Your Stake in the World: Write a College Essay that Communicates What Matters to You.

When I was in school learning about the coaching paradigm and how different it was from my worldview as a clinical social worker, it changed my life in so many ways. By and large, I shifted from “you are broken and I am here to fix you,” to “you are perfect exactly where you are, and there is always room for growth; what do you want?” My agenda does not run the relationship; rather, the client’s curiosity does. My job is to ask questions that open neural pathways of possibility for clients and to support them to move into action between our sessions. I do this with employees, managers, parents, millennials, and teenagers. 

During my training, I found I had a longing to bring coaching to young people. How different could this world be if students had an opportunity to explore who they are and then learned to leverage those innate talents and strengths 

to shift how they show up in the world? How significant could it be, if, one student at a time, we went from “I have no idea what I want,” to “I know who I am and what will support me to create what I want (even if I don’t know what that looks like right now).” By using students’ real world experience in school, at home, on teams, with affiliations, or at work as the playground for learning, with coaching as the catalyst, we throw a pebble in a pond and watch the whole pond change.

I was working with a 9th grade student who, after some coaching, noticed that the classes where he had the highest grades, were also the classes where he could identify an ally.  He learned that he needed some level of comfort before he could be uncomfortable enough to be seen by the teacher. Learning requires some level of vulnerability. It requires risk. Not only did our work uncover that, once he discovered how it played out, he was motivated to get in the sandbox and play with it.  He came up with a system that started with how he unpacked his bag in class and made eye contact with the teacher. It involved lots of experimenting with putting up his hand in class, whether he wanted to, or not. He would return to our zoom calls every other week, engaging with me in a different way, as well. I could tell things were shifting, but more importantly, he could, too. His mother called me to ask what we were doing together because she had noticed a difference in their home. He started to feel success and he understood that he could actually have an impact, not just in school, but in other areas of his life, as well. What started with “my teacher hates me,” ended with, “I need an ally to feel comfortable, but I can influence who I see as my allies.”

In thinking about this young man in 9th grade, I know that he already has a moment to reflect on to write his college essay. What?? You don’t have to have a ginormous leadership project? You don’t have to be an Eagle Scout? You don’t have to form a non-profit or even be a candy striper at the hospital? The short answer is, “No.” I have spent the last several years picking the brains of high school counselors, college admissions counselors, and folks who are certified to guide students through the college process in the private sector. Guess what? Everyone gives the same advice: to highlight something that communicates who you are. Most would agree, too, that the focus is on the student, not the thing. When a student writes a great (not fancy, which is another blog post!) essay about who they are, they are far more likely to differentiate themselves from the crowd of other applicants.

My 9th grade student could write about how he took his notebook out of his backpack and made eye contact, and what those moments in time taught him about intentionally engaging with other people. He could even marvel at a world where people did this on a regular basis. The admissions committees would learn that he is curious about himself, is willing to take risks in service of his own growth, and that he cares about what connects people with one another. 

Essays are about communicating what a student’s stake is in this world. It is exciting work and when we let students guide the process and we support their agenda, they do a fantastic job at doing just that.

The Enlightened Summer

If you could see me now. Well, thanks to modern technology, you actually can. And I’ll attach a few more pictures, too. Why on earth should anyone care about seeing pictures of me? Well, it starts with me, right? Leadership starts with the one practicing leadership. I am a coach, coaching leaders, students, young adults…..for the most part in designing their futures and in facilitating the growth of those around them. I sat down today in my “office of the day” and felt compelled to share what I’ve learned this summer about designing my life with the intention of feeling happy more often. And its only July. Can’t wait to see what else I get to learn this summer!

First and foremost, it starts with me. My coaching is so much more effective if I am leading from a place of practice. I need to wholeheartedly believe that transformation is possible, that like me, while my clients are perfect exactly as they are, there is always room for growth. I am ineffective if I am not doing all I can to live authentically, to operate from a place of choice, and to take responsibility for all that I want. From this place, I am prepared to hold the space for others while they do the same. My work with others continually reinforces this for me – I get to look at what holds me back, where I lean into my strengths, and how my perspective towards a situation, which I alone choose, can completely alter the course of that situation. The leaders I coach have shown me time and time again, the difference between a perspective of “It can’t happen,” and “It can’t happen yet.” Our work together reminds me to practice these principals in my own life, first and foremost for my own benefit, but clearly to shift my impact in the world, as well. So in setting my intention to have a more conscious awareness of feeling happy, I also hold the belief that it is, without question, possible for me.

