While I work with a psychiatrist and psychotherapist help me to untangle my Jerk Brain, I’m also working with an executive coach who is helping me to understand my mind better. My coach, Ed (not his real name), and I speak over the phone for an hour about once a month, during which time he, with his characteristic blend of charm and erudition, comes up with incisive questions and challenges that force me to abandon my comfortable myths about myself and my place in the world. Generally, these prompts on his part are followed by intellectual and emotional squirming on mine when I realize that he’s right about whatever it is he’s saying. Sometimes, I swear I can hear him munching on popcorn in the background while I twist myself into Gordian knots trying to refute whatever truth he has led me to confront. Eventually, I give up, because it’s real. Gleeful is the best word with which to describe his typical reaction to my surrender.
Last Friday, Ed concluded our session by issuing me another of his infamous homework assignments, which he repackages as “challenges” to appeal to my natural stubbornness and tenacity. After a wide-ranging conversation that touched on subjects like my terminal case of impostor syndrome, fears that nothing I do matters, my lack of purpose, and the belief that the work at which I excel and enjoy most I’ll never have a chance to do professionally, Ed returned to the question with which he began our session. “What would the people who know you best say that you need to be coached on today?” he asked. My answer was the same as the one I gave 55 minutes earlier, “I don’t know.”
There are hundreds of people who know the personas I have cultivated, the images I have carefully constructed and managed, but none of them, on their own, represent the whole of me. There are far fewer who have seen all of the pieces, especially the ones I consider ugly, together. The person who should know me best, me, hasn’t got the faintest clue about who I really am. If I don’t even know myself, how can anyone else know me?
Ed’s prescription was this blog post. If I was willing, he said, he wanted me to put out into the world a description of the type of people I want in my life, because, in his estimation, who I want to associate with is a direct reflection of who I am becoming. He used the word becoming intentionally, drawing on the definition Michelle Obama presented in her autobiography. “Becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end,” she wrote. Ed was quick to note that this exercise does not imply that the people in my life currently are the wrong ones. That’s not the point of this essay. By describing the kind of people with whom I want to associate, I will uncover the person I want to become.
As I think about Ed’s directive, I find myself listing the traits, characteristics, attributes, and qualities of the people already in my life. I’m surrounded by passionate creatives, deep thinkers, and empathetic souls. My tribe are curious, collaborative, and adventurous. They try and get back up when they fail. They persevere and persist. They’re also funny, witty, and idiosyncratic.
If I’m tracking with Ed’s intention, it’s that I will look at the description above and realize that I’m already talking about myself. The sticking point, though, is that I don’t see myself this way, at least not consistently. Perfection is the enemy of becoming and I am highly susceptible to perfectionism. Perhaps that is the lesson here. Rather than pursue an impossible standard, I should focus on the process. The act of becoming is, itself, an act of hope.