On Vulnerability

Coaching
December 30, 2010

I jumped out of bed this morning, eager to get online and see what replies had come in response to my first foray at putting myself out there as a cancer coach on some public forums.  I had spent a long time crafting a thoughtful discussion item that I hoped would both incite conversation and help me to get a footing in these online communities.

Imagine my devastation when instead of finding loads of insightful replies, I had one very harsh one from a woman I’ll call Cyber-bully, who basically lambasted me and called me a fraud, insinuating that I had no place coaching cancer patients and should leave it to those who were better equipped (like her).

Suffice to say, that comment brought up a whole mess of things – tears, anger, doubt, a strong desire to quit and massive vulnerability.  How was it that cyber-bully could make me come undone with but one paragraph of her pointed words?  Very simple.  She hit me where I was most vulnerable, perhaps without even knowing it.  The one thing I yearn for is approval, so to call me a fraud and tell me I don’t belong is perhaps the most painful things someone could ever say to me.  And all I wanted to do was to crawl back under the covers and abandon my idea of ever being a cancer coach.

Instead of responding right away and saying mean things back (cuz seriously, who doesn’t want to do that???), I decided to just sit with her comments a bit before doing anything.  I allowed myself to feel the pain of feeling vulnerable and hurt and then, as it passed, looked for different perspectives on how I might respond.  Instead of being defensive, I realized that there was in fact an opportunity to educate here, as her unkind comments came from a lack of understanding of the differences between coaching and therapy.  And presumably, if a therapist didn’t understand the distinctions, I could guess that a whole lot more people out there were confused too.

Surprisingly, this remedied a lot of the pain because instead of it being an attack on me, I was able to see that her comments came from a lack of understanding.  I notice that I often get caught in the trap of assuming that everything is a personal attack against me.  Often, when I step back from the situation and explore it from other perspectives, I find that it often had nothing to do with me at all – that I just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time on a day when that person was having a tough time.

I am happy to report that I am not giving up on coaching cancer patients.  And although it scares the bejeezus out of me to keep putting myself out publicly with the chance of getting criticized, I know that learning to deal with criticism (and letting go of the need for other’s approval) will ultimately be necessary if I’m committed to getting my message out.

Since I’m stretching and feeling all uncomfortable, perhaps you’d be kind enough to share where you’re noticing discomfort as you play a bigger game in the world… that is, where do you get vulnerable?  :)

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32 Comments

  1. elise says:

    I think, quite simply, your path to an answer about how to deal with a jerk like that is proof enough that you are not only qualified, but well qualified to do what you are doing.

    I made a command decision to stop visiting professional photography forums early on in my business, because places like those are always poisoned with people that are too coward to show their faces when they criticize and instead use forums as a mask. I believed in myself, I was going out on a limb as an artist and doing something different than what the rest of the herd was doing and that scares people. You too are taking risks. This reaction is to be expected, and quite frankly you should be flattered that she took enough time to write you, that in itself means she took the time to read what you wrote, internalize it and respond…. if it was really that off key, she wouldn’t have wasted her time.

    I always struggle with my confidence, but 99 times out of a 100 when I take a chance on myself, I am pleasantly surprised.

    Keep on trucking girl! :)

  2. Bethany says:

    When I read your post my first reaction was to be mad at the woman for criticizing you…and then I would want to erase any trace of her. I take criticism very personally as well and it sometimes hurts (okay often) more than I should let it.

    I think your passion for being a cancer coach is amazing and that despite any criticism that may come your way, please don’t let that passion fade.

    I am vulnerable when my “secret” of having panic attacks comes to light with people I don’t know. While my husband, family, and close friends know I struggle with them, it’s embarrassing to have to explain to people that sometimes I just can’t get on that bus, or I can’t ride that rollercoaster, or I can’t sit in the front of a room. Most people just don’t understand this invisible fear. But I adapt and life goes on and I don’t let people’s misunderstanding stop me from doing what I love.

