The first time I used the skills of what I would later come to call coaching was at the age of 15.
I’m going to get into some fairly heavy issues in this message including abuse and suicidal ideation, so if you’d rather not continue, you can read this article about how I married the most beautiful woman in the world instead.
OK, on with the story.
Friends, especially female friends, would come to me and share their problems, and I would listen.
Some of these problems were quite serious.
One friend’s father physically abused her.
Another dealt with powerful body image issues.
Yet another had developed tremendous insecurity from the medical establishment telling her that she was defective.
Self harm and suicidal ideation were common.
Various adults told me that if a friend expressed suicidal thoughts to me, that I should tell the authorities and let the professionals handle it.
Except I didn’t trust the authorities. Many of these friends had been through the system, and many had come out worse for it.
Taking someone in crisis and ripping them away from all coping mechanisms and support structures to put them in a strange place surrounded by people with more severe issues overseen by an overworked and exhausted staff doesn’t always yield the most positive results.
The overreaction of their parents leading to an increase in their already overprotective and authoritarian tendencies didn’t help either.
Add to that the inherent sexism of a mental health industry in the 90s that saw teenage girls as inherently defective, and I did not see that as a respectful choice to make for them..
When you’re young, everything seems possible and everything seems normal. Whatever your life is is what it is, so this seemed perfectly normal to me.
Doesn’t everyone talk their friends in high school out of suicide attempts?
Looking back, two and a half decades later, I realize that the fact that, every week or so, I’d be the one talking someone down from a potential self harm or suicide attempt is not the typical teenage experience (although more common that we might think.)
I didn’t have training for this. I didn’t have any support, because if I did ask anyone for help, they would call in the authorities. I didn’t even have the Internet in 1995.
What I did have was a desire to help, the gifts of intuition and empathy that God had granted me, and the arrogant sense of duty of a 15 year old boy placed in a situation where he could step up.
No one I was talking to ever made a suicide attempt.
Did I prevent them? Who can tell?
Did I give them an ear and a shoulder when they needed it? I think so.
A few years ago, one of these friends reached out to me after not talking for 20 years because she was in crisis again, which tells me I must have been doing something right.
I learned a great deal from the experience.
I learned about the challenges of growing up female in the 90s (many of which continue to exist today although some things are improving), trying to make impossible compromises among competing needs, drives, and expectations.
I learned the importance of a parent understanding their child and working for their best ultimate outcome, rather than seeing them as an extension of the parent.
I learned that the worst way to prevent a kid from doing something is strict, authoritarian rules.
I learned that the authoritarian parenting style that many parents were taught (and too many are still taught) is ineffective at best and destructive at worst.
I hadn’t thought much about this in a long time, but for some reason, I woke up thinking about it today.
The skills I used in high school are the core talents of a coach. Since then, I have gotten coaching certifications and more formal training, much of which gave me some great clarity on why things I did instinctively worked so well.
I don’t do much crisis coaching anymore, but I do help people to identify their blocks, clarify goals, and uncover power they didn’t know they have to achieve their best life.
This is what I do for my coaching clients.
If you feel called to explore becoming one of those clients, let’s have a call.
I will share more about what a coach does, what I do as a coach, and how I might serve you.
If that’s not you, but you know someone who it might apply to, feel free to forward this to them, or just share the call booking link.