My Year of Discernment (AKA why I side-hustle)

best of discernment personal growth thriving Feb 24, 2021

We’ve been spending our time here on Press Release, digging into the question of the month, musing on time spent as a reflection of our values, and learning how to be a star not a blob. But I want to pause on all of that for a minute and answer the question I get asked most frequently these days—why did I pursue coaching…as a side project…in the middle of a pandemic?  Fair enough dear reader, I shall tell you the tale.

Picture if you will a woman in her late 30’s, an artist/scholar who makes and teaches theatre for a living, and who has loved every moment of her educational and career journey. But then somewhat out of the blue, an opportunity to do something different presents itself, and it catches her eye and her imagination. "Don’t be a fool" her inner critic starts screaming, "No one leaves their dream job. Don’t be selfish. Don’t be stupid."

But the opportunity that presented itself was super low risk—if it didn’t work out, she could return to her dream job. And in the meantime, she’d get to stretch her wings, and see if the skill-set she had developed in her artistic training and practice would apply in another context. And best, of all, she would get to lead, to be "in the room where it happens" (or where some of it happens anyway). She would get to do challenging work for an organization that she loved.  She would get to grow.

Lucky girl, right? So she takes the leap. She embraces all of the challenges of the new position, works the late hours, volunteers for projects, shows up and asks questions and offers insight. She learns to use her voice in powerful new ways and makes huge strides in overcoming her aversion to conflict. She learns to take the punch, to negotiate, and to hold the line. She discovers that her background has given her a lot of advantages—she understands people and their motivations, she can read the room, she can use story to help people learn and to be persuasive, and she has a lot of emotional intelligence that guides her in difficult conversations. Nonetheless, the learning curve is steep, but she loves to learn and grow. And so, long story short, she thrives.

But that thriving triggers some fear, and it isn’t long until she hears an old familiar nagging voice. “What now?” her inner critic sneers. "This position ends after six years. You don’t want to go back, but you are ill-prepared to go forward. Your options are limited, and the competition will be steep. You had better get ready. You need to figure out the destination so that you can plot your course. And you need to do it now.”

So the woman declares that the 2019-2020 academic year will be the Year of Discernment (trademark Brooke Kiener Coaching). She hires a career coach. She is accepted to a senior leadership academy. She buys a bunch of books. She signs up for online courses. Nine months go by, and she is doggedly pursuing what she thinks will be a successful path toward climbing the higher ed ladder. She has her sights set on the top because she loves this industry and her mentors affirm her ambitions. There’s a less familiar voice that tries to raise some “thriving red flags”, but she confuses those signals with the voice of self-doubt and reassures herself that she can work hard enough to be successful at the top and that she doesn’t need to be afraid. She conflates success with fulfillment.

And then, the entire world comes to a screeching halt, and almost overnight, everything looks and feels different. And while life around the globe is saturated with anxiety, and grief, and fear, and loneliness, there is also an opening. There is quiet. There is space that can’t be filled with activity. And it is in this space that the woman finds a guide who transforms everything about her life. She finds coaching. Not, “a coach,” but “coaching” as a way of thinking, a way of being, and a way of serving. Coaching taught the woman how to dig beneath the surface of her emotions and behaviors to see the limiting beliefs that wriggled like worms in the dark beneath a large rock. Coaching taught her to lift up that rock, have the courage to face what was underneath, and trust herself to manage what she found there.

Her Year of Discernment comes to an end with little fanfare. There is no clear solution to the question of “what’s next”, but there is so much clarity about who she is, what she values, what her strengths are, and the kind of impact that she wants to have in the world, that she kind of forgets to fret about “what’s next.” She feels like she has an inner compass that she can trust to point her in the right direction, no matter what. She knows now that fulfillment is not in the job, the career, or the destination. Fulfillment is available every moment of every day, and it’s not as hard to find as she once thought it was.

And so, the woman does what she has always done. She decides she wants to teach others what she has learned.  She completes a coach training program and she turns her journey into a curriculum. She builds a bunch of programs and invites everyone she knows. She has no idea how to run a business, how to market, how to build a website. But she has a blast figuring it all out. And the experience of seeing others tune their inner compasses so they can navigate life while finding everyday fulfillment is so immensely satisfying that she finds herself writing her story in the third person, just to get the word out about her course, Wandering and Wayfinding, one more time, before registration closes next Monday (March1).

And that, dear reader, is why I side-hustle.

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