  3. Chris says:

    Dearest Sarah – You reacted and acted just as you should have under the circumstances. It is still remarkable to me that at your young age you already have the patience and the soul of a person many years your senior. I continue to be awed by your strength and for lack of a better word, sageness, that usually takes many more years to acquire – and sometimes is never reached by many. Kudos to you for not being deterred by the words of someone who, like you, should have thought long and hard before putting words to paper. You are definitely the stronger soul.

    I am vulnerable right now in regards to my art endeavors. I have been sculpting and painting and my teachers tell me to put my art out there – to show in local venues, etc., but I am so worried about what people will say about my work that I have yet to let anyone but family and dear friends see my creations! Maybe someday! So we all suffer different vulnerabilities at some points in our lives – so happy to see you have moved on and even grown from your latest experience. Hugs, C

  4. Erin says:

    Hey Sarah–

    I read your blog…and then scrolled down a bit on my facebook home page and someone had posted this as her status update:

    “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Very fitting, I think?? Your struggles resonate with me today as I am contemplating my courses of action and changes that I would like to make in my life in 2011! Thanks for sharing your story! You will make a fantastic cancer coach, I have no doubt. ;)

  5. Todra Payne says:

    Welcome to my world! LOL There will always be someone who wants to cyber bully and ask who do you think you are. Learn to give them the raspberry – VERY LOUDLY, and keep moving. I get cyber bullied about once every couple of months. I have a filter on my site so comments cannot just hit the site without me approving them first. And I continue to do what I do best – help women navigate the sea of healthy vs unhealthy personal care items. What you’re doing is awesome. Don’t let anyone steal your enthusiasm and purpose from under you. It’s yours, not theirs. Big hug.

  6. Thank you for being so transparent about this experience, Sarah, as we all would like to pretend that the words and opinions of others don’t bother us when, in fact, they do; we’re human. But to be with the vulnerability, intentionally at that, is really something special, and I so applaud you for that as it most certainly is not an easy thing to do. But certainly worth it, as in this case. And good for you for continuing to step out and show who you are despite possible criticism and poor reactions from other, you inspire me. And bless you for seeing the vulnerability in this woman as well, and choosing compassion and understanding.

    I notice my vulnerability the most in the area of not only declaring myself as a spiritual coach, but as a spiritual person. By not filtering my thoughts and words in fear of someone thinking less of me. Scary stuff, but each time I choose to show up as who I really am, I gotta say, it’s worth it.

  7. Christina says:

    I applaud your patience to take a step back and think about your actions, so many times it is so easy to fight back and say hurtful words. Your experience reminds me of a patient that came into my office one day and told me that I am not a professional because I didn’t shake his hand one day and continued to tell me how I should act around my patients. It was very hard to not fight back and tell him my point of view, instead I let him speak his mind and I thanked him for his insight. I feel vulnerable when patients leave my practice, because I feel it is an attack at me. Keep up your dream, because I know you will be a great cancer coach.

  8. naomi says:

    Good girl! Don’t give up … and don’t run away from the feelings of being vulnerable!

    My attack spot for feeling vulnerable is whenever I am in a situation of being asked to explain myself, defend my position or give supporting documentation for following my heart.

    As I “put myself out there” more with trying to effect change in my little corner of Delhi, India, it is happening more frequently … and I MUST learn to face it head on, bite my lip a little bit and press forward.

    Thanks for sharing this Sarah!

  9. sarahlynn60 says:

    Elise, as always, I appreciate your reassurances and the sharing of your own story. We are on such similar paths and I am eternally grateful that we can share our experiences with each other (on both the good and bad days)… love you. S

  10. sarahlynn60 says:

    Hi Bethany – Your comments really meant a lot to me, especially since I don’t remember you commenting here before (although I could be wrong!) Thank you for taking the time to encourage me on. I’m really in need of it today. I too have had panic attacks, so I share a common understanding of that experience. Not fun, not one bit… thanks for being honest about where you are vulnerable. There’s something comforting in knowing that everyone is vulnerable in some way and that it’s just one of those things that I need to keep learning to be with. I look forward to getting to know you better. Please chime in again when you feel so moved!

