One of the side benefits of working out in the morning is writing blog posts in my head. While the soundtrack in my brain is playing “shoulders back, chest up, abs/glutes/upper body tight, don’t shrug, don’t shrug, don’t shrug” as well as counting reps, some other section is mulling over various other things in my life and composing posts. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and emotions, presenting a wealth of blog fodder to process and work through. Family stuff (good), friend stuff (good and bad), work stuff (necessary, therefore mostly neutral); you know, life stuff. Sometimes it makes me hugely prolific in number of and verbose in writing my posts. Rambling and random are always components in this realm, but if you’ve been reading me for any length of time you are intimately familiar with that already. I feel the impulse to apologize, but I am restraining myself.
At last year’s Christmas party, our friend J was here with his squeeze of the month. She was an absolute doll, very sweet and eager to make a good impression on her newly crowned beloved’s closest faraway friends. We were chatting during the party and she said, very earnestly and with the big-eyed stare to match, that I was so good and so kind and so wise I should think about becoming a life coach.
Friend J was mid-swallow and for a second I was sure he was going to spray both of us with wine out his nose in surprised laughter. I gave him The Look and he swallowed it and turned away to hide his expression and to try and stifle his laughter. To his squeeze, I thanked her for her kindness and stated that I am not really capable of being kind and supportive on demand and for pay, nor am I wise enough to learn the skills necessary to connect those dots for that particular profession. Then I quickly changed the subject.
Every now and again I think about that conversation and smile. She is a sweet person and had she known me better, I believe she would have changed her opinion about me and my suitability for a career change.
Truth is I would be a disaster as a life coach.
I am actually a pretty open – ask me directly and I am more likely than not to tell you what I think or how I feel. Being unable to be real because someone is paying me by the hour to be their chief cheerleader and emotional supporter would be bad. Very bad. It is also entirely possible I have a poor understanding of what a life coach is actually supposed to do for someone, but it sounds distasteful to me. Like being a dental anything or a therapist of any stripe; I am ill-suited for the caring professions.
What brings this up today … I (well, technically M and I both) was unceremoniously dumped by a long-time friend and I am struggling a couple of other long friendships. I want to be a stand-up girl for all my friends, to be loving and caring and compassionate, but my patience and capacity for kind tenderness has its limits and at some point I begin wondering if I actually have a heart. I get that is unfair to me, because yes, I have empathy and compassion. What I lack, besides an endless well of patience, is a sense of social propriety that suggests I simply take one for the team friendship to keep the peace. Unfortunately I am not made that way.
Friend KJ is an emotional woman – she loves hard and is a passionate in her defense of her visions of truth, justice, and the American way. Before her marriage began to derail we had regular spirited conversations about all aspects of our lives and times. Unfortunately in the last 6 months (conservatively) those regular conversations have been escalating in bitterness toward her estranged spouse and present circumstances from the separation and pending divorce.
I understand she feels rejected, fat, unhappy, boring, depressed. Despite the urgings of her sons, daughters-in-laws, close friends, even her elderly parents, she has steadfastly refused professional help or therapy for these issues. She engages someone, attends a couple of appointments, then quits that person for various reasons. I gave her the benefit of the doubt on the first few therapists who were consulted briefly before termination. But after at least four “bad fit” situations, I start to question whether the problem is more with her and her expectations of or desire for help and support. Her denials are swift and uncompromising – they did not understand her issues and she could not work with them; they were women-haters and felt she should suck-up to H and give in to his demands; they were not supportive and on her side. I gave up asking about or suggesting therapy.
I thought perhaps exercise and working on her overall outlook. My reasoning – feel fat, try to drop some weight. Seems simple enough in theory, and believe me I know how difficult that is to accomplish in reality. While I tend to be an exercise loner – I prefer to go to the gym and practice on my own if I am not training with trainer J – I did offer to join her for walks or fitness classes or yoga. Her response: it’s too warm/cold/raining outside for walks and she needs to lose some weight before returning to the gym or going to a yoga studio. Pointing out that I am far from buff bunny status and I go to the gym (now) and yoga (then) regularly either fell upon deaf ears or was met with thoughtless and almost comical replies (i.e., no one looks at YOU, it doesn’t matter what YOU wear, YOUR wedding rings make you invisible (even though I never wear my rings to the gym or to yoga)). Big sigh from me and we are again moving on.
