One of the wonderful things about working as a coach is that I get to know people on a deeper level. I get to see a side of them they wouldn’t necessarily show to the world. It’s a beautiful and challenging privilege, although not challenging in the way you might expect.
When I worked as a user-experience designer, one of the things that I often did was interview people to collect information. Over time–usually with just 3-5 people–I could easily spot themes or patterns in what they were saying. This helped me and my coworkers develop software and websites that made more sense to the people who’d be using it.
A few years later, I’m still talking with people and gathering information as their coach. And I am noticing a theme that I believe is important enough to talk about here (protecting my clients’ privacy of course).
The theme is that many of us–and I include myself in this “us”, because I *am* in it with all of you!–are often lonely, sad, and bored. As a result we might turn to the comfort of food, or alcohol, or insert-undesired-behavior-here to deal with it. Beyond our lists of Facebook “friends” and followers, we seek a deeper connection with other human beings, a connection that would lead us to not feel so freakishly different, socially awkward, and not so alone in our struggles.
At the same time, we are overwhelmed by being around people. (How many “introvert” social media cards or articles have you seen recently?) We are exhausted at the amount of traffic we need to get through to get anywhere; we are stressed by the sheer number of people in public places, such as the grocery store. We believe we do better on our own, without the swirls of intense energy that being “out” in the world sucks out of us. We wish we could be around people like us, yet getting to them, and exposing ourselves to them, is something scary beyond belief. So we figure we’re better off alone, fighting our battles alone, or self-medicating. Maybe we can “work on” ourselves, “fix” ourselves by ourselves, and then we’ll be able to go out and not feel like no one gets us.
I’m telling you all, as a coach and a person as I’ve described above (i.e. “I’m with you!!”), we are all in a similar boat. And it’s hard to see from a coaching perspective. I almost wish I could get all of my clients together for a group session. So each of us could realize that wow, we’re not so freaky after all. That there are people who can “get us”, that we do have things in common. But to do that we’d also have to be willing to be seen, and that takes courage. It’s also hard to do when one feels broken.
I think we sometimes do need a bit of discipline. For example, to go out even when sometimes we don’t feel like it. Case in point: I am part of a lovely group called the North Austin Influencers. People are super friendly, like-minded entrepreneurs trying to help each other out. Of all the meetup-type groups I’ve attended in Austin, I find these folks the most approachable and authentic. Well, the last Thursday of the month they have a “mixer”, where people meet up at a place just to socialize and get to know one another. I wasn’t feeling particularly social the last Thursday in May, but I went anyway. Mostly because I was providing a “door prize”. I felt like I had to go, so I tried to keep an open mind.
When I arrived, I looked around and just.felt.tired. The room in the back was for our group, but I went to the bar to get my drink of wine, hoping that would make me feel more engaged. While I was getting my drink, a woman sitting nearby–we’ll call her Robin–started up a conversation with me. Pretty soon I was totally engaged with her, and we were chatting like old friends. Robin was not part of our group, however, most of the night I hung out with her and the bartenders. Later a few friends from the NAI group came out after the official stuff was over, and I had a nice, smaller group to interact and have fun swapping stories with.
Anyway, it turned out to be a lovely evening! Robin came for a Reiki session later that week. She is fantastic–we have a lot in common and I know she’ll be a great friend. If I hadn’t gone out, I wouldn’t have met her. And, if I stayed with the larger group rather than follow my instincts to be comfortable and take care of my energy that night, I may have regretted going at all. I might have said to myself, “see, I should never go out when I don’t feel like it, because then I’m just miserable.”
This is a delicate balance! I think many of us are caught between a rock and a hard place, socially. We want friends, and we have to manage our energy. It’s equally important to know when we’re pushing ourselves too far, and to be aware that we may be missing out on opportunities to connect when we fail to push ourselves at all.
My coaching clients, this blog’s for you. Please know, from someone who talks with other people, that you are NOT alone. You are unique, and there are many people out there who, like you, want to connect and want that companionship. Someone needs to take the first step. How might you push yourself to connect a little more today?