    Cheers,
    Sarah

  11. sarahlynn60 says:

    Awww Chris, I should have known I could count on you to give me a little boost. You’re like my one-woman cheering section and WOW do I need it today. Thanks for comforting me and giving me a peek into where you are stretching right now. I will look forward to celebrating with you when you feel ready to release your artwork out into the world! XOXO, Sarah

  12. sarahlynn60 says:

    Erin- Yikes! That is spot on! A thousand thanks for passing it on dear. In fact, I think I may just repost it for others to contemplate as well. Thanks for your encouragement and I can’t wait to hear how you’re going to step out bigger in 2011. You are on an exciting path, my friend and I’m so glad to have witnessed it! XOXO, Sarah

  13. sarahlynn60 says:

    Todra- Thanks for sharing your experiences putting yourself out there. I’m not sure why, but it’s so comforting to know that I’m not the only one who gets told I’m a fraud. It’s nice to know that people who are farther along the path than I have survived the criticism and still created a thriving business. I appreciate you taking a minute to encourage me on! Hugs back, Sarah

  14. sarahlynn60 says:

    Nova- you are such a continued blessing to have in my life. Thank you for taking the time to affirm me; I can’t begin to explain how much I need it today (especially after cyber-bully took ANOTHER crack at me). I loved that you focused on the payoff – that glorious feeling of alignment when no one can shake you because you know EXACTLY what you’re supposed to be doing. That definitely seems like a better place to center my energy. Love you friend & thanks, Sarah

  15. sarahlynn60 says:

    Christina – As a business owner yourself, you definitely understand that same feeling of vulnerability I’m experiencing. I appreciate you sharing your experience with it… much appreciated. Happy New Year – may 2011 be a fantastic year for BOTH of our businesses! Cheers, Sarah

  16. sarahlynn60 says:

    Naomi- I gotta say, your response hit me right to the core (in a good way). Your ability to articulate things is such a gift! Yes, I too make so many decisions from an intuitive place and when you come up against someone who is an analytical or head-based decision maker, it becomes impossible to defend or give reasoning for why you’ve chosen to do what you do when it’s a heart-based decision. In fact, I may just write another blog post on this very topic… hmmm. Intuitive-based decision making requires that you be steadfast in your belief that you are being guided correctly. Such a difficult place to come from in a world that prefers proof behind everything!! Thank you for reminding me that following your heart is not a thing for the weak of spirit! I’ve gotten so used to doing it in the past few years that I’ve forgotten that I used to be in the other camp of steadfastly requiring proof and a rationale behind whatever I was choosing.

    So thankful to have you in my circle of friends Naomi! XOXO, Sarah

  17. alex says:

    I’m always amazed by what jerks people can be when they have the relative anonymity of the Internet to hide behind. Good for you for taking the time to see the comments for what they are.

  18. Jen says:

    I’ve written it elsewhere, but I’ll mention again here: I think you were incredibly wise not to write back right away. I have also had not so great experiences with a few forums (non-FS related), so I am very careful/limit my participation.

    My vulnerability? Any and every time I post about my feelings/thoughts regarding my course of action for my cancer treatments. I know I am thinking outside of the box in some respects and I often think I sound like a nutcase. However, I know that I am simply researching and thinking through every aspect of the way bc will affect me. If I didn’t do that, I would regret it forever.

    I’ll stop now, but thank you for sharing the above scenario with us and today will be a better day!

  19. Helen House says:

    Well Grasshopper, there are a swirl of thoughts going through this old head of mine in response to reading your posting and many of the responses. Forgive me if I’m repeating what others have said as I didn’t take the time to read each one.

