"I never fit inside the box they said was made for me."
This is the first line of a song I started a few years ago. I was working at the university level, wanting to make a change but struggling to take that next step. I never quite finished that song, but it speaks a truth that, for many years, has been difficult for me to reconcile.
From the outside, I seemed to have checked all the boxes and done what was expected of me - many years of graduate study and degrees, working in traditional jobs. But I'm someone who needs new challenges, who thrives when combining seemingly disparate ideas or approaches, who loves learning with and from others.
As soon as I start to feel stagnant - or, worse, not valued or challenged - in my current space, I look for ways to move on, to expand. Often, that means not continuing along the path that others expect for me. And I know that they might not understand, despite my best attempts to explain why. Those who do understand remain lifelong friends, confidantes, mentors and collaborators, even after my official role with them has ended. Because of Donna Ogle, Tim Dohrer, Yael Pulvermacher, Mary Klehr and so many others, I am still part of a village that nurtures, challenges and sustains me, even though my official work with them has ended. They all understand that I am at my best when I am:
Inspiring and supporting change efforts
Connecting with professional partners who inspire me to do better and be better
Creating and generating new ideas, tools and systems in partnership with others
This is why coaching feeds my mind, my heart and my soul. Every new partnership requires me to learn, to explore, to make connections. To try and understand individuals and teams, so they can find the best solutions to their own unique challenges and growth areas. I don't need to be the expert in a discrete field - I need to understand the bigger picture, how and why systems work the way they do, how to help individuals feel a sense of belonging and value. I need to know how to ask good questions, and I need to believe, genuinely, that my partners have the wisdom and experience to solve some of their most pressing challenges.
Stepping outside the box and into more coaching was certainly the right decision for me.