Managing the loneliness of being a coach
In our reading and conversations with coaches, we have identified four types of loneliness:
- The loneliness of abandonment or isolation, which comes from an absence of relationships that are nurturing and supportive
- The loneliness of chosen seclusion, as practiced by eremites, where the emotion of loneliness is a source of reflection and learning about oneself and the nature of existence
- The loneliness of wisdom, which comes from a deeper understanding than those around you and the recognition that you can only ever partially bridge that gap (a sense of partial connection)
- The loneliness of caring too much, which comes from being so focused on the well-being of others that we neglect the pivotal relationships with people closest to us
The first and last of these are unhealthy. Even though coaches meet lots of people, they may experience the loneliness of isolation, because as professionals, they must maintain an emotional distance from their clients. If they lack close others, who they can use as shoulders to cry on, or to share the joy of their coaching experiences with, then this can be emotionally debilitating. Adding more and more client relationships won’t solve the problem – and doing a high proportion of assignments by Skype, telephone or other distance media can exacerbate it. Coaches, who care too much about clients and see their identity in terms of their clients’ successes and failures, may find themselves without the mental, emotional and spiritual energy to invest in the intimate relationships, upon which they rely for their own emotional support.
While few coaches would want to go live in a cave for months of years, short bursts of chosen seclusion can – by contrast – have a valuable restorative function. Acknowledging and savouring isolation as an opportunity to reflect and know oneself better is important in grounding our coaching practice. There are many ways of doing this, from meditation, to walking the hills, or attending a retreat. Similarly, the loneliness of wisdom enables us to step back from and contextualise how we and the world around us (including our clients) are interconnected. Again, if we are prepared to acknowledge this loneliness, it can become a gift. The secret, it seems from examples brought to supervision, is to use the insights from these reflections to permit ourselves to connect with others in ways that align with how they make sense of the world around them.
In short, professional coaches and mentors can benefit from asking themselves regularly:
- When do I experience loneliness?
- How do I acknowledge and explore it?
- Is it enhancing or undermining my well-being and practice?
- How can I ensure I take a positive approach to loneliness?
© David Clutterbuck, 2015
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