Looking back at 2016

 Photography: Monique Buchanan

Photography: Monique Buchanan

As promised, here is my year review of 2016. First some great moments, then some not so great moments, and finally lessons I learned from this year. 

Great moments of the year

Certified as a coach
In January, April and September I spent a long weekend (4 days each) at the New Ventures West life coaching class in Arlington, VA. We call it the PCC, which is the Professional Coaching Course offered by NVW. I learned about the Integral Coaching methodology, the reasons behind it, and practiced with my fellow classmates. We also bonded over lunches and dinners and sharing our stories in class. Twenty people became so very close; we cried buckets on our last day, September 25th. With my coaching certification in hand, I felt so proud, on top of the world, in the exact place I wanted to be, with a brand new future ahead of me. I am determined to make this my profession, to live the life of a coach and to help women like me to find their passion in life and live what I call a wild-hearted life, full-out and using every gift they already have inside of them.

Coaching clients
I was so excited when I got 7 great life coaching clients in January after I put out the word that I was offering free sessions in order to qualify for certification as part of the PCC. Five clients stayed and I am so, so grateful for them. I have a long way to go as a coach, but now I know I AM a coach. I have made an impact, whether small or large. I loved the experience of coaching. I have begun to relate to people in a much different way. I am listening more closely, feeling more empathy, and finding I can connect with people much more deeply when I slow down and allow myself to be present. It was also a challenge for me personally. I put in long days, often came home late, taking the bus into work rather than the train, so I could stay after hours (the train didn’t run after 6pm). But I gladly did it. I am very proud of myself for sticking it out for 10 sessions with each client, on top of a full-time job and stressful situation at work.

Learning public speaking
In March I signed up for Toastmasters, the public speaking group, to hone my speaking skills. I love the group we have in Exeter and am so grateful to have learned about it from two women who had joined a coaching circle I was also part of. In Toastmasters, I get heaps of support from fellow members, and have plenty of opportunities to work on different communication and leadership skills. I know this is something I will stick with. I have only given one speech so far, but my plan is to give at least 4 speeches this coming year, and perhaps move beyond my comfort zone by speaking at one of the area contests.

Leaving my job after 10 years
In August I left MIT. It was not my choice, but looking at the situation over many years, it was my choice, too. I knew I hadn’t been happy there for a long time, and although the reorganization of the department I worked for seemed to provide a new opportunity, I was holding on to something that in the end wasn’t the right fit for me. They didn’t feel it and I was definitely not feeling it. So it’s good I got the boot. It set me in the direction I had already started, which was life coaching and being self-employed. I also was able to eliminate a 4-hour-per-day commute, which was taking its toll on me. There’s more to say, but I will list these under the section of “what didn’t go so well.”

My writing group
This year, my friend Jeanette LeBlanc brought back to life her amazing writing course, this time in a 30-day version, called 30 Questions in 30 Days. I joined both the Spring and Summer sessions. I love this course, because I get to join a group of smart, talented, wild-hearted women who are amazingly supportive, loving, and generous. I also get to write, of course, and share my writing with the group. While I didn’t do as much writing as the course suggests we do, I needed the group as an additional emotional support while going through some pretty tough times this year.

What didn’t go so well this year

Challenges on the job
If you ever have to go through a 6-month performance improvement plan at work, I feel for you, because that’s the experience I had at MIT. I can tell you: nothing stresses you out more than knowing that every move you make is being evaluated and reviewed, or being measured against standards that you have no say in and likely don’t even know what they are, or knowing that whether or not you have the experience and skill set for the position, you will most likely fail their review because a performance improvement plan, or PIP, is essentially the last step they take before termination. I have a pretty big hunch why I got booted and I know it wasn’t due to my performance. But that’s hard to prove, so I’ll just leave it at that.

In the end I was at MIT almost a year longer than I expected, even if it was a very unhappy one. It helped get me through my coach training program. I also saved up enough funds to not worry too much about having to earn an income right away after losing my job. It’s some comfort, too, that none of my colleagues (that I know of) agreed on the choice of letting me go. So I see that as a win.

I’m also glad they put me through so much stress, because, although it landed me in the Emergency Room with severe stomach issues, and created a living hell for me for almost 6 months, I came out stronger. They beat me down and I stood up and left with dignity. It’s also very true that I wanted out. I couldn’t quit, so I had to let it come to a head and swallow my pride and bite my tongue and say thanks every time they knocked me down.

In the end, I am grateful to no longer be at MIT. It’s a great institution and I have nothing bad to say about the school itself. What I’m grateful for is what I am able to do, now that I’m no longer tethered there. I gained back my time, my sanity and my happiness by being in the place I want to be: home in Exeter, NH. Now I have more time with my husband and step-kids. More time for myself. I get to experience what it’s actually like to live within a decent community. I am free!