Q: What challenges are your direct reports, your coworkers, your partner or your children calling you forth to look at in yourself?

Quincy Market, Boston

Something is always possible. I could have said, “no”. I could have said, “I’m too busy.” I could have stopped scheduling clients for the summer. I could have said, “I can’t.” All of which would have been ok. Truly. And all would have been honest responses. But if I have things I want in this life {read: a more conscious feeling of happiness}, I need to look at what I am willing to work for. I need to look at what my personal responsibility is towards moving in that direction. When it feels like there are so many things, seemingly outside of my control, keeping me from working towards an intention or goal (in my case, it is generally a pull of desire to put both feet into my home life and both feet into my work life except that I only have two feet, as well as a magnetic pull towards blaming others for any dissatisfaction I feel), I need to hold a belief that possibilities always exist; even the ones I did not know existed. From time to time, I coach someone who says, “Well, I couldn’t {insert whatever action they designed from our last session} because {insert whatever got in the way}.” Examples of this have included “look for a job because my internet was down,” “reach out to that client because I didn’t want to bother them over the holiday week,” and “talk to my boss because she has been working from home and has not been to the office.” So I ask, “What would have to happen for you to be able to say, “I did my best to… {insert the action they designed}. Inevitably, the client comes up with something that they could have taken responsibility for. In these three examples, the responses were, “gone to the library or used my phone,” “cut through my own BS and been honest with myself that I wasn’t calling because the call was causing me angst,” and “called my boss and asked to talk on the phone or at least made an appointment,” respectively. When they felt stuck, they stopped moving but when prompted, all three easily came up with something else they could have done. Maybe conscious happiness can’t be my primary emotion 100% of the time, but where can I take responsibility to create it to improve on my current percentage?

Q: What would change in your life if, at the end of each day, you were able to say, “Today I did my best to {insert the action you’ve designed for yourself},”?

When I clear away the noise, what I want is often within reach. So this brings me to today. My epiphany. I sat down, on the second floor of Faneuil Hall, computer and work bag in hand, and looked around me. I couldn’t believe, that for the second time in one week, I was breath-taken with the beauty of my “office”. My daughter and her friend were doing some shopping and I had work to do. Writing this blog was not the work I had to do but I could not help myself. Suddenly, sharing this with you felt imminently important. Not long ago, I would have been angry at myself and the world for having to choose between taking these girls into Boston and getting my work done. I would have made up a story about how hard my life is and how unfair it is and the self pity would have taken me directly to the refrigerator or to my bed, or worse, to raging about all of the demands put on me. My daughter would have felt awful for causing my tantrum, the mood of the house would have changed, and I would have felt self-righteous and then, if I was lucky, much later I would have been able to see the error of my ways…which would have only led to shame. When I think back on this past year, I realize that when faced with what could be a conflict, before I head to the proverbial cheesecake or 100 year slumber, I have learned to do a quick inventory of the situation. I get honest. I clear the noise of self-pity or resentment or “I’m too busy” and say, “What is possible here?” I put space between my feeling and my reaction. And from here, I get to fully enjoy both my work and my home. I get to joyfully choose the direction I take. And I get to take full responsibility for that choice.

Q: What becomes possible when you put a tiny bit of space between your initial thought and what you actually say out loud?

oceanside

Just last night I met someone who, while lovely, was clearly skeptical of life coaching. She learned I was a coach and started asking questions about my practice and the people I coach. She offered up her belief that coaching is just a fad and went on to say, “Work is work for a reason. No one cares if you are happy or not.” As you can imagine, there were several thoughts that came to my mind, but what I said was, “What if it is possible to have both?”

Maybe that is what ignited my thinking today. I never want to be limited by a belief that the social norms don’t allow for me to get what I want in whatever area of my life I feel called to work. This summer, I’ve been called to work on my own life satisfaction {read: happiness}. Happiness is not an emotion reserved for someone else. I don’t so much care if you care if I am happy. I do care if I am happy. And I would argue that those who interact with me care if I’m happy {see #3 above}. My happiness has a ripple effect on those who live with me, those who are close to me, and maybe even those with whom I work. With this ripple effect as a backdrop, I hold a belief that the world would be a better place if more people spent more time (work, home, recreational, etc.) feeling happy. And for today, I’ll hold the possibility for the lovely woman I met last night.