My Contribution to Tribe of Mentors
In November 2017 Tim Ferriss’s then-new book Tribe of Mentors was published, a wonderful collection of practical life advice a whole range of top performers in their respective fields. For some reason I never got an invitation. But hey, I forgive you Tim and I hold no grudges. It just means you had to wait a little longer for this one 😉
So with just a tad bit of delay, here are my answers to Tim’s excellent questions. And since I’m not bound to any editing standards I’ve just went full steam ahead and wrote what came to my mind with plenty of joyful disregard of any word count or other guidelines. If any of it resonates – make it swing! I’d love to hear your thoughts (especially yours, Tim!)
“What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?”
I stumbled across Jeremy Ville in a sticker book. I hadn’t bought a sticker book in the 20 years prior but a friend of mine – the wonderfully talented, funny, edgy and creative Paulina Stulin – had been featured in the German sticker magazine Klebstoff and so it was that I came across Jeremy’s “Public Service Announcements”, which I loved, especially this one, this one and this one. The book is a collection of these and just fantastic. They’re cute, beautifully illustrated, have a positive message throughout and, what impressed me the most, go hand in hand with everything I knew from my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology about what we practically do to increase our levels of happiness and wellbeing. When I found the book in an online store for like £3 I bought 10 copies and started giving them out as presents. I had really hoped that my little nephews would have a new favourite book (it is bright yellow after all) but unfortunately I’ve never heard them mention it again. You can’t always get what you want I guess. My in-laws loved it though 🙂
I did give a good bunch of copies of my own book away too and while that sounds like sneaky advertising, it’s genuinely the second most gifted book on that list and fast approaching the podium. Mostly these were other coaches looking to take their approach to the next level and have deeper conversations with clients about big questions or friends or family who had been a bit confused about what I do for a living or curious about existentialism but unwilling to work through the often quite convoluted literature on the topic.
“What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.”
My first little £5 cactus that I got from East London’s infamous Flower Market, which kicked off my little succulent garden. I had never imagined myself as someone who would get into gardening or taking care of plants, but since I left my job at the University to go fully freelance I’ve been spending more and more time working long hours with growing pressures, and taking care of these little fellas became a time during the day where I am fully present, not thinking about the past, future or anything really. It’s a mindfulness meditation for me. The effects of mindfulness are well documented in the research literature and come in many shapes and forms. I’ve had my fair share of experiences and generally approach the world quite mindfully, but doing it in such regular intervals during times when the other things I’d usually do mindfully (such as skating, capoeira or, now working from home a lot, commuting) were not available to me for one reason or another, really allowed me to experience the true power of mindfulness meditation.
“How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?”
It was the summer of 2006, the end of my 1st year of university and Germany, for the first time in my life, hosted the Football (or soccer, if you insist) world cup – a huge event and the first time I’d see many of my friends again after I’ve been away for a year. It all promised to be an epic summer. Then my girlfriend broke up with me, my first serious and committed relationship and the first time I wasn’t the one who decided to leave (well, technically I broke up with myself, but it was clear she didn’t want to or felt she couldn’t stay in the relationship, but that’s another story). This was a huge blow for me. I had thought she’d be the mother of my children. I had been planning our future. I was shattered, my summer (and perceived life) ruined, and I went into a period of painful reflection trying to figure out what I had done wrong or how I could potentially fix it.
