How My Suffering Became My Greatest Strength as a Coach

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

5 minute read

People often ask me why I became a coach. I suppose the simplest answer may be that I became a coach because I’ve had an abundance of life experiences that helped me develop a wellspring of resilience, and coaching is a process by which I can help others cultivate this valuable resource.

What is resilience? It’s the capacity to not only endure hardship, but to recover and thrive in spite of it.

Like many others, I grew up in a classically dysfunctional home. Both of my parents were survivors of childhood emotional abuse: my father’s father was a raging alcoholic, and as is all too common, my father later followed in his footsteps. My mother’s mother committed suicide when my mother was just nine years old, and she was subsequently sexual abused at the hands of another family member.

Sadly, these kinds of sorrows were not discussed or even acknowledged back then, and trauma therapy and counseling were certainly not available in those days. Neither of my parents ever got the help they needed to process the things that happened to them. Instead, they did what many survivors did back then: married and raised their family the best way they knew how. But, as we know today, even the best of intentions isn’t enough to overcome adverse childhood experiences. After a chaotic and destructive childhood of my own, in which the dysfunctional patterns in my family were painfully obvious, I swore I’d never drink or do drugs.

Then I went off to college, and promptly did just that.

I essentially drank and drugged away the next twelve years of my life.

At age thirty, I realized I had to stop or I would die, so I made a decision that changed the course of my life: I put myself in treatment and got involved in a twelve-step program. After some experience there, I proceeded to sponsor—which is really just the twelve-step term for coach—people who were newer in recovery. I not only found I was pretty good at it, but perhaps more importantly, it was extremely fulfilling work that helped me stay sober, too.

A couple of years later, I took my newfound sense of hope back to college and got an accounting degree. I then went on to start a professional career in my mid-30s, which to my surprise and elation, took off. I wound up managing and mentoring several people who were initially peers. The mentoring relationship became a very fulfilling component of my corporate responsibilities, and further encouraged my upward corporate trajectory.

Image by Nadja Donauer from Pixabay

During these same early years of my corporate career, I participated in a leadership/management development program my company offered. The program aided my growth tremendously, so I decided to get certified to teach it. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that this program allowed me to differentiate myself as a leader, and the things I learned while teaching that class are innate to me today.

But the next challenge in life was just around the corner, as I soon found I’d lost my passion for my chosen professional specialty of accounting and finance. Long story slightly shorter, I decided to leave the corporate world, walk away from a handsome compensation package and lifestyle, and move toward my calling of helping others find their own resilience.

At first, I seriously considered getting a counseling degree and opening a psychotherapy practice, because I wanted to work with people one-on-one. But I instead came to see that my experience as a Fortune 100 corporate executive could be put to best use in executive coaching. Thirteen years later, I’ve built a thriving executive coaching practice that I’d like to think has helped hundreds of other dedicated professionals become 21st Century Leaders.

But life continuously brings us new challenges to which we must rise. The latest challenge that life has thrown my way occurred over the last few years, and culminated last month. My wife of more than four decades and I began experiencing relationship challenges over a decade ago. We are fortunate that counseling and therapy are more widely available today, so we sought professional help for our relationship. We learned new communication skills, rolled up our sleeves, and labored together to repair our relationship, but ultimately in the words of our therapist, “our contract was up.”

So, after a year and half separation, our divorce was finalized a little over a month ago. The mediation of our settlement was a time of personal crisis that was reflected back to us on a much larger scale via the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest that our country has collectively faced in 2020. As we all know, this has been a year of seemingly insurmountable difficulty.

Although it’s been an extraordinarily tough time, I know that these experiences have made me stronger and more resilient than ever. It’s precisely because I’ve seen my fair share of ‘stuff’ that I’m skilled with and qualified to coach resiliency today, and all my life’s experiences have left me better equipped than ever to coach people who also happen to be executives.

Do you know what else? Everybody who is reading this is also stronger and more well-rounded because of our individual extreme experiences. We all have more resiliency at this point in our lives than ever before. Some of us may not yet realize it. Some of us may be frightened, tired, or confused.

And that’s OK.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Experiencing difficult circumstances doesn’t have to mean that we are doomed to lead dysfunctional lives or function unskillfully—in fact, quite the opposite. We can nurture resilience in the face of adversity and use difficult life circumstances to teach us to be even more resourceful, emotionally intelligent, and effective in all aspects of life. It’s exactly the kind of growth I help others achieve through the executive coaching partnership. In fact, I’ll take this opportunity to formally extend this invitation to you: if you’re reading this and realize you’re ready to find your own sense of resilience and learn how to skillfully use it to help yourself and your team grow, let’s talk. You stand to lose nothing, and to gain infinitely.