Sitting down to write, I am overcome with a deep sense of vulnerability as I decide to share my personal story. I know this feeling in my body is not unlike the discomfort that clients feel entering the coaching process. I am witness to the trepidation on people’s faces and aware of the fear that arises when one agrees to change, expand, and create success. Every day I am humbled by the willingness my clients exhibit and I am grateful for the trust they place in my hands to guide them on their journey. I stand on their shoulders today, drawing strength from their bravery.
It has been 14 months since I lost my husband, John Driscoll, to brain cancer. John was an amazing man, husband, and father and he spent 40 months battling glioblastoma multiforme, a horrible diagnosis of which there is no cure. For the last 15 months of John’s life, the tumor and treatments weakened him physically and caused him to lose his ability to communicate over time. I opted to leave full-time work to be his primary caretaker, his confidant, and emotional support while he worked through the physical, emotional, and spiritual experience of accepting his death. It was the most daunting, deliberate, and life changing experience I have ever had.
My husband died in August 2016, at the age of 44. The experience has been challenging at best, heartbreaking at worst. Along with the shattering of hopes and dreams, I have been left to be single-parent, emotional stability for 3, and the lifeline to the legacy of the one my boys lost. And while the responsibility can easily take my breath away, my role at home is clear and my dedication to my children unwavering.
The rest of my life, however, is less clear. I have struggled at times to understand myself after such a difficult experience. At times, I have been confused, struggling to understand “my place” in this new world. Everything has been forever changed; not just because of the loss, but because of the experience I had with John. Bearing witness to his death was primal and deeply spiritual. John chose to do everything he could to heal. This was ultimately a process to unfetter himself from fear and live his last few years with rigorous honesty and authenticity. John’s choice to love himself into death and to forgive himself to be with God was an honor that I can not describe….so how can I help others understand its impact on me?
This interpersonal quandary has often left me feeling alone and isolated, separate and unusual.
Returning to my private practice was initially difficult. However, most of my coaching clients had known me for years and everyone was very sensitive. It helped me, returning to work. I felt my purpose again. My work comes naturally to me, it is instinctive and intuitive and I love helping others. Going back to work helped me find my footing.
As 2016 came to a close, I knew it was time to to expand to broader pastures. I was ready to take my work to a larger audience outside the comfort of my home community. I was excited to return to my former employer in Boston. It was a unique opportunity and it allowed me to blend my Success Coaching, the tool of EFT, and my knowledge of recruiting and sales. I had a full tool box to share and I was thrilled to be with a company that I resonated with and respected. With Hollister Staffing, I was able to expand in a way that was aligned with my strengths and capacities and could also offer me an opportunity to keep my private life relatively private.
The new year rang in a considerably expanded coaching business. As I worked with new clients on their visions of success, there were times that I felt I was holding back. I knew there were examples from my own life that could assist clientele in moving past obstacles. When properly used in the coaching process, personal stories can be a useful tool to help bridge understanding and facilitate action.
I was hesitating. I feared I would distract clients with my narrative. I believed my story “too much” or that “people would feel bad for me.” Looking back, I realize this was my own fear of being vulnerable. I was afraid of the empathy that could enter our conversation. What if I lost control, or more aptly, what if I lost my shit? I was running from potentially awkward moments. I was avoiding my truth. I was exiling the parts of me that caused me pain. As I looked within, I knew I was holding back for the same reasons my clients were.
In order to create true success, we must be willing to accept both our strengths and our weaknesses. It is extremely beneficial in life to allow ourselves to be both challenged and excited, reaching goals and working on shortcomings, being both satisfied and unfulfilled. The beauty of embracing a “both/and” philosophy with ourselves is that it allows us to release the rigidity and judgement of dichotomous thinking. Right-versus-wrong mindset stifles growth and creativity, while a more open-minded one leads to greater inner peace and innovation.
In an “aha moment,” I noticed I was stuck in my own inflexible thinking “in order to protect myself.” Because of my grief, I could not welcome the “both/and” potential that existed beyond my sorrow. I had placed my experience with John under quarantine, rigidly holding it away from my work and life. I was apprehensive to share the meaning and value that living through John’s illness provided me. I witnessed, first hand, what is important when you are dying. This knowledge is the reason for living. It is the reason why I am upright...motivated to serve each day. Becoming aware of this self-imposed limitation, I had to ask myself: Why am I so afraid to share? Aren’t these lessons and examples precisely what is needed in the coaching process?
I knew there was only one way out. It was to commit to being truthful and share my experience if it would be conducive to the learning of my clients.
Now, there are times when I share an anecdotal story. There are other times when I share the pain of the experience of swift, uncontrolled change that ravages your life. I tell clients that I am here to embody the truth for them that we each have the resources to get through “it.” Mostly, I share the importance of what they are doing and how commendable it is to work on yourself as there is nothing that compares to loving yourself and moving beyond your fears. What matters is to take chances and to risk authenticity because this is the one life you get..and time is not guaranteed.
It has been several months since that first “aha” moment. Since that time, I have had the blessing to talk about John in a way that has helped others grow. Opening up in this way has also assisted in my own healing. I have integrated a more full self into the work I do; talking about my life, love and loss. I am embracing all aspects of myself. And so...I am both a widow and a success coach, I am both suffering and succeeding, I am both sad and I am joyful. As a result of my ability to hold all parts of myself, I am helping others do the same. To me, this is true success.
Gretchen Driscoll has dedicated the last 20 years to helping hundreds of individuals and corporate clients clarify goals and achieve success.
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