Finding Your Voice, Biting Your Tongue (A letter to coaches)

Good coaches often give us excellent advice.
Bad coaches are ::always:: giving us good advice.
Exceptional coaches witness us and let silence do the real work.

Many of us have not yet learned the relational skill of sitting with our own discomfort. We are not practiced in trusting ourselves to provide value without knowing all the answers, to simply *be with* another human. We are not practiced in trusting our clients—or friends, or parents, or partners—to find the answers they need without us filling up the silence for them (or for ourselves).

Until we have done our work around voice, power, relational dynamics, and systemic oppression, until we can discern when to use our voices and when to allow others to use theirs, until we can be still in the discomfort and thick expectation of silence, we are doing our clients and our work a disservice.

I believe that a crucial part of doing our own work around voice and power is understanding how internalized white supremacy, patriarchy, and classism affect how we show up in our relationships with our clients. Understanding our own biases and beliefs about whose voices are worthy of being heard, who deserves and gets to exercise power, and what obstacles we and our clients face, both invisibly and materially, determines the degree to which we are able to serve with truth and integrity.

Let me be explicit here: it is abusive to pretend that intrinsic bias and systemic racism, classism, and sexism exist only “out there” beyond the containers of our coaching sessions, and then question or fault our clients when they fail to “manifest the lives of their dreams.” There is no integrity in telling someone that positive vibes and the law of attraction will singlehandedly liberate them from their personal circumstances and the very real discomforts of the human experience. But what if they did? What then?

What do we do when we have escaped the constraints of our origins, achieved our wildest material goals, and “bootstrapped” our way to our dream career, our dream spouse, our dream home, our dream title, only to find that our self-serving dreams did not bring us the fulfillment that can only truly be found in service to one another? That car, that contract, that vacation doesn’t mean anything when your best friend’s grandmother still can’t afford the surgery she needs, when the people you’ve elected to power still don’t care about police officers killing your neighbors’ children without accountability, when every woman you care about says, “me, too.” So you have manifested a charmed life. What then?

Our individual, material dreams are lonely as hell. We crave connection because it is the only cure for addiction, it is the only antidote for fear, it is the only thing that fills the void in our souls.

Coaches, until we address the truth of our profound interdependence on one another for the very meaning of our lives, we are teaching our clients to be limited by the illusion of personal freedom we ourselves have been taught, and we will all go on powerfully shouting over one another into the void, “I have found my voice! I have found my voice!”

Who and what do you need to be listening to right now?

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