I want to go.
I’m sure I inherited this perspective from my mom.
It took her at least half of their twenty-eight years together to end her marriage to my dad. The tension and the chaos of living with an alcoholic, the vicious shit he’d say to her, the unmistakable disdain he felt for her, weren’t enough to make her leave him. No, it took coming to the realization that her children had grown, that we weren’t coming back to serve as a buffer, and that she’d be left— for the next thirty years— all alone with him. “It got to the point,” she once told me in a rare moment of insight, “that the known looked far more frightening than the unknown.”
I get that.
I waited nearly three years to end a marriage I knew was dead in the water. During that time, I never mentioned my unhappiness to anyone because then, out of embarrassment, I would have had to do something about it.
I eventually found my way to a therapist’s office, a woman I’d found through my employer’s benefit program. For the first three sessions, I sat in her office and bawled. On the fourth and final visit, I told her I was secretly considering divorce. At the time, I simply needed to voice what I was thinking, because I wasn’t sure myself, and to hear from another that I wasn’t being overly sensitive, or crazy, or selfish. It was as if I needed permission from someone out there to just let go.
I didn’t go back to see her again, not because the free sessions had run out, but because the idea of divorce was still too hot to handle. I wasn’t ready. The time wasn’t right. I could feel, however, that something had changed.
Some genies, after all, can’t be put back in the bottle.
Several years after my ex-husband died, I found myself in therapy again. What I thought was an attempt to deal with my guilt and grief, ended up, after a year or so, being about letting go. Again.
I hadn’t realized how unhappy I was in my current romantic relationship until I had the chance to hear myself describe it. Five sessions of yammering about the guy and his failings, and I was done with him.
The beauty of coaching, not unlike therapy, is that you have the chance to hear what’s going on inside of your own head while you’re laying it all out on the table. That way you can decide that much quicker to shit or get off the pot.
Oh, little wolf cubs, we can go through our entire life vaguely unhappy, enduring crap we’ve come to think of as normal. (Because that’s what our pack has been trained to do.) We can assume we’re hanging in there, taking one for the team, because we’re all sorts of noble and good. We can distract ourselves with hobbies or vices or neurosis or busyness so we can’t put words to it. So we can’t hear ourselves describe just how miserable we truly are.
But eventually,our feelings make themselves known. We may catch our reflection in the mirror and then, damn, we see the truth. We suddenly know that it’s time to let go. That the known is far scarier, perhaps, than the great unknown.
That’s the time you, too, may start circling. And that’s OK. There’s a place in the process for circling. As long as you don’t confuse it with taking action.
Here’s one last thought I’d like to leave you with: The problem with people who end up unhappy is that they don’t know how to walk away from something that has already served its purpose.
You don’t have to know right now. You just may need to hear yourself talk in order to figure it out.