What about dieting, making changes there? I am a picky eater and hate to cook, but I would be willing to be accountability partners for new recipes, counting carbs and calories, even trying a sensible diet plan if that seems appropriate. No, she was too depressed to want to diet right now; she needs her comfort food.
Insert long-suffering sigh, followed by metaphorical throwing up of hands and greatly reduced availability for conversation. When she pressed and asked me why I was abandoning her, I was candid about my frustration that she would not work with a therapist, she was not interested trying in lifestyle changes to improve her mood and appearance, yet she expected me and any/all of her friends to be there with unconditional support and positive reinforcement of her pity party? Her rebuttals were emotional and rude – I am hard-hearted, unfeeling, unfair. I am happily married and have no idea how difficult it is to be divorcing and fat, unattractive, and 50-something. Only a very small portion of those assessments are true.
Is life really still this complicated in middle age? I remember having these discussions in high school and even in college/young adulthood, but we are both long past that time of our lives. Did I grow up and into a curmudgeon while others around me have bigger issues beyond my capability to perceive? It’s frustrating, and it seems to continually happen to me with female friends as their relationships fail. Maybe the common denominator in my (lately) mostly dysfunctional friendships is me?
I have watched her grow more bitter, contemptuous, and unhappy as the weeks and months passed, and truly I have tried my best to help. Depression is the consumer of joy and life, and I do not know how to deal with depression in its ongoing, untreated state. I wish I had better answers. I have tried to listen with compassion, be supportive, offer suggestions, help. When everything I throw out there is summarily shot down or described as inaccurate or that I simply do not understand, I can return to my own world feeling stupid or accept that I am powerless to help her help herself. And once I reach that point of acceptance, I am extraordinarily reluctant to step back into the fray. Continuing to listen, trying to offer new or even recycled ideas has been internally declared a waste of my time.
And it makes me feel kind of terrible. But at the same time, she does not want assistance or even a sympathetic ear. She wants a landfill for all her toxic emotional garbage. Sadly for me she is not the only woman I know in this state of emotional disarray.
This situation makes me hard on me; it turns my thinking into a cannibalistic parasite the chews through my hard-won self-esteem and turns on my insecurity about my level of good person-hood. My bestie suffers from depression and anxiety, and we have a pact to take turns with brain-melting crises so as to not overload the support system. I know others with problems – everyone has some level of issue and struggle – and they do not trigger my anxiety or insecurity in the same way.
So the problem cannot only be me, right?
What this all has to do with life coaching? I have no idea what people hiring life coaches are like or why they believe they need that sort of consultancy. At first I thought it might be like personal training, that the life coach is there to teach skills missing in the client’s experience portfolio and once added and practiced regularly would yield definable results. Maybe it is something more ethereal that cannot be pinpointed with mere words, it must have feelings and desires and emotions added to make it successful. Which could be why my first instinct it to laugh at the idea of me as anyone’s life coach. I tend to deal in hard facts and figures, tested and mapped consequences to my actions and ideas.
I am not so naive to believe it is possible to be 100% happy 100% of the time, and my idea of happy-happy-joy-joy is unique to me. I can be a tireless support of your best efforts to achieve your dreams, even if they are not dreams I actually can get fully behind and support. There was a time when my daughter thought she wanted to be an actress. While I privately thought it was a poor fit for her personality type, I love her dearly and at that time I wanted her to have a realistic picture of what it would take to achieve the degree of success she imagined. A summer of volunteering at local community theater and interactions with professional actors was enough to make her abandon that as a career pursuit yet keep working in theater as a hobby.
I want everyone to be happy and content with their lives, yet to accept the role of personal responsibility in achieving a contented state. Being in love is a wonderful thing, but both parties being realistic about who you are and what you want from life is probably at least as important to make a romantic partnership work. I suppose my sympathy and support when relationships end comes with a hard edge of unwelcome realism. I’m working on it. Maybe the difference between me and a life coach is they have personalities and training in ways of motivating clients to accept the practical realities of life.
I may need to adopt some new friends with better attitudes toward their issues. Or somehow get a better handle on my own.