For better or for worse (and probably both), one of the great American ideals is self-reliance. The idea of the self-made man or woman is one of the primary stories we like to tell ourselves about our heroes, and about ourselves.1 There are definitely cultural advantages to this story, in that it can provoke us to dig in and try again when the going gets tough, but one of the major disadvantages of it is that it can make it harder to ask for (and use) help when we need it.
I remember a few years back talking to a guy I sponsored about why it was important to have a sponsor, and why, after 30-something years in recovery, I still have and use a sponsor. He was a sports fan, and so I asked him to think of the professional athletes that he knows about. Then I asked him, “How many of those athletes have a coach?”
The answer, of course, is “All of them.” Even athletes like Tom Brady and Serena Williams, at the point in their careers when they were generally considered to be the GOAT, had (and used) their coaches. But, does anybody ever say “Ahh, Serena worked with Patrick Mouratoglou, who is one of the best coaches ever, so maybe she wasn’t really the GOAT?” Of course not. It’s ludicrous the moment it comes out of your mouth (or off of my keyboard, as it were). How many games did the coach play? None.
But, how many professional athletes get anywhere near the top of their field without a coach? None of them. Honest self-assessment and self-observation are hard. Many of us humans cast an overly critical eye on our achievements and accomplishments. Taken to an extreme, the result of that is Impostor Syndrome. Some of us humans cast an overly rosy eye on our achievements and accomplishments. Taken to an extreme, the result of that is Dunning-Kruger. In the middle, the place where we can accurately evaluate who we are and how we’re doing in the world? That place of accurate self-assessment is hard, and almost always requires getting accurate feedback from those who know us.
Tasha Eurich, in her book Insight, defines the kind of person that we want to get feedback from as a loving critic; someone who we know wants us to succeed, but is willing to point out in a loving way what is getting in our way (and who has the knowledge to do that effectively). I’d also add that one of the things that’s most important for a coach to do is to remind us of what we do well, or are doing well, both to keep up our spirits and to help us keep doing it.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the same man as my recovery sponsor for more than 33 years, and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he has my best interests at heart. I also know and appreciate the fact that he loves me enough that he’s willing to tell me the truth even when it’s going to piss me off. And, I appreciate the fact that he can remind me of what I do well, and that my current struggles pale in comparison to some of the things I used to experience. Although he’s obviously in recovery himself and thus has his own issues/denial/etc, he doesn’t have any denial about my shit and can thus point out things to me that I might not have seen myself.
Further, the fact that our relationship has been ongoing for so long means that he knows me. I’ve disclosed everything to him, and he’s been watching me for decades. So, he’s able to point out both areas where I’ve grown and times when I might be slipping back into old habits or old patterns. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been practicing recovery, there are still times when I slip back into old ideas and old habits. And, of course, this isn’t just about me, or just about recovery.
There are several things about having a coach that make it much easier to be better. Your coach can suggest exercises that you can do to help improve areas in which you would like to do better. Your coach can point out ways in which your values or thinking might be inconsistent, and help you to become clearer about what it is you really want and need. Your coach can point out ways in which your behavior isn’t aligned with your values, and help you define and practice new ways of showing up in the world that are more likely to lead you to where you want to go. And, your coach can help you recognize and celebrate the victories you have along the way.
If you haven’t had the experience of working with a coach, think about giving it a try. I suspect you’ll be happy with the results.
- It’s largely bullshit, of course. Did you create the schools that educated you as a child? Did you create the roads or the transit system that allowed you to get to work? Did you create the healthcare system that allowed you to grow up in an environment largely free of disease? Did you create the social structures that allowed you to grow up in a free country (if you were lucky enough to have that experience)? I didn’t think so. ↩