Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Hard Ones {Musings from the Life Coach Part of my Brain}

I have a soft spot for hard people. 

It's inevitable. The same story every time. I don't know why they end up coming to coaching in the first place - they signed up for the research study but didn't really want to change. They called in for free coaching offered by their health insurance, but didn't really want to change. They pay me, week after week, for my coaching services...but don't really want to change. 

I don't know how I end up with them, but they end up getting in my head and heart and I have to figure out how to crack them. They're the pistachio shell that won't open - but I'm relentless. They should just quit. They should quit because they don't really want to change, but for some reason after they talk to me two or three times they don't quit. I think they know I want to figure out what makes them tick. And I think they sort of want to know too, so they stick around long enough because they want to see if I'll figure out the puzzle. The puzzle they haven't been able to figure out themselves.

When I think back on my coaching history, my most memorable clients all fall into two camps. There are the eager ones, the open minded ones, the ones who embrace being coached with their arms spread wide open. These are the ones who get it, who make me want to shout YESSS!!! in the middle of our calls and the ones who make big, glorious, life altering changes. I love coaching them. 

Then there are the hard ones. They don't quit, but they fight change every step of the way. I don't fight with them though. I refuse to fight them. I stand next to them and try to see what it is they're throwing punches at. Once they realize I'm next to them, they let me try to help. Oh, I love coaching them. 

Today, I found out one of my former coaching clients died. She actually died last year but I just learned about it today. She was a hard one - maybe one of the hardest I've ever had. She came in swinging punches, and I had to duck a time or two before she'd let me near. But I love coaching her. It always pained me that I never felt like we figured out her puzzle. I worked with her for more than a year before she moved on, and she kicked and screamed the whole time. She didn't quit coaching. But she didn't change. I learned today that she died of pretty major health complications. I can't go into details, obviously, because of confidentiality. But they were the same health issues we had sat and talked about five years ago. The very same ones. Five years ago, we talked about changing and she decided not to. And she's not here today because of that decision. 

I read the email with the news of her passing - a long three paragraphs describing her final months. I guess she was as difficult a client for death as she was for health. I read the email, I closed my computer and I sobbed. 

I can still picture her perfect, precise handwriting on her food logs. She looked like she used a ruler to write the lines when she's write portions of 1/4 or 1/2. I asked her one day - she did. She was perfect and precise in her measurements. She was perfect and precise in her logging. She'd show me this, as if it was evidence of the commitment she was making.

I'll never understand why some people decide not to change. I wrote that sentence because it sounded right, but even as I did, I knew it was not the truth. I've coached too many people to pretend that I don't understand why people change. I understand stagnancy and hesitation almost better than I understand momentum and stamina. 

I've been privileged enough to be let in on so many people's lives. It's staggering when I stop to think about the number of people who I have coached or talked to or collaborated with. There are so many amazing stories of change, of the "lightbulb moment." I've born witness countless times to that moment when someone's voice cracks and all that can come forward are tears, and then understanding, and then hope, and then freedom. I love that moment. It's why I do what I do. It's what anyone who goes into a helping profession hopes to do - help. 

You have to know, going into this kind of work, that you can't help everyone. You can't help everyone, and you certainly can't save anyone. It's never been listed in my job description that I could. But there's always the eternal hope for me, that when one of the tough ones moves on from my life, that at the very least we planted a seed. That maybe our conversations have armed them with the tools and in the right moment, the right environment, the right second of their life... they'll be able to figure out the pieces of their puzzle. They'll be able to save themselves.

I always hold that hope. 


Allison the Meep said...

What a sad and frustrating story. I know so many people who are in poor health because of choices they have made, and choices to fix things that they refuse to make. They're bound to it by fear or addiction, or probably both, and it's the anchor that sinks them. I'm sorry your client died, and that it was from things that she could have changed. But I'm grateful to you for being a person who is committed to helping people overcome those obstacles, in your line of work.

Lindsay Collins said...

Wow - breathtaking. I have to think that the hard ones - this woman included - must feel your passion and love for them/the cause. Regardless if the story turns out happy, sad, or somewhere in between, that much has to be true.