I still remember it as the most painful summer I’ve ever had. I’ve felt emotions I had never felt before and it certainly wasn’t something I’d be keen to repeat. However, it paved the way for a whole range of growth and ultimately taught me many of the life and relationship lessons I needed to learn to be ready for my wife. Allowing myself to feel the pain, sit in it and trying to learn from the experience rather than supressing and avoiding it by getting drunk watching football (which I certainly did a few times and will never remember the second half of our boys playing Poland 😉 ) led me to gain most valuable insights into what I had and had not been doing to contribute to the relationship breaking apart. I’ve learned from my mistakes, questioned and accepted what hadn’t been within my control and, thanks to a particularly good friend who knew how to ask these questions tactfully, allowed myself to appreciate all the good things that came out of that relationship. And yes, it still fucking hurt, like hell, and I certainly had my ups and downs with it. But through this process of painful exploration I learned fairly quickly that there hadn’t been any bad intentions on either side, it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. Some aspects of how we parted could’ve perhaps been handled better but ultimately we both tried our best to do what’s best for both of us. It would’ve not worked out in the long run as really we weren’t as good a match as we both had been trying to believe, so this really was for the better and unfortunately there isn’t any way to end a serious relationship without some of the pain that endings bring about. I remember thinking what a shame it was that so many people try to blame endings on someone. It’s easier if it’s somebody’s fault, easier to be able to hate someone when things don’t work out. It’s much harder to come to terms with endings when everybody is trying their best. Life just hurts sometimes. That’s the way it is. Going through the motions with an attitude of gratitude for what was and what I can learn from this made me a stronger person. In fact every failed relationship taught me powerful lessons about who I am and how I am relating to people. I’m thankful for each of them. I don’t think I’d be married happily now if it wasn’t for the many lessons I learned from past breakups.
“If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)”
“You don’t have time – You make time.”
My dad used to say this (“Zeit hat man nicht – Zeit muss man sich nehmen”, literally translated as “One does not have time – one has to take time”) whenever I told him that I don’t have time for something that seemed important to him. It took me a long time to really grasp what he meant and it is now something I say often, both to myself and to others. It’s such a powerful reminder that we all have the same amount of time available to us and that we choose how to spend it and should hence take responsibility for what we do and don’t do, what we say yes and no to. Saying “I don’t’ have time to do this” simply means “something else is more important to me”, which is total fine and people usually respect it if it is communicated well. Thing is that it’s much easier to use time as an excuse not to tell somebody that whatever they’re proposing is lower down the priority list than all the other things you’ve got on, so it requires some courage to be honest and admit this to yourself and to the other person. Same goes for “I can’t, I’m sorry” which is more of an “I choose not to make time for this due to other commitments”. You can say no very respectfully without taking the easy way out and make excuses, even if they seem to be universally accepted. Personally I really appreciate it when I get a no from people and they tell me that they’re focusing their energy on other things at the moment, or that they are currently not taking on new projects or that part of them really really wants to say yes but that they are unwilling to get out of an existing commitment or break their own promises to themselves. Even telling me that doing “nothing”, recharging their batteries, seems like the better way to spend their time today is something that I appreciate way more than making an excuse or phrasing it in a way that makes it look like they got no choice in the matter. At least they’re taking ownership over their capacity to choose. It also really makes you question your priorities before you give an answer and doing that regularly is super beneficial on so many levels. Thanks, Dad!
“What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)”
When I was about 14 years old and first really got into music, I wanted a proper HiFi stereo system. Perhaps sparked by my brother and a family friend who’s a real audiophile, my taste wasn’t cheap and my parents basically said “no way!” and offered to contribute 300 Deutschmarks to whatever I wanted to buy. Delivering newspapers wasn’t exactly the most lucrative of activities so I thought about ways of making a good chunk of money for the first time in my life.
What I came up with was to take the 3 huge bags of unassembled Lego stones along with a nauseating stack of assembly instructions that my brother and I had collected over the years (thanks once again, dad!), negotiated a pretty sweat deal with my then 19 year old brother and subsequently spend the next 8 weekends in a dark basement room with a shitty transistor radio re-assembling everything we had with the aim to sell it at the next big local flea market, which I knew was a fantastic market place for that kind of stuff.
The first thing I learned is what they meant by “finding the needle in a hay stack”! Back then the bricks were not nearly as sophisticated and unique as today but there were plenty of bricks that really didn’t exist very often so it required real dedication and managing multiple processes simultaneously to be as efficient as possible (yes, I said it, some stereotypes ring true) and meet the deadline of the big flea market.
