A few weeks ago, I attended a group (coaching) supervision session. At the end of the session, the supervisor pointed out that I frequently refer to myself as a ‘new’ coach, and she challenged me to drop the ‘new’ based on my two years’ experience.
My immediate (silent) reaction to this challenge was one of defensiveness: “I’m certainly new compared to all the other coaches in this group. And I don’t appreciate being called out in front of the others.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to change the trajectory of this unhelpful but natural reaction. I thought about the supervisor’s challenge, and observed that I only used this language when in company of other coaches. It was an armour giving me blanket protection in case I asked a stupid question or made a shallow observation in front of my peers. A couple of days prior to this session, I had heard a lecture about how disrupting ourselves means that we will make mistakes, the key is to not allow the shame we feel to make a comment on our identities. But I was so afraid of making mistakes that I either held back, or when I did contribute, I prefaced it with a remark on my relative lack of experience.
I likened myself to those new-joiners in companies that refer to themselves as ‘the new person’ a year into their roles, and blame their predecessors for problems well into their tenure. This is so widespread in some corporate cultures that years ago, when one of my team members resigned from his job, he joked that he was a placing a “six-month moratorium on blaming him for shit.” In my case, my predecessor was my previous career, and I sought to excuse myself from participation because I had been on a different path not long ago.
Being invited to join others at the table as a qualified member of the community with an equal and valid voice, felt intimidating. But of course, I accepted the challenge, because it is also exciting. It is actually liberating to think of myself as a coach amongst peers, one without apologetic or explanatory adjectives. I may be surrounded by those who have been at this for a longer period of time, but I realized that the concerns and emotions being raised by other coaches are not dissimilar to mine. There’s both humility and humanity in this profession that, in spite of accreditations and experience, makes and keeps us as one.
As for the idea of being challenged in front of peers, well, it was my decision to sign up for group supervision after all. You can’t go to the kitchen and not expect some heat.
Nobody loves receiving feedback. It’s uncomfortable and difficult to hear. While I value the importance of delivering feedback in a way that’s constructive and supportive, I realized that what’s more important to me is how I receive it and what meaning I attach to it.