For the past 20 minutes, I have been trying to write a biography. As someone who is rarely at a loss for words (they aren’t always the right ones, but I have plenty) it’s unusual to just have nothing to say. For me, this kind of writing (along with resumes) is unbelievably difficult; I mean, there’s just so many questions: How much personality does one show? How much do you crow about how (seemingly) delightful you are? How much do you pretend you are more of an adult than you actually are?
Recently, we coached a client who had forgotten how wonderful she is. At the beginning of our visit, she was mired in self-doubt, unsure of her value and unable to see a way forward. After listening to her share how she has come to feel so confused, Kerri and I set about to restore equilibrium. No matter what the voice of self-doubt tells her, she isn’t a screw up; she isn’t without options and she isn’t going to be stuck in this situation forever.
The truth is, she’s smart. At times, a little too much so for her own good. She’s beautiful -startingly so, really and she’s competent; at a level that’s almost without equal. Circumstances have transpired to make her think things that aren’t true and she, like the rest of us, can get to a place of confusion that makes her believe things will never change. But they will. Both Kerri and I know it and sometimes our job is to help the client know it.
Another truth is, there are amazing things about everyone. Pockets of excellence, fascinating experiences and a treasure trove of good stuff waiting to be discovered. Everyone has moments where they feel like a fraud and they don’t remember the good about themselves. That’s the point where community is so valuable. We all need people to remind us of the good stuff. We need others to see when we become blinded by fear, stress and doubt.
So, how can you help someone who is feeling stuck in their own story?
1. First and foremost, be patient; this happens to everyone. Today it’s them, but tomorrow it might be you that feels this way and needs this support.
2. Listen closely to what they are saying. What points might have a kernel of truth to them (“It feels like my colleagues are minimizing my efforts”) and which ones are just plain wrong (“I’m just a complete failure and things will never change”)?
3. Help correct wrong thinking. “It sounds like you read a lot of negative emotion in their email, what if they actually meant it this way…?”)
4. Review their resume. Well, not literally, but remind them of all the victories they have had and all the good you see in them. Note: It might be necessary to do a couple of rounds of this, depending on how self-critical they are feeling. Sometimes this will be enough to help them get their feet on solid ground, but if not, move to the next step.
5. If appropriate, help them determine what their next step is. It’s crucial to not let them end on platitudes, like “I just need to do better…” or “I guess things will work out.” Get their eyes affixed on a next right step; one that is easy enough they can accomplish it and meaningful enough it will move things forward for them.
6. Hold them accountable for the step they commit to. It can be easy to slip back into the space of negativity and knowing someone will be (lovingly) checking up can encourage progress.
7. Follow through and follow up.
8. Celebrate success when they take the next step and move forward. You don’t literally have to throw a party (unless you want to and then please invite us!) but be sure to affirm their progress and be excited as they move forward.
Whether it’s an employee, a family member or other associate, someone in your life will need you and this process; it’s only a matter of time.
So, what about the client I mentioned earlier in this post? By the time we finished our visit, she was feeling much better and remembered that her whole life has been one of overcoming adversity. She’s done it before and knows she can do it again. Like the phoenix, she will rise.
And me? Well, I’m off to write that biography. I think I now know what to say…