The second learning was how powerful a drive greed can be and how nobody is immune it. I remember approaching the end of the flea market. It was around 5pm and I had amassed more than 2000 DM, more than enough for a banging system. The little box we had used to collect cash was literally overflowing with bills, something I had never seen before and certainly had never been a part of producing (newspaper deliveries had paid me 140 DM/month in comparison). My best friend at the time had helped me tirelessly since 6 o’ clock in the morning and was probably responsible for about 60% of the sales that day. Yet, when I dad suggested I share some of the profits with him, I handed him a 5er and expressed my thanks. I still cringe when I think about that. I remember looking at the box full of cash and feeling so attached to it. It represented 8 weeks on my knees with countless moments of despair not finding key bricks or battling with sub-par music on a radio with no bass. I didn’t want to share. I wanted it all to be mine! I also vividly remember my dad giving me a little talking-to that evening when I told him what I had done. I don’t remember what he said now but he must have done it well because I really understood what happened there and decided to treat my best friend to the best day out, just the two of us. Fun fact: he was super surprised by this. Turns out he so enjoyed selling to people that he had never expected any payment from the day. At least that’s how I remember it today. Sometimes we choose to remember stuff the way it embarrasses us the least 😉
The third lesson was that when you work for something very hard and you invest your blood, sweat and tears (literally in this case, plus many hours of daylight and most of the bass frequencies) you will value it SO much more than any present or gift. Up until that point in time, any larger purchase had been financed by my parents and I immediately noticed the massive different it made that this I had achieved myself. And what an achievement it had been. I spent 2 months finding the right system and loved every second of that journey. I still have my Marantz system with the Tannoy speakers today, 22 years and 9 homes later. It’s sounding as satisfying now as it did then. The sweet sound of working hard for your success.
“What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?”
There’s quite a few that come to mind haha. I made a little list (I like lists) and chose some of them. Seems like the majority are in one way or another connected to growing up around HipHop culture.
Collecting vinyl records – certainly not absurd to those who know, but seems a bit odd given that they were the dominant medium for music up until the 1980s when CDs took over (when’s the last time you listened to a CD?). There’s literally too much to vinyl culture, DJing and Turntablism (using the record player as an instrument, similar to a guitar, only that you play two guitars at the same time and thanks to modern technology syncing record player and mp3 library they both can make any sound that has ever been recorded) for me to get into here. Think of my relationship with the analogue collection as having WAAAY too many clothes in your wardrobe, much of it you don’t wear anymore, certainly not regularly, but there might just be that one occasion it would be perfect for. Some items you got as a present and they remind you of the person who gave it to you but unfortunately it’s pretty ugly so you never wear it. Some are so stained you really can’t wear them anymore but you hold on to it to remember the times you did wear it often. There’s this pair of pants that takes you back to when you were at that party and that thing happened and you never think of that amazing memory except when you stumble over that horrendous fashion mistake of your past that no person in their right mind would wear again. There’s the pyjama bottoms that are so awesome you could die but you’d never wear it with anyone around and you only wear it once a year. Imagine buying a jacket on holiday to remind you of the holiday, knowing fair well that you’ll wear it about 3 times in your life but you just like looking at it. And then there are the kind of shoes that you just want to know are part of your collection. You just need to know they’re there. No need for anybody to see them. Oh and then, of course, there are the many, many, many bits and pieces that just make you and everybody around you happy because they’re just oh so fresh! And each item only takes as much space as a pair of socks, which means you just need a very, very large shelf rather than 3 walk in closets. And anytime you feel like it you just dress up and dance around your living room for a few minutes or sit down and meditate for an hour (which DJing is definitely a form of – pure mindfulness or flow, respectively, if it’s done right). Wouldn’t you?
Finding multi-syllable rhymes in my head – A leftover from my freestyle rap days. I used to do this in my head all the time whenever an interesting term would come up in conversation.
Trying to decipher graffiti names – completely meaningless now in terms of results about 95% of the time, but I love doing it. We’re talking graffiti here – letters – not street art, which is mostly imagery or more traditional art work. I’ve always been fascinated by how many styles are out there and how much emotion someone can pack into a seemingly random 3-letter combination. Sometimes there’s a message, but most of the time it’s just somebody’s writer name that you may or may not ever see again in your life. Especially now that I don’t hang around many writers anymore and only very rarely talk to friends about what I see on the streets, it’s not really important what the letters say anymore. I still enjoy trying to figure it out.
