Our Career Journey Series

Our Career Journey: Unpacking Baggage, Learning Self-Worth and Getting Some Clarity

“What set Michelle apart, was her ability to view my “baggage” as assets. “

A client shares her experience with coaching. Part 2 of 4.

No one enters a relationship with a career coach as a blank slate. To me, what set Michelle apart, was her ability to view my “baggage” as assets. To Michelle, what I carried into our work were simply strengths that needed sorting through.

What do you know? A question I would frequently hear her ask on our zoom conferences. I knew I was frustrated, tired and exasperated with my current situation, but with Michelle’s prompting, I dug deeper

Why? She would ask, about the conclusions I came to. 

These “whys” were empowering. I came to realize what types of people I enjoyed working with, and those that I did not. What types of roles I excelled at, and those that weren’t the right fit. What environments I could thrive in, and those that I’d prefer to avoid.

The more difficult lesson, at least for me, was that those particular people, roles and environments were not necessarily flawed, nor was I, for not being compatible.

Over time, I was slowly able to unpack the resentment that was draining my energy, and repack my bags with the tools I needed for a deepening understanding of myself. 

With this understanding came excitement! What could I offer in the situations I chose to explore?

Derek had a similar experience unpacking, and overcoming roadblocks along the way.

“I’ve done a variety of jobs since graduating from college,” he explained. “I’ve worked as a sports announcer, a freelance journalist, a writer, a strategic consultant, and a team manager. When I started working with Michelle a year ago, I wanted to become a better writer and storyteller. We’ve dug through a lot of baggage I carried from previous work environments.”

I think it may sound easier said than done, or too good to be true until you’ve experienced Michelle’s process first-hand.

A challenge that Derek and I have in common is finding ways to be self-compassionate in our lives. As writers, we’ve both found that self-compassion can open the door to creativity.

Michelle’s techniques often involve visuals that conjure up these strengths. When I would try to justify a self-critical narrative, she asked me to give it its own, separate entity, so that we could confront it head-on.

Sounds weird, right? But it made sense when she explained how this critical inner voice, often out-of-touch with reality, should not have dictatorship over my life. I named my critical voice Janet, and Derek calls his “The Professor.” 

“(The Professor) tries to turn everything into an analytical argument,” explained Derek. “Good stories rely on emotional reactions, so I can’t tell good stories when I listen to the Professor. Michelle suggested that I start having written conversations with the professor before I begin writing. This is still a huge hurdle, but Michelle’s guidance has allowed me to make tremendous strides as a writer.”

As the three of us set out on our journeys in self-discovery, reframing negative aspects of past work environments posed a challenge. Alexandra describes the way in which Michelle supported her trek as having provided an “objective voice.” Listen, though, to the positive framing Alexandra now takes on her own when describing the issues she faces in a challenging workplace.

“I am currently in a state of transition. I am at a job that does not fit who I am both professionally and personally, so I am seeking something that will bring new experiences,” she explained. “I value efficiency, transparency and a mission-focused office environment. I know as a professional I take pride in great work and often try to go above and beyond in my tasks. I have recently noticed how important being around other passionate and hardworking people is necessary for me to be my best professional self. I appreciate thoroughness and value an office where co-workers understand individual responsibilities, but are team players.”

Acknowledging a poor work-environment fit, while not letting it deplete one’s self worth is challenging. The three of us were lucky to have a coach who provided a safe space to continuously try out new aspects of our ever-evolving selves. 

In committing to this exploration, I felt empowered in that Michelle met me where I was at every session, without presumptions or pressure. This type of allowance cultivated opportunities for deep recognition and exploration of my strengths.

Alexandra felt similar opportunities arise while working with her coach.

“When I first began working with Michelle, I knew I was in a state of transition but was not sure what kind of changes I needed or wanted. My goal was to develop goals and to better understand myself as a professional. I had only had negative experiences in the workplace and wanted to both learn from and prevent these occurrences.”

In my experience, there has never been a session where Michelle allowed me to retain the perspective of a situation being out of my control. That’s not to say that the situations had to be “fixed.” Just acknowledged and understood. 

Alexandra exemplifies this lesson.

“During my time striving to these goals, I really could see myself growing toward this image of who I would be as my best self,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself and how I show up. I experienced a sense of clarity that allowed me to see myself as a true decision-maker in these upcoming transitions… I have gained a clear idea of myself and what I want.”

Michelle has diverse and creative ways of introducing her clients to new perspectives.

“Michelle has given me great visuals of “being on the riverbank” and the “jar of marbles,” explained Alexandra. “I often evaluate my thoughts and situations by using those visuals. It’s definitely something I keep in my toolbox. I have honest conversations with Michelle and that has made me what to show up as the person more often. I have learned to be less judgmental because someone has showed up for me that way.”

For me, Michelle has been a vessel for absorbing resources I need to be most successful. They may be tools I’ve never heard of, like specific books or podcasts, connections with professionals or meditations and visualizations. Many times the resources were already available to me, but I was unwilling to try them until she presented them in a way that was tailored to my situation.

During my own journey, I have never left a meeting with Michelle in a state of frustration or confusion. Her commitment to leaving no stone unturned constantly inspires and motivates me, and leaves me feeling confident and prepared for the tasks ahead.

As Derek puts it, “Michelle’s focus on self-compassion within her practice has helped me transform not only the way I write, but also how I deal with life’s challenges. When we started talking about self-compassion, I was in a really draining job and needed the perspective the practice provides. She’s provided coaching and homework that’s allowed me to expand my self-compassion. I’m so thankful that this is part of her coaching because it allows for a healing space when tackling hard personal challenges.”

Addressing every obstacle as an opportunity for empowerment is what made the difference in recognizing my potential. It’s difficult to put into words the way in which my life was transformed in the first few months while working with Michelle. 

All I can say is that I continuously asked this question: Why hadn’t I ever seen these positive traits in myself before? My answer, as of late, has been that I was afraid of my own potential. With Michelle’s help, I continue to conquer this fear. 

Check out my next post in this series, where I describe the ways in which Derek, Alexandra and I discover that through empowerment, we have been able to develop confidence and apply it towards goals we never expected to achieve.

The author of this blog series, Haley Van Bellingham, is a writer and editor who curates content that highlights the unique nature of businesses and their services. Get in contact through her LinkedIn 

Thumbnail photo by STIL on Unsplash