Learning From the Struggle


Last summer I spent three days at a workshop that was advertised for “experienced coaches”. Even though I wanted to go to the workshop, travelling across the country to be there, I realized later that I went with the subconscious belief that I already knew all I needed to know already about how to effectively work with my clients. That belief was exposed and thrown out the window by noon of the first day. The experience was (and is still, when I reflect on it) unnerving, humbling, and difficult.

The biggest challenge for me was to let go of my own resistance to change. This resistance was grounded in my own absolute KNOWING that how I serve my clients is the right way. It was unsettling to learn that there are other (and better) ways.

As I was learning new theories and practicing new skills, I resisted. My mind wrestled with what (I thought) I knew to be true and my body tensed (I actually felt the experience as a muscle cramping – my body’s way of resisting!).

Almost a year later, I’m still in a place of “not knowing” and calming myself to have patience. I’m finding a ways to understand and use some the learning in a way to serve my clients better. I’m having some success with it, in small steps.

What are the lessons that I’ve learned about the experience that are relevant to you as a leader?

Be open to new learning. Continual learning is essential. The only way to learn and grow is to let go of what you think you know and accept and try new things. Recognizing when you are holding on to certainty is the first step in accepting new learning.

Be patient and kind with yourself. Change is hard. It doesn’t often come in a moment or even as a three day workshop. Allow what you are learning to simmer. Changes will come in their own time. I was lucky enough to realize how tough I was being on myself early in the learning event. I realized the struggle I was experiencing helped me to open up and question what I thought I knew.

Personal change is hard. Finding the beliefs that keep you from growing and developing new behaviors and skills is the key to change. And sometimes our beliefs are quite sticky – it takes a lot of the above qualities (openness and patience) to become unstuck and incorporate some of the new things you are learning.

When people ask me how the workshop went, I reply that it was one of the hardest experiences I’d ever had – and one of the best. Sometimes good things come to us from the struggle.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

3 comments on “Learning From the Struggle

  1. So true. Coming to terms with not-knowing is a challenge for me. I have a personal maxim (that I fail on regularly) “Never answer a question with an answer” – If someone asks me a question, I state what I understand and then ask the most open question I can back to them… it requires constant effort… From a helping people grow perspective, I have learnt that people do not change because of one piece of rational information… so it is often quite useless for me to show them the “right answer” – much better that they explore the issue themselves. How have you kept this attitude going? What do you do to spot when you are falling back into “believing you know”?

  2. Ade, it seems I’m continually learning the same lessons over and over to “come to terms with self”. It’s the journey!

    Conor, Thanks for sharing your method. Could it be “luck of the draw” when I spot that I’m falling back into believing I know? Perhaps its the pain I feel when it becomes so unbearable that I can’t stand it.

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