Befriending the neighbourhood cats – I like cats. It became almost like a catchphrase. But I really do. It started about 6 years ago when Brian (turns out her name was Sakura and belonged to one of my friends) started visiting our converted warehouse in Hackney Wick. Our door was usually open during the summers so Brian just kept walking in randomly and sometimes she’d stay overnight. I even built a cat flap into my room door so that he could come say hello even when I wasn’t in the common spaces. I loved Brian. Since my wife doesn’t like cats at all that had to stop and after we’ve moved in together I started to say hi to the cats in the new neighbourhood. I don’t know why but I get so happy when I run into one of my friends on my way to or from home.
“In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?”
Selling doesn’t mean that you get into somebody’s head and get them to buy into whatever it is you want them to pay for. It can but doesn’t have to and really shouldn’t be manipulative in any way. You’re selling whenever you’re trying to influence someone or convince somebody of something, may that be political ideologies, that they should be buying your product or service or that your kids should at their fucking broccoli. You’re trying to convince that drunk guy not to punch you in the face or harass your partner? You’re selling. You’re having a sit-down with your son explaining that perhaps maybe a 5er doesn’t quite stand in proportion to selling a grand’s worth of product? You’re selling. You’re arguing passionately in favour of vegetarianism? You’re selling. You know that your product or service will have a tremendously positive effect on the person in front of you and if they only knew what you know then they would stop being so fucking scared to invest and go for it without further hesitation? You’re most definitely selling.
It’s all the same really and those who genuinely believe that their product, idea, service, plan of action or philosophy is going to add more value than the investment it takes (time, effort, risk, money, etc.) can sell ethically, authentically, powerfully and – most importantly – repeatedly, since the “buyer” will trust or feel that you have their best interest in mind (rather than, or in addition to, yours). Good sales is always win-win and aimed at building a relationship on the basis of which you can repeat the process or get recommended to others who are interested in what you have to offer. I know think of selling as offering my services, an invitation and, in some cases, strong encouragement to make the right decision. And I can be quite strong after I’m reasonably certain that it is indeed the right decision for my prospect – something that I felt unable to prior to this shift in mindset. I used to feel pushy, hated chasing anybody and felt I was successfully respecting their autonomy to make their own choices. With time, my mission to help people think more deeply, live life more fully and with more ownership and passion, deepened and after a decade of coaching clients I knew that whenever I had been successful in helping a client make a pro-coaching decision, they tended to thank me for it and were glad they had mustered the courage to invest in themselves. Now I sell with confidence and 25 year-old Yannick is regularly astonished to hear what’s coming out of today’s Yannick’s mouth sometimes. We live, we learn, we question, we grow and we transform who we are and how we think. We’re always in the process of becoming. I wonder what other limiting beliefs I carry around that are holding me back that I’m not yet aware of. I’ll be asking my coach next time I see her.
“What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”
First of all, brace yourself for some pain and suffering and learn to value and embrace it as much as possible. There is simply no way that you will achieve anything meaningful without your fair share of failure, let-downs, frustrations, unmet expectations and plenty of people telling you that you’re either doing it wrong or shouldn’t be doing this in the first place. You’re entering a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and the people you meet along the way are all human and hence prone to a whole array of insecurities, often anxious and unsure or, even worse, deluded or blinded by their own confidence, fuelled by the stories that have been implanted in their consciousness throughout their lives. We are all trying to do this life thing the best way we can but due to the sheer range of individual differences (values, beliefs, worldviews, ideologies, morals, etc.) there’s bound to be conflict.
But you know what?! Those feelings you have when life seems to hit the fan, when you don’t know what the right move is, when relationships crumble or shit doesn’t seem to make any sense at all – that’s the stuff that makes life worth living. That’s the stuff that writes the stories you’ll be telling your grandchildren. That’s the stuff you learn from so that your next venture, relationship or whatever it was you fell flat on your face with, will be a success. If everybody agrees with you, then there’s very little learning in it for you and chances are it’s gonna be pretty boring for you and everybody involved. Human beings like to be excited, even if that excitement is sometimes indistinguishable from stress or anxiety. It’s all about how we position ourselves towards whatever it is we’re experiencing. Some see opportunity where there is pain. Some see beginnings where there’s an ending. Some see learning when there’s failure or mistakes. Learn to embrace the uncomfortable, the shadow side of your human experience and you won’t need to feel like you’re “doing it wrong”. It’s all part of your story and you’re the author, the narrator who makes sense of events and attaches meaning to what is happening to you. Tell yourself a different story about yourself in relation to the world and you’ll feel differently and subsequently become the person you want to be.
