Upstairs | Coaching for Melbourne's thinking women
Upstairs Coaching is an evidence-based consultancy offering life enhancing strategies for women. Coaching at Upstairs is strongly informed by Positive Psychology: a strengths-based consideration of personal wellbeing is central to Upstairs' collaborative approach to life design.
Sometimes when real life doesn’t feel all that great, it can be difficult to know exactly what to change, or even where to start.
If this is you, right now, if you’re stuck, if you know things aren’t how you’d ideally like them to be but you just can’t work out what to shift or how, you might like to try this: a simple [and slightly bleak] activity that is sure to help.
First: write an obituary for the life you’re living now. A short, half-pager is all you need but it is critical that you actually write it down.
Next: write an obituary for the life you would love to live. Again, a half-pager is more than enough but it must be written down.
Put them both aside.
Then: after a couple of days come back to your writing and place the two pieces side by side. Notice the differences between them and write those differences down. [It might be: more travel, reading in the bath, kinder to myself, started a business, created a product that helped people, worked in Brazil].
Finally: beside each difference write three things [one item for this week, one item for this month, one item for the next 90 days] that you could actually do to start making aspects of your ideal life happen. Put completion-dates beside each action, create a feedback mechanism to track your progress and then…get started.
[One note on this activity: for it to be effective, you actually have to do it. Not just read about it on a blog…]
A whole lot of people speak to me about confidence and how to get more of it.
I like Mark Manson’s take on the subject. He suggests confidence isn’t about having everything you need to be perfectly assured [great job, terrific skill set, perfect body & looks, ability to speak publicly, supportive family and friends, eternally positive self-talk, healthy bank balance etc]. Confidence is being absolutely ok with what you potentially lack.
I like the flip.
Particularly because it means that true confidence is available to anyone. Anyone can get to a place where they know they will be absolutely ok, no matter what happens.
It’s not necessarily an easy process but it is possible. And great, evidence-based coaching can help.
When clients come to me, they’re often feeling low, stuck and disheartened. They want positive change and they’re struggling to make it happen.
We work together to get clear on where they want to go. We design a multi-faceted plan to build hope and to focus their striving efforts. And we identify resources [both internal and external] that they can leverage as part of that strategy.
It often surprises people when I then speak about the importance of building in joy and beauty. [But what has joy and beauty got to do with developing my career/creating a business/forging networks/etc? Answer: everything].
We know that positive emotion can enhance creative thinking, which of course, is essential when designing a new approach to life and career. It also delivers an invaluable sense of perspective – bringing us out of our bubble and reminding us that we’re part of something much bigger, more expansive.
Now, friends. I’m talking here about beauty in a very broad sense: clouds shifting, music playing, hands holding, coffee pouring, words describing, kindness lifting, weather changing, smiles breaking, art uplifting, tears falling. I’m talking life, in action.
Some ideas to help you see more beauty:
Put your phone away on the tram and just look out the window
Kneel down and really listen to your kids
Start an instagram account just for capturing beauty [you don’t have to share it with anyone else]
Carry a small notebook and a pencil for ideas/words/pictures that make your brain happy
Head into the kids’ section of the bookshop for a little while, pick up a picture book or two
Sit in the window of a cafe and watch the world go by
Make eye contact as you walk
Sit on a park bench for a while, do nothing
Have a plant beside your bed
Evidence-based coaching that is goal-oriented and helps you achieve big things is terrific. Evidence-based coaching that gets you where you want to go and also: reconnects you with life?
As an evidence-based coach, so many of the women who come to see me are incredibly intelligent, focused, warm, thoughtful and high-achieving. [Oh, and funny. Did I mention funny? Very funny.]
The thing is, many of them reveal to me a strong and often crippling sense of self-doubt. They question themselves and their own accomplishments and feel quite certain that if anyone knew what they were really like [how slow/stupid/uncultured/unkind/thoughtless/anxious/boring/etc] they really are, they would most certainly be caught out.
People come to me for help to overcome this Imposter Syndrome. They’re convinced that if they could only start believing in themselves and in their achievements just a little more, they would be fine.
But I’m not so sure.
I reckon you can tell yourself over and over that you’re good enough and you can even present the evidence [look! A PhD! A book deal! A fancy title! A thriving business!] and still remain skeptical and fearful of being exposed as a huge, great, giant fraud.
I would suggest that overcoming Impostor Syndrome is less about believing in your own accomplishments and more about realising that other people are just as flawed as you are. And knowing that success can sit comfortably with imperfection and failure.
Interested? You might like to try this:
Make a list of all your perceived flaws. [Go on! And please, do write all of this down.] Try to focus particularly on vulnerabilities that other people would never suspect of you.
