THE ANXIOUS COACH
Posted on May 7, 2019 @ 9:00am
I never intended to tell our clients about my anxiety.
I started opening up about myself about 10 years ago. But not about anxiety; about spirituality and business. I am not a religious person, although I spent 3 1/2 years in a seminary, but I am a spiritual person. Spirituality and my practice of spiritual principles are the cornerstone of my life. I was hesitant to talk about spirituality in business because I thought it would negatively affect our reputation in working with Executive Teams. That sounds so odd now, but that is how I felt at the time. I know I’m not alone. For many of us, the fear of rejection is strong; so we play it safe.
One day I was talking to a colleague about this hesitancy. I don’t recall the exact nature of our conversation, but I got off of the phone with a strong conviction to speak openly about the importance of spirituality in creating effective, meaningful and successful organizations. I decided to go see my closest clients and talk to them about my spiritual life and how I saw spirituality positively impacting organizations and leadership.
The rejection I feared never happened. The opposite happened: curiosity, understanding, and something unexpected.
One of first leaders was the COO of a hospital. He was inspired by our conversation. I didn’t expect that he would then open up, talk about the hardships his family dealt with and his own spiritualty. Then came a bigger surprise. “Evan, you need to meet my boss, she is a very spiritual person.” I was shocked. It wasn’t until I shared that “thing” that I was afraid to share that he decided to introduce me to the President of the hospital system. Instead of diminishing our reputation, I had just bolstered it. I got back to my office and found a meeting invitation for the three of us in my inbox.
This is a very important dynamic. In the face of rejection comes love and opportunity.
A few weeks later, the three of us had breakfast. Mostly, I listened to the COO talk about her spiritual life, her path to leadership and her philosophy. At the end of our conversation, she leaned forward: “Evan, do you know what I really want to do? I want to create a leadership program for women. Can you help us to build it?”
I was afraid of rejection, but the impact was the opposite. Her request was the genesis for our awesome women’s leadership program called Unleashing Women!™ (www.unleashingwomen.com). This program is the largest grossing revenue program we have done in over 20 years.
I find these experiences liberating. Not only can I reveal the things that I fear, but it benefits me to do so. It takes courage to take this action, but I become more emboldened every time I do. The fear still crops up, but I am more willing to open up. We can read about, hear about and watch people take these risks, but until we do it for ourselves, we won’t get that experience of liberation. It is one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves. It’s not just for ourselves. When we take this risk, we make ourselves more valuable to others. In this example, we were able to help our client bring her vision to life.
In another powerful example, I was teaching an MBA course on corporate culture at the Rutgers University School of Business. I had been teaching for five years. I read a lead article in Fast Company magazine about students leaving the Harvard MBA program for the Harvard Divinity school. They were telling my story and it gave me the confidence to propose a course on spirituality to the Dean. I fully expected a ‘no.’ I wanted to take a positive action in this arena; showing the ‘universe’ I was serious. Another unexcepted and positive outcome: he said yes.
For 4 years I taught one of the only MBA courses in the country specifically dedicated to exploring spirituality in business. I loved teaching that course. I still hear from students who tell me it was their favorite and most valuable course in their MBA studies.
What part of us wants to hide? The voices seem to protect us, but from what? In my experience the ‘bad’ stuff leads to the good stuff. Each time I opened up, I got more support, trust and unexpected positive results. You would have thought I learned my lesson. But there was another part of myself I was afraid to share.
In my early 20’s I was living in San Francisco. Although Haight Ashbury wasn’t what I expected, it was a great place to start my adult life. I had two jobs, friends and a dynamic life. I studied alternative healing, rode my Vespa and explored the city. I felt great.
One day while driving the work truck I had what I thought was a heart attack. I thought I was dying. I drove through red lights trying to find a hospital. In the emergency room I found out It wasn’t a heart attack; it was a panic attack. Thus, started my now, 35-year journey with anxiety.
The word itself does not fully describe how unsettling it is; feeling an underling sense of fear that goes on and on, you want to get out of your skin and there is on where to go and feeling trapped. You think you are losing control; negative thoughts take on a life of their own and there is a physical, emotional and spiritual dis-ease. You are not sure what caused it and you don’t feel any control to stop it. It can affect every area of your life. It doesn’t make sense. It can be a nuisance at best and debilitating at its worst. You look around and the world seems to be functioning fine and you seem on another plane—disconnected from what is around you and there at the same time. You feel weak as a person and ashamed.
I didn’t want to tell people. I felt embarrassed.
Little did I know at the time that my hiding, a form of isolation, was making my anxiety worse. There was a lot that I was doing that was making it worse even though I thought I was taking action to help myself. I didn’t understand this at the time.
The first time that I opened up to a client was with a senior executive of a large global organization. We had never met. His office was on the 33rd floor. I hadn’t been up high for a few years. My anxious mind started to worry about being trapped. “What if I can’t get in the elevator? What if it gets stuck? What if I’m in his office and I feel like I need to get out of there?” You get the idea… I was more focused on my fear thoughts than I was on our meeting.
I am grateful that a new idea popped into my mind. What if I tell him? “Crazy idea, Evan. If I tell him, that might alleviate some of my anxiety. If I have to leave, he’d understand.” I emailed him and asked if we could meet downstairs in the market. I explained that I have difficulty with elevators.
He emailed back and suggested that we talk by phone. His day was busy anyway and this would help him too. “Ok, I got by the first round. No damage yet.”
I called and he said; “So you have problems with closed in spaces? I do too.” Then for the next 10 minutes he told me about his anxiety. He told me how it affects him and his strategies for dealing with it. I was shaking my head in disbelief; in a good and grateful way. I expected to be rejected and instead I had a friend. No loss of respect; a bond. We have become close colleagues.
Over the past three years this scene has repeated itself. The details may vary, but the theme is consistent. When I choose to open up to others about my anxiety, people open up about their woundedness. I get compassion and intimacy, not rejection, and a stronger connection is the result.
Our work is to coach Executive Teams, helping them to perform at a world-class level. Through our process, we build a high level of intimacy, trust and knowledge about each member of the Executive Team. Our process naturally leads to coaching individual Executives and what I have learned, is that my pain has led me to a passion for coaching others who are experiencing anxiety.
The first step in this healing process is to open up to others; to take the risk of rejection and trust that love, support and new opportunities will come back to you. I have also spent the last 18 years practicing a particular method that is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) based. It continues to help me tremendously. I am licensed to teach it as part of my coaching process. Meditation, diet and healing movement along with creative arts, prayer and working with mentors are major elements of my approach.
It’s exciting to have this clarity and to realize that what embarrassed me is really a gift that allows me to help others. The anxiety I experience, has moved me forward into the person I truly am and aspire to be: one who can help others to do the same.
I assumed that I needed to be “all healed up” before I could truly help and coach others. I’m about to turn 59, I have been working with leaders for 30 years, I have dedicated myself to personal growth and I’m still not “all healed up”. A colleague recently introduced me to the concept of the “Wounded Teacher.” This idea has helped to liberate me to help others because, in truth no teacher is ever “all healed up.”
We are on this planet, in our human form to learn, to grow and to develop spiritually, mentally and physically. Our imperfection is our gift. I am ready in a way I have never been before; to share my pain, my experiences and my hope. If you are, or know of a leader who experiences anxiety, please share this article with them and let them know I am available and eager to help. They can reach me at: Evan@DillonMarcus.com