And yes, some of us have been dealt different cards and gotta work a bit (or a lot) harder than others. Who said the world is supposed to be fair and just? That’s part of your story (or perhaps someone else’s story that you have chosen to accept – or never questioned along the way). Working with a coach or therapist is pretty much always going to be worth the investment (if they’re decent – go check their credentials, shop around, have a good few free consultations, ask for recommendations, etc.), especially when you’re not yet stuck in your story and set on a fixed course. Just like romantic relationships, there will be different coaches that will suit you at different times of your life, or perhaps you’ll find the one and you’ll be doing great work together for decades or perhaps even for the rest of your life. Some of what a coach does for you you can get from significant others – parents, mentors, friends, teachers, etc. – but there’s a set of unique advantages to coaching that will give you an edge and make the most out of your time on this planet. Nobody needs a coach, but everybody who is eager to learn fast should want one.
Another tip: Whenever you find yourself feeling completely relaxed, happy, serene and generally not worried about anything for a prolonged period of time (let’s say a few months), ask yourself what you’re not looking at. Chances are you’ve created a bubble for yourself where you’re not being challenged or allowing yourself to see clearly. This can backfire majorly and while it’s not comfortable to ask yourself tough questions and look at things you’d rather not look at, it’ll protect yourself from future adversity. Keeping it real is the courageous way to live.
Tip 3: Networking! I used to hate this word. It felt like reaching out to and keeping in touch with people I didn’t really want anything to do with for my own benefit and success. It felt inauthentic and wrong to leverage somebody else in that way. Then I changed my mind. I realized that my network should be, and already were, the people that I genuinely like and would love to see succeed, the people that I enjoy spending time with and whom I’d love to help out wherever I can, the people that I respect and value being in my life in some way or another. And I should be the same to them. Sometimes this isn’t reciprocated. Those people won’t be in your network much longer as it’s gotta be a two way street in the long-term. Don’t be afraid to give in situations where it may not come back to you. Over time you’ll find more and more people who are aligned to your values and beliefs, your mission (if you have figured that out yet) or simply the way you are, the ones who you click with. Those people you wanna stay in touch with, even if it’s a call or visit or meaningful conversation once a year. Try to stay up to date a bit with what they’re up to. Make some notes or set a few reminders in your calendar for important events in their lives. They’ll appreciate it and the relationship grows stronger. And I’m not talking about likes or a brief note or comment on social media. I’m talking about a genuine human interaction. Something that means something. Life is hectic, busy and exciting when you’re in your 20s and exploring the world. Don’t forget to keep good relationships. It’s probably the most important thing in your life to take care of. You can only go so far on your own and the most important jobs usually go to people that somebody already knows and trusts.
On that note, just in general, don’t be a dick! You can’t please everyone, of course, and sometimes people will make you feel like you’re a selfish asshole, but if you do your fair share of self-reflection, know what’s important to you and what you’re values and beliefs are and you’ve learned how to communicate them in a language that that other person can understand (here’s where that coach comes in handy again), then usually people will be able to see that your intentions are good and you’ll be coherent in your behaviour. That said, many of the people you meet may not be able to see that, and that’s okay. As long as you’re not a dick by your own standards and you could explain yourself to someone who genuinely tries to understand your behaviour (which will hopefully be those people you truly care about and who truly care about you).