Now choose someone you really admire. Maybe a boss or a friend or a public figure. And try to imagine insecurities that they feel but never let on about. What fears might they quietly hold? What perceived flaws do they grapple with? What failures might they have experienced and moved beyond?
Recognising that everyone [no matter how capable and self-assured they appear] struggles with shame and doubt and regret and fear serves to normalise your own internal experiences. And knowing that others have succeeded in spite of their burdens allows for the possibility of your own brilliant, encumbered progress.
As a coach, I often work with clients to identify their values and to find ways to live and work in accordance with them.
Values matter. They represent you at your very best and so they offer a Framework For Being that feels real and rich and honest and accessible and deeply satisfying.
Sometimes, operating in alignment with your values is easy: maybe you’re on holiday, spending time with friends and family, listening, playing, reading, running, connecting. But other times it can be really, really challenging: you’re under extreme pressure at work, the kids are sick, you lost the document, you hardly remember that mythical thing called sleep, you’ve received some scary test results and the car just broke down. Again.
Having integrity, being true to who you are and showing up as the person you want to be, is important when it’s easy. It matters every bit as much [perhaps more?] when when the choice to do so is much harder:
You value kindness: so treat yourself gently, even when you make a huge mistake
You value authenticity: so write your own words, even if it would be easier to take theirs
You value time with family: so decide to put your phone away, even when the kids are really driving you crazy
You value honesty: so have that difficult conversation, even when it might leave you feeling vulnerable
You value commitment: so keep working at the relationship, even when it’s a slog
You value courage: so keep visiting them, even though you cry every time you leave
Living by your values takes effort. Most [read: all] of us won’t get it perfect every time. And that’s ok.
Just knowing what your values are, keeping them front of mind so that you can consciously and consistently make choices that align with them is enough. More than enough.
Effective goal-striving doesn’t have to be super complicated.
Of course, things like making sure the goal aligns with your values, ensuring it’s appropriately difficult, chunking it down, building in a system of rewards and reinforcements, creating a feedback mechanism and celebrating achievements are important to think about.
But you know what? Sometimes, all that is needed is a really gentle shift. A really simple solution.
For those big goals that I hear so often in coaching [more time with family, less overwhelm, greater balance, less worry, more connection and better health] small changes can deliver profound change:
Walk to work. Simplify your kids’ lunch boxes. Go to bed just a bit earlier each night. Drink more water. Unplug on the tram. Have dinner together, at the table. Turn off the telly. Make eye contact. Read a book. Reduce extra-curricular activities. Draw. Spend your lunch-time outside. Ask for help. Put your phone in a different room.
Big goal-striving strategies can feel scary and paralysing. But simple solutions feel do-able. The result? You actually do them. And then you begin to achieve.
Struggling to achieve a goal? It can help to try a new approach.
Instead of simply deciding on an end result and just going for it, why not try this two-step strategy:
+ Agency: Boost your belief
In order to achieve a goal, you need to believe you can. This seems obvious, right? But so many people aim for results that don’t actually feel realistic [a job they don’t feel qualified for, a relationship they don’t feel worthy of, a sense of confidence they’ve never experienced].
There are practical steps you can take, to boost belief in your own capacity to achieve:
Recall [and write down] achievements you’ve had in the past. These can be big and small and related or unrelated to the current goal
Make a list of all the resources you have available to you. These can include internal resources such as determination or knowledge and external resources such as time or space or money.
Consider all the people supporting you and make a note of one practical thing that each might be able to do to help
+ Pathways: knowing how
In order to achieve a goal, you also need to know how to get there. Instead of having one single goal-attainment strategy, focus on identifying heaps of different pathways to get you to that desired end-result.
So, for example you were aiming to start a brilliant, evidence-based coaching practice. Instead of just focusing on finishing your Masters degree you could write down a whole lot of steps such as: research the current field; make contacts in the industry; start a blog; secure some media coverage; take on a pro-bono client [making clear that you’re still working towards a qualification]; and develop a website.
Employing a new goal-striving approach is a great idea when you find yourself Seriously Stuck. Maintaining a focus on Agency + Pathways will boost your sense of hope and get you achieving, once again.
Research shows that high performance requires a balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal.
We tend to understand this in relation to physical efforts: top athletes need rest days; gym-goers need a break between sets. But then forget about it in relation to regular life.
Clients come to me saying they’re scheduled to the hilt. They’re working five or six days a week [as well as evenings] and they’re checking their phones constantly. They’re ferrying kids to school, parties and multiple extra-curricular activities. They’re on boards and finishing MBAs and starting businesses. They’re managing renovations, training for physical challenges and planning overseas holidays. They’re also squeezing in time with friends and family [which used to be fun but now feels like just another To Do List item]. They’re doingdoingdoing but they feel they can’t seem to keep up and the wheels are starting to fall off. They’re forgetting appointments, crying for no reason and snapping at their favourite people.