Health worries
Another black cloud this year was that in September my dear husband James had to go through surgery again to remove another spot of cancer. He’d gone through a similar experience three years earlier, right before we got married. It was the reason why we got married in January 2014 rather than August, like we’d wanted (although we still celebrated with a big party that summer). The timing of this year’s cancer scare couldn’t have been worse. In fact, he got the news about possible cancer in his lung a few days before I lost my job. Our biggest concern was health insurance, and our only sensible choice was COBRA, so that’s what we did. He came out of the surgery all clear and has been clear since. It was a very small node in his lung and a small out-patient surgery took care of it. Still, we need to keep on our toes about this. Worries about health insurance going forward remain, especially since the Trump administration has clearly said it will get rid of nationalized healthcare.

Lessons I learned

Find work in a place that supports who you are, 100%.
I have made a decision that I will never again work for an organization that doesn’t value the same things I value. I’d rather be poor and living off welfare than to be at an organization where people are not valued as people. Where honest and clear communication and trust is not a value. Where people are expendable and where their talents and potential aren’t appreciated. Where those in power don’t listen but talk down to you and then expect loyalty.

Always be you. You are enough.
When I was going through my coach certification weekend in September, I had one of the worst cases of anxiety I’d ever had. I truly thought I didn’t know what I was doing. But then something clicked in my head: Just be you. It is enough. That’s all you can be. I often forget this and find myself struggling with performativity and worry of measuring up to some invisible standard. But then I get reminded again. It’s what gets me through each time. Stop comparing yourself to others because there is no comparison. There is no one exactly like you. So it doesn’t make sense to compare and think you’re not enough. You are. Just be you.

Stop looking outside yourself for the answers.
This one ties in with the one above, and it’s something that I also still struggle with. When I don’t feel I am enough, when I don’t think I have what it takes or that I measure up to some invisible standard, I begin looking for the answers outside myself. I ask: what do others know and figured out that I have somehow overlooked? I put all my trust into them and forget to put trust in myself. I had an amazing session with Kimberly Hunter, who does Shadow Sessions, and she trusted me and when I trusted myself too, I found the answers within myself. This is something I feel so strongly about in my coaching work, too. The client has all the answers, they’ve just been looking at the world in a way that doesn’t allow them to see those answers. They’ve lost connection to themselves and the wise woman already inside them. I began throwing away and unsubscribing from many email newsletters this year, but I have a ways to go. I still seek knowledge outside myself and there’s nothing essentially wrong with that. I think it’s good that I seek it. But not at the cost of forgetting about my own inherent knowledge.

Don’t play small
The quote by Marianne Williamson is one that keeps coming back to me. I need to post in on my wall where I can see it every day:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Whenever I doubt myself, whenever I think that I am not worthy, I dim my light. I don’t sing my song. I dull my glory.

It doesn’t help. In fact, it hurts the world. I can’t help the coaching clients I need to if I don’t step into my brilliance. So I’m depriving them of an opportunity to experience a life change. This is true for all of us.

My PCC coaching instructors invited me to “Dance through the doorway of my huge magnificence.” They suggested that 2016 could be the year of me “Shouting from the mountain tops.” Those are bold moves. That’s a life that I dream of. While I don’t think I fully accepted the challenge, I am moving closer and closer to that dream. There’s a song inside me that I have silenced. There is an stage actor that is hanging out in the wings. There is a dancer who is refusing to learn the dance steps and show her moves. There is a bird that won’t spread her wings and take flight. I’m fighting it. In the end, it comes back to the earlier lesson: You are enough. Just be you.

 Me with my fellow coaches.

Me with my fellow coaches.

Find your tribe and build it
While we are wise, intelligent, talented, we also have to acknowledge when we can’t do it all on our own. I will not depend on others for the knowledge I have inside me, but I will find those people who are like-minded, supportive, and provide a connection to what I call the outside world. I no longer want to live in a bubble of safety. I also realize that there’s a reason why the wolf lives in a pack. People are social animals and so are wolves. The reason why wolves live in packs is because the leader supports the pack and the pack supports the leader. It’s a symbiotic relationship. One can not exist without the other. So when you find your tribe, join it and build it and support it as much as you can. That’s been a huge eye-opener for me, that I do better when I'm part of the pack, maybe even as the leader. But it’s all about support, not about what I want. It’s about what the pack members need. I’ve longed to share what I have with a tribe. There is no place for ego, just connection, just the holding up of each other. That’s something I am seeking.

We all want to be understood
The beautiful thing about coaching is that it fills a very deep need that we’re all born with. It is the need to be understood by another. Many of us don’t even understand ourselves. In fact, I didn’t know myself for many years. I didn’t know how to know myself. I also didn’t know how to know others. So I taught myself, by first becoming my best friend. I found that it worked. This past year, I learned even more, through the act of listening and being present when with others. Listening is such a challenging skill. To listen without judgment, with empathy, and with your full body, with your whole being present and available, that is truly unique. I experienced that with the coaches who coached me and I am beginning to find that place in myself. It’s not always there. I often lose my equilibrium and fall into judgment, or don’t want to hear what’s being said. But then I pick it back up again. 2016 was the first year of my life when I meditated almost every day. That alone, has been a way to find that place of calm, of blue sky that keeps me present. I still struggle, like I said, but I want others to experience what it’s like to be understood, to be seen, like I did. Sometimes all people want is a listening ear, not to be fixed or given advice. And then they want their feelings and needs to be acknowledged. That’s it.