One more: Focus on relationships more than you focus on acquiring skills and stuff. It’s important to do things well. Put the time in to get good at something you’re passionate about (regardless of how odd it may seem to others at the time – most skills are transferrable). However, do not neglect your relationships. It used to be the case that if you had the skills, then you got the job. But in a world with as many people as we have currently there’ll be plenty of competition for whatever it is you are trying to achieve. If you know people you always got an edge. Your integrity is your highest asset. If you show up authentically and you stay true to your values and beliefs as best as you can, some will reject you due to their own beliefs and values while those who are aligned will relate to you even stronger. If you want to get noticed you will have to muster the courage to be authentic and surrender the outcome. Human beings are social animals and as such we have this need to belong to the group. Going against the group is risky. In the cavemen days it meant certain death to be excluded. Nowadays we can usually find “our tribe”, our people, those with common interests, values and beliefs elsewhere thanks to the internet. Though usually there will be others in a group, hiding their beliefs and weird thoughts out of fear they would be rejected. The more we show up authentically, the more we are likely to connect with like-minded people. You’d be surprised how quirky, weird and insecure the majority of people are. Trust me, I get front row seat in my coaching room. I get that it’s scary to be vulnerable, but it does tend to pay off. Brené Brown once said that the opposite of belonging is “fitting in”. Careful with what kind of masks you put on to get on the good side with people. We all wear masks at times. Just be careful they don’t stick to a point that you forget that it’s there and who you really are.
And again: Get good at sales! Given the inevitability of existing within a complex network of relationships and given that we’re all uniquely wired and hence all different from each other in the way that we think, what’s important to us, what’s right and wrong and how we approach challenges, you will have to influence people along the way to be a positive force and navigate life successfully. I said it above and I say it again: Sales does not necessarily involve money in exchange for a product or service. Its principles apply every time you’re trying to assert influence over another, whatever the motivation that drives this endeavour. Learning how to influence others well, within the framework of not-being-a-dick, will get you far in life.
So be kind, meet people with compassion, stay curious, trust that people have good intentions (at least within their definition of what that means), assert boundaries and take no shit, show up authentically, surrender the outcome, do the uncomfortable work, embrace all the chilli sauce that life will rub into your eyelids, develop meditation habits (that’s a big one actually – what better skill to develop than learning to be in charge over where your attention goes), create space to reflect, learn and co-create your story as you’re navigating life, get a coach, don’t be afraid to do things differently and whatever happens… keep going. There is only forward. You can’t change the past. You can only learn from it.
One more: We’re all driven by love and greed to varying extents. Every human being has these two fundamental forces in them. We can drift towards one or the other while crossing life’s uncertain sea. As you’ve learned above you can find yourself in greedy waters every now and then and nobody is completely immune. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to choose either, to choose who you are and to choose what story you will be telling yourself about yourself. I hope you choose love and sacrifice some of the short term benefits in the interest of the greater good. We’re all connected in complex ways and at some point you will be looking back at your life and the choices you’ve made and having worked with my fair share of people in existential crises, trust me, you wanna choose love whenever you get the chance.
And last but not least: When it comes to “doing life”, there is no right and wrong, only different. No matter how strong the messages might be from parents, society, friends, advertising or religion – you’re free to choose how you spend your time. If you prefer to be broke, free and vagabonding through life rather than working extremely hard to climb up the career ladder (or vice versa), nobody can (though many people will) tell you that’s a mistake. If you carefully consider the consequences of your actions and you’re allowing yourself to be really honest with yourself, look where you need to look, talk to the people that have made similar decisions (some who are happy and some who have regrets) and you decide that that is how you want to live your life and you’re accepting whatever risk that will entail and you find a way to communicate and explain this to the people who care about you, then you can’t fail in my opinion.
“What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?”
