Artist: Hisla Bates, MD, Life Coach
Some years ago, approaching mid-career, I moved my family across the country to join a prestigious university. Although close to promotion at my current institution, I was offered a position as an Assistant Professor, with promises of rapid promotion given my past achievements and current career trajectory. I was thrilled, honored, excited to see where my career would lead, and trusted the promises that were made. Ten years later I left, still at the rank of Assistant Professor, suffering from depression, unsure of why I couldn’t succeed within the system and burned out. As the mother of three daughters, one destined for medical school, I looked deep inside and promised myself that for their sake the story would not end this way. The next part of the story might seem like a wishful daydream or even a fairy tale.
I went on to become an Associate Professor and was ultimately promoted to Professor. I conceived, helped write, and edited a textbook in my subspecialty. I became a physician wellbeing advocate and was appointed to national committees to work for system change. How could this be true??
I hadn’t changed my work ethic, my values, or my strong sense of individualism. One thing did change though, and that was my mindset. Having tried everything I could “within the system” without tangible results, I decided to take positive action on my own behalf. I set two new goals: to reach my potential and leave things better. I got a coach and determined that I would leave my mindset and negative self-imagery behind.
I first learned about coaching soon after leaving the prestigious university, when I became an Advisory Board member of a new Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Initiative (WELI) in my field, designed to help women achieve equity and academic promotion through using mentoring and coaching.
Curious about coaching after attending our first training workshop on coaching techniques, I began to think about getting my own coach. I investigated, asked questions, hesitated....and then committed. What did I have to lose? Over the next few months, one by one, my self-limiting beliefs were identified, examined, and left behind. Defining my potential no longer seemed like a limited proposition.
Why was coaching different?
Meditation, exercise, talks with supportive friends –all were helpful, but none had succeeded in changing my mindset and inner narrative until I got a coach. Developing a trusting, confidential relationship with someone who believed in me but who was also more than able and willing to call me on my own negative self-talk was unlike anything else I had experienced.
Rebuilding self-image and overcoming the inner critic is a long and arduous process with both forward motion and occasional backsliding. Through it all, my coach was there, cheering the victories, asking the tough questions when I felt stuck, and listening patiently.
Although firmly established in the business world and for elite athletes, coaching is still relatively new in medicine. The essence of coaching involves the creation of a trusting relationship, facilitating the coachee’s learning and development through inquiry, personal reflection, and discovery.
Unlike mentoring or sponsorship, coaching allows evaluation of the whole person, incorporating and exploring both personal and professional goals and encouraging learning on multiple levels.
Similarly, although difficult or sensitive issues may be discussed, coaching is distinct from therapy and should not be confused with it. Coaching allows for clarification of values, mission, and priorities and the acquisition of desired skills such as conflict management or negotiation.
According to Jenny Rogers, “The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between people’s potential and their current state.”1
That is exactly what happened for me.
Coaching can occur on an individual one-to-one basis or in group or team settings. Coaches may have a background in counseling or therapy, leadership, or may (like me) have had another career entirely!
We bring our diffuse backgrounds to this calling because it has shown us how to be happier and more successful human beings and we want to share that with others. Life is complex and full of transitions. Creating a vision of your ideal self and future and building a plan to achieve those goals restores a sense of autonomy and empowerment in a rapidly changing and volatile world. Find a coach. Reach your potential.
1. Rogers J. Coaching Skills: The Definitive Guide to Being a Coach, 4thedition. London, UK: McGraw Hill; 2016:7-10.