    The thoughts that are winning in the line-up for my attention are 1) Coaching vs. Consulting (not just therapy)….. 2) Co-Active Coaching vs. Other Coaching models…. 3) She’s right. Bullying aside, of course you’re not qualified. (Don’t worry… I’ll make that one make sense!)

    First of all, I love the way you shifted your perspective rather than just operating out of reaction. I think as Co-Active Coaches it’s easy to forget how the world views most coaching. If classic athletic coaching is your model, then it makes sense that people would expect one to be well qualified to direct, educate, and tell people what to do based on expertise and experience. Nearly all athletic coaches played the sport they coach and many of them rose to coaching status because they were so good at it, along with their ability to lead people. From this model – you are vastly unqualified to coach people with cancer. You will encounter many people like her as you go. Keep finding them right. Keep letting them know that when given the model they are assuming you coach from, you are not qualified. People love to be RIGHT – especially bullies. Once you’ve given them the self-satisfaction of their rightness from their limited perspective, you have an opportunity to educate them about Co-Active Coaching specifically… and how it’s different not only from Therapy or Consulting, but also from other models of coaching. When you talk about how as coaches we know we can’t possibly know what a person is experiencing or what they should do, but rather how we help them find their innate wisdom via curiosity, light bulbs will go off.

    The more divided your audience is – the more onto something you are. Great ideas always divide. You WANT strong reactions in BOTH directions. Polarization is key.

    This posting made me think a lot about the years I taught coaching in prisons. It’s interesting… the men never questioned our qualifications. The women did. The women asked us straight out – “Who are you to come in here and teach us? What have you ever done that’s even bad?” My colleague really couldn’t think of anything. I was relieved I’d done things wrong enough in my life that I earned their approval. Sometimes not being a saint is a blessing! It will take time to earn your potential client’s trust, the larger world’s trust, and your OWN trust. Each meeting you have will grow that trust… except when it doesn’t!

    Remember – Courage is knowing you can handle (emotionally) anything that comes your way. The more you trust You’ll take care of yourself – the more courageous you’ll be to keep sticking yourself out there.

    Kudos to you, My Friend. Kudos to you!

  20. Bethany says:

    Thanks Sarah :-) I started following your blog a while ago and love your Presents for Pinoys. A friend of mine is the Founder and Executive Director of Christopher Farms (http://www.christopherfarms.org) way north of you all. They are working to create sustainable farms to feed the villages around them. They have a really neat “breakfast club” that is currently feeding 104 kids. I’m sure they would love for you and your husband to visit! Tag and his family are back in the U.S. but I’m sure you’d be welcomed with open arms there :-)

    P.S. In regards to my prior post, fortunately with daily medical management (after refusing this route for a long time) my panic attacks have just about disappeared :-)

  21. naomi says:

    S – you and I are alike in that way … used to think of everything in a black/white way and had a line of reasoning for EVERY thing I did … and since moving here, have found myself operating in more of a heart-led process. It’s cool when you realize that the energy needed for living a life like that, is actually enjoyable!

    I ramble … loved reading all of the encouragement from your friends and readers!

  22. diplowife says:

    Hi Sarah,

    The fact that that person got to you means that you truly care. I too often get affected by people because I make everything personal, but I believe that is the thing that makes me more passionate about the things I do because I make sure it’s not just something the passes me, I make sure that the things I do teach and nurture me. In your case, it is of course personal because deciding to be a cancer coach isn’t just like deciding to learn knitting; it’s a pursuit that changes lives because you are helping people at one very difficult point in their lives. And if that task isn’t personal, I don’t know what is. And people like your cyber bully is the real fraud because, if they should know that the world needs more people like you and that if she is really the expert she should be busy helping those who need her help than wasting time putting others down. Go lang ng go, kaya mo yan. (You can do it). I for one believe in you.