Always follow your intuition – I met a number of “intuitive coaches” in my life, those who have never read a book, done any formal training, worked with a mentor or supervisor, etc. They trust that whatever their intuition tells them is the right thing to do. While many of these coaches create a wonderful space for clients to grow and learn and have acquired enough experience to deal with challenges well, many of them could deliver a much better service if they were to muster the courage to question their intuitive choices rather than following them blindly. I have learned that with training and experience, our intuition gets increasingly trustworthy. However, if you’re just starting out as a coach – arguably depending somewhat on your background, education and the way you were raised – you’re bound to fall into some intuition traps. Some of these traps are giving advice, generally “rescuing” a client from feeling uncomfortable (when often it’s the exploration of the discomfort and allowing yourself to sit in it for a while that results in insights, acceptance and learning), projecting our own worldview onto a client and hence making inaccurate assumptions or failing to recognize that whatever is happening in the coaching space between you and a client is actually a result of your own personal triggers rather than to do with the client. Generally, when you have a strong reaction to something the client says or does (what Daniel Kahneman calls “thinking fast” and which many people call intuition), I believe you should always listen to this, explore it and welcome it as important information. However, it is equally important to also listen to the voice of reason, to evaluate and make sense of what’s happening and weave it into the broader context of meanings as to be able to ascertain the best response (“thinking slow”). A simple illustration: if you were to bet on the outcome of a coin throw (probability: 50/50 heads or tails) and you were to throw 65 times heads in a row, our intuition tells us that it’s more likely the next throw is going to be tails, when reason tells us (very much correctly) that a coin throw is always going to be a probability of 50/50, no matter how many times it’s being thrown. Working with human beings is a little more complex. As we mature as coaches we will be able to trust our intuition more and more. But until we get there (and perhaps even more importantly once we feel established and routine), it’s crucially important to question our intuition, to value it as an important part of our decision making processes but to not fall into the trap of following it blindly whenever that is possible and time permits. Cultivate a habit of allowing silences into your coaching space (or ask your client for a moment to think) in order to make better decisions and most definitely create space to reflect on sessions after they occurred, ideally with a qualified coaching supervisor.
Always end the session on a positive note – I get that clients who leave the session in high spirits are more likely to be happy with the service (and, if you’re working session-by-session more likely to book a next one), but what I found is that oftentimes it was the sessions that really quite threw a client, that helped them to uncover something uncomfortable yet important about themselves, sessions where I resisted to help them feel better at the end by perhaps making a plan to counter it or point out the positives or strengths in the situation but instead allowed them to sit in the discomfort and leave contemplating, these were the sessions that seemed to move the client much more than if I had made an effort to “stitch everything back up” before they go so that they may leave in a good mood. Of course I make sure that they’re not at any risk of harm and that they have the right support, space and/or skills to continue the work on their own between sessions, but those sessions tend to be valued more than the seemingly more positive ones. Growth tends to happen in a state of discomfort. Fast growth may bring about quite a lot of discomfort. As long as this is contracted and agreed with the client before the work commences, I don’t see any ethical issues with this.
My supervisor has to be better/more successful than me/aligned with my approach – Supervision is basically coaching with a focus on the professional activities of the coach (and hence an extra dimension to the work). If the supervisor takes a facilitative approach that allows the coach to tap into their own answers rather than letting the supervisor’s values, beliefs, worldview and individual approach to coaching direct the work and influence the interactions, then the supervisor needs not to be better, more successful or more experienced in any way. Unless the coach expects the supervisor to be a mentor and seeks to walk the same path as them while drawing on their expertise and advice as someone who is further down that path, the supervisor needs to simply be very good at holding space for the coach to explore their work while picking up on patterns, creating a trusting and confidential space, contracting well, being authentic, direct, respectful, challenging and supportive, etc. – basically all of the attributes of a good coach. And any coach knows that they don’t need to have been a CEO in order to coach a CEO. A coach doesn’t need to have gone through a divorce in order to coach someone through a divorce. So why would a supervisor need to be a more successful or experienced coach in order to get value from the interaction? Of course, the more experience someone has the more likely it is that the work will be more fruitful. But it certainly isn’t a requirement to get fantastic results. On the contrary, sometimes the routined supervisors can be a bit stuck in their ways and prone to make assumptions based on their experience.
“In the last 5 years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?”