It is obvious [from the outside!] that they need a break. But to them, rest and recovery feels like failure, an unnecessary indulgence, an opportunity for their precariously-balanced life to fall apart.
If that’s you, if you’re constantly doing but your performance is really suffering, why not flip your thinking. Instead of seeing time out as a needless extravagance that will hamper your achievement, consider it an essential performance-enhancing strategy.
Changing the way you see is one of the most effective [and painless] ways to change the way you do.
As a life and career coach, clients come to see me for a whole range of topics: forging a new career, making friends, communicating more effectively, boosting confidence, saving money, exploring identity, finding motivation, making a big decision, improving relationships. So much good stuff.
In the past clients have also, occasionally, come to see me for help with this: losing weight.
This coaching has sat uncomfortably with me for a very long time. And yet I have felt it my responsibility to help clients with whatever they bring to our sessions. Now, however, I have decided, for two main reasons, that I will no longer coach on this topic.
My Own Morals
I know [of course I know] the massive pressure, on women in our society, to look a certain way. In my mind, if I am coaching someone to conform to those ideals then I am implicitly supporting unrealistic and oppressive expectations that I absolutely reject.
I can’t do that.
In my professional experience, coaching for weight-loss doesn’t work, long-term.
Clients come to me and say: I just need to eat ‘cleaner’ and exercise more and stay motivated! But it is never, ever just about that. Every person that has ever come to me to lose a significant amount of weight is really trying to address something much deeper. Something that requires counselling not coaching.
I know that lots of people want to lose weight and there are countless professionals out there who will take their money to help them with it. I also know that in order for me to coach authentically and honestly [the way I ask my clients to] I just can’t be one of them.
I recently received an email from a lovely sounding person who knows she wants to leave her current job, is open to some great change but has Absolutely No Idea what else she could be doing.
I have to say, this is one of my most favourite situations to coach, I love the possibility! But I get that when you’re actually in this position, it’s incredibly frustrating. [If you knew what you wanted you could go ahead and make it happen but you have no idea and you don’t even know how to work out what you want. Phwaaah!]
Not having a specific goal [ie a clear idea of the career shift you want to make] is ok. More than ok. Determining the goal IS the goal. And I can help with it. I have ways to help you work out what work you’d really love to be doing.
The first step? Think about what you loved as a kid.
JOKES! I am so not into this approach. In my professional experience, most people just liked normal kid stuff when they were little and didn’t have a standout interest. Of course, some folk really had a clear direction [say, animals] and then went on to pursue it [becoming a vet] but I reckon for most people it doesn’t really work like that.
I’m much more interested in what piques your interest now.
So the first step [really] is this:
+ MAKE A LIST
Make a list of everything that has ever grabbed your attention. Do not let practical reality get in your way [I could never become a neurosurgeon now, I’m way to old]. Don’t be swayed by what you fear others might think [imagine what my colleagues would say if I left banking for pottery?!] And don’t be put off by the idea that something is not a real job [lying on a beach isn’t work].
Just make a list of anything and everything that appeals [or has crossed your mind] as a way to spend your days.
Put your list away.
+ FIND THEMES
After a few days, come back to your list. Review it with fresh eyes and identify themes running through it.
Group these into around five possibilities. These are now your Possible Career Directions. It is fine if they seem very vague and not job-like, say: bush walking or reading books or people.
Now is the time to start talking to people.
I have to be clear: this step does not involve talking to your mum/sister/partner/best friend/colleague about whether or not you should make a leap. NO NO [ABSOLUTELY] NO. It is actually critical that at this delicate stage, you actively avoid others’ opinions on whether or not you should career-leap.
This talking is all about gathering information on your five Possible Career Directions.
We want you finding out things like: what jobs actually exist, how you could segue into those roles, how many jobs there are in the field, what training and experience would be well-regarded, what life would be like in those jobs, who else you could speak to about them, whether there might be opportunities for gaining experience. That sort of thing.
You might think: who the hell would I speak to?! I don’t know anyone. But I guarantee you do. And those people know other people. So make a mind map of everyone you know, in all the different areas of your life [don’t forget past jobs, school, uni, sports teams, drinking friends…everyone!] And also map the people they might know.
Then start contacting those people, asking questions and taking notes.
The final step is to stop thinking and start doing.
This is the bit far too many people bypass. They think of a job then apply for it. If they get the role it so often turns out to be nothing like they’d imagined. They find themselves unhappy again and back to square one.
So to avoid that: gather practical, real-life experience, to see how any job you’re considering actually fits you.
Volunteer, get work experience, shadow someone, take a sabbatical, go part-time and keep your old job on the side, start a side-project involving your new career. Anything that gives you a taste of this new direction, before you launch right in, is well worth it.