The first person I called after four weeks of training to be a corporate health coach was a gentleman named *Charlie. The appointment was at 7pm on a Tuesday in April, and I had literally all day to prepare and worry about how it would go. When the witching hour finally rolled around, I dialed the phone, had my paper at the ready to take notes and half hoped that he wouldn’t answer. He did answer, and at the end of the conversation, he had a goal to play basketball once a week and eat one less serving of pasta when spaghetti was on the table for dinner. (No easy feat when one is Italian and spaghetti rules the meal plan.) And I knew that he had a six year old daughter going through treatment for leukemia and that he felt powerless in the face of something so important that was outside of his control. In twenty minutes I learned what made this person who I’d probably never meet get up in the morning and what drove him to take care of himself. I learned about some of his challenges, and I learned of his struggles to stay on track. I asked him what his vision of a healthy life was, and he told me it was to be his best self so he could give his daughter the dad she deserved. Most of his story I’ll never know, and he didn’t have to tell me the parts that he did. But he chose to share, and I chose to listen, and now our stories will forever be intertwined.
I came to health coaching on a whim — it was one possibility out of many after completing graduate school. One morning as winter lingered and the city that was home at the time sighed under the weight of snow that wanted to melt but couldn’t yet, I showed up to an interview with the manager of a new health coaching department at a large health management company. I answered the interview questions, faked my way through a role play and left with a job. I figured I’d last a year or two and then move onto the next thing. After all, health coaching? What was that anyway? I had no idea what I was doing.
That was almost eight years ago. I still don’t always feel like I know what I’m doing, and as we all know, interacting with real people is unpredictable and messy. But what I do know is that there is something powerful and real about the work that defines my days. I can’t say I love the phone time, or the centrality of the computer to my work days, or the fast pace at which the corporation I work for grows, but I do know that these past eight years have provided a springboard into possibilities that didn’t exist before I took the chance to do something that felt like it was outside my comfort zone. Talking to relative strangers all day isn’t usually a job that has introverted people lining up at the door, excited to begin. But doing so has forced me to hold on tight to the invisible thread that guides me when I remember it’s there.
As a wellness coach, whether it’s via the corporate channel that pays the bills or on my own terms, I show up every day with the intent to meet other people where they are. Sometimes my intent gets stuck under burnout, a tired voice, or wanting to be somewhere else, but the commitment to being authentic and real with people — to meet them where they are even if I don’t understand it — always seems to be the thread that holds everything else together.
The people I talk to? It may be they are excited to take action. It may be they are hesitant and unsure of their next steps. It may be they are irritated because they feel forced to take twenty minutes out of a busy day to talk with someone they don’t know. Wherever the other individual is on his or her journey, I (along with all the other coaches out there in the world) walk to where each unique person stands. We all have a slightly different lens through which we view the world, and I do my best to let go of my own agenda and listen to the needs that illustrate each conversation: Where you are this very moment. Alongside you at intersection after intersection as the direction toward who you truly feel called to be becomes clearer. In between the lines of the every day to the pain that underlies irritation or ambivalence. Into the joy that is freer to flow when small successes are acknowledged and celebrated. A coach honors silence, and sometimes asks the question that no one else has…..and then helps you hear the answer that fits. Every phone call, email, or meeting provides the opportunity to recognize the irregular beauty in the story of another as our paths intersect, if just for a brief moment in time. I have the chance to let my thread weave into the tapestry of another, and then out again, as the story of what it means to be on earth unfolds.
William Stafford writes, in a poem titled The Way It Is:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
*name changed to protect privacy