Clients who are not a good match – In the beginning coaches tend to take on any client that they can get their hands on (I certainly did). I think it’s important to gain those experiences and while I was working pro bono or charging very little, this resulted in heaps of experience and food for reflection, learning and growth. Saying no to clients can seem a daunting thing to do in a day and age where the number of coaches is exploding and the majority of coaches struggle to make ends meet. Life’s expensive and there are times we feel obliged to take on as many clients as we possibly can. I still have my slow months and existing between wedding and honeymoon with the outlook of having kids fairly soon while also wanting to get on the property ladder, I’ve got my fair share of financial tensions which a few clients more could most certainly ease. However, I’ve learned that taking on a client who isn’t a good fit, whom I could work with and provide value for but who I have that certain feeling about that perhaps this one will be much better placed with a colleague of mine or even a different sort of professional, will ultimately cost me. It’s not just that I have to live with the feeling that I’m doing the client a disservice by figuring out who they needed to go to in order to get the better service. It’s also that I will spend a lot more money on supervision or otherwise trying to make up for the mismatch. I noticed moment just ahead of the next session where I secretly hoped they wouldn’t turn up or being relieved when they cancelled or moved a session. This is impacting greatly on my wellbeing and professional sense of worth, so that in the end I end up paying a lot more for that client than I’m being reimbursed financially. I now refer clients quite regularly to other coaches following the consultation. In order not to lose out financially on the 2 hours I offer free of charge initially I now ask those coaches for a referral fee to cover my investment, which is a fantastic solution and a win for everybody involved. Plus it communicates so much value, credibility and trust once the client understands that this is not about them being difficult or me rejecting them in some way not wanting to work with them (which are certainly feelings that can be triggered when you refer a client to another coach or turning them down) but that it’s important to you that this client works with a coach or other professional that’s right for them, someone that will be a much better match and hence more likely to deliver great results. These clients tend to refer other clients to you because they understand that you will only take them on if you’re confident that it’s the right way forward, and if in doubt, either ask more questions or refer you to the right person.
The most important thing to learn is to communicate the “no” from a position of care rather than rejection and to be sensitive to that person’s emotional state and dignity. Even if you simply don’t like someone for whatever reason (about half of the coaching’s success is based on having a good relationship), you can communicate this in a way that it’s not personal, but rather not a good match and that you can feel it when it’s right and learned to listen to that voice inside of you that tells you that you shouldn’t go any further. It does not need to make sense to the client necessarily as long as you communicate your rules clearly and express care, respect and the will to help them succeed, by whatever means necessary, even if those means are to suggest they work with somebody else. Learn to communicate what your coaching does and doesn’t cover. If you are either unwilling or unable to work with someone, say no to working with this client and learn how to communicate that in a way that your client doesn’t feel bad, but on the contrary, feels like they’re now one important step closer to finding the right person to work with and hence to resolve their problem or achieve their goal.
“When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)”
I meditate. Usually some form of mindfulness mediation, doing something that grounds me firmly in the present moment, such as gardening, going for a skate, even cooking a meal or making a tea. But anything really that helps me tune into the moment. If I’m at home I’ll sit and listen to parts of this record (I know every crackling now after having done this regularly every morning for 6 months) and sit in my beanbag for 5-15 minutes (I never got over the back pain, so I just sit comfortably with my back slightly rested and my legs half-bent pointing forward with my hands connected in my lap forming my personal symbol of inner strength and connectedness).
For some time I practiced transcendental meditation with a simple mantra (“that’s there”) that helped me to acknowledge any thoughts or sensations, anything that tried to distract me, and instead of letting those distractions take my mind away, I’d notice that “that’s there” and keep being present.
Focusing on my breathing also helps as I still notice that my breathing patterns during work, particularly when it gets stressful, are quite disrupted, shallow and irregular, so that just a few minutes or breathing deeply and regularly will usually calm me straight down.
Another thing I do is to ask myself whether whatever is stressing me is actually as important as it feels right now. If whatever it is that is distracting, stressing or overwhelming were to go badly, will it matter in a day, a week, a month or a year? Usually it’s not that important. The next question is whether I can do something about it. If not, why worry?! If yes, what is it?
And hey on that note, as an existentialist it’s always handy to call back into mind how, really, none of what’s going on in your life really means anything anyway, other than what it means to you or to others around you. Yes, sure, perhaps there’s some sort of universal masterplan or balance that you’re worried about disturbing or the world really is going to shit. But I’d say around 99.9% of problems we’re worrying about on a daily basis only exist in our heads and really don’t matter on the larger scales of the universe. There’s somebody somewhere who’d be completely unaffected by what we’re currently going through if it were to happen to them, and while I appreciate that some things only matter to me and that that fact bears significance, it does ease my suffering to put things into perspective like that.