  23. Sara says:

    Sarah,
    You are a strong woman. I am loving reading your REVERB as well. Love this idea and think I might try it myself. I am sorry this person got to you but glad it only was for a moment. Being vulnerable allows us to recognize our fears. I feel vulnerable every time I watch my children try something new or attempt something on their own without me. Possibly if I haven’t done my job as Mom correctly my kids’ could falter or lag behind or make a wrong move; all because of me. It’s a very vulnerable place to be, motherhood that is. Glad we are friends!
    Sara

  24. Katrina Buetow says:

    Oh my dear Sarah-this is the enemy working through this lady and trying to rob you of your joy and glory. It just means that you are on the right track in life and fullfilling your destiny. Don’t let this derail you. Get back in the saddle and move forward.

    Hugs-Katrina

    P.S I am very proud of you for not responding back right away-I would have =;)

  25. sarahlynn60 says:

    Thanks for sharing this link Bethany. I’ll check it out and see if it’s close enough that we can visit. It sounds right up my alley! And congrats about getting your panic attacks under control. I too went the same route as you, after MUCH resistance! Did I mention that I think we’re going to get along real well?!? :)

  26. sarahlynn60 says:

    Living overseas has definitely shifted how I view the world (and my place in it). That is one of the coolest bonuses of living overseas – it’s impossible NOT to change! And yes, I too found great solace in all the beautiful comments here. It made me realize just how much I depend on this cyber-community. It is just as real to me as many of my other communities I belong to! It’s merely a new way of looking at community…

  27. sarahlynn60 says:

    Thanks for your encouragement Alex. I haven’t always been this way but coaching has really helped me pause and look for alternative ways of viewing the situation. Like most things, it’s a muscle you need to develop over time. I feel good about how I showed up in the forum though and ultimately, I answer to myself and Source at the end of the day.

  28. sarahlynn60 says:

    Jen- As I’ve told you before, I have felt your vulnerability in your writing and I applaud the courageousness that it takes to put your choices out into the world. I am thankful for your example to encourage me on days I’m not feeling like stretching. So glad to have been connected to you this year! XOXO

  29. sarahlynn60 says:

    Oh wise Helen – How I adore thee! Thanks for taking the time to bless me with your thoughts. It seriously means the world to me.

    I often forget to compare our coaching to athletic coaching (cuz that’s never been my forte) and I forget that it’s the place most people come from because it’s such a universal experience. I usually assume they think it’s like therapy but I’m finding more and more that it doesn’t always make it to that realm of comparison even! Won’t it be amazing in 10 or 20 years when everyone understands what we do, comprehends the value and knows when to use us?!? Sometimes I get tired of being a pioneer, even though I’m in love with what I’m doing…

    And I think you’re right on with the polarization thing, but I hate admitting it. It’s just so much easier when everyone loves you and thinks you’re amazing! :) We conflict-avoiding midwesterners would rather crawl in a hole than debate our position. Thankfully, coaching has helped me learn how to be with differing viewpoints, so it’s something I’ll just have to keep working at.

    I love that we can support each other through the sticky points and keep shining the light on each other’s brilliance! Kindred spirits are a rare and delightful find. Love you!

  30. sarahlynn60 says:

    Joanna- You are SO RIGHT. Everything I put my time and energy into is very close to my heart so that ups the ante. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, but it does make it harder to deal with dissenters. I just try to keep coming back to the idea of abundance, that there’s enough to go around and that we can all serve in unique complementary ways. Thanks for your vocal support of my work. I am thankful to call you a friend!

  31. sarahlynn60 says:

    Sara- Thanks a million for your support and encouragement. I soooo appreciate your ‘mom perspective’ and know I will reach out to you for wisdom and support when it’s my turn for that life phase! I too am glad we’re friends! XOXO

  32. sarahlynn60 says:

    Thank you, wise one. You know that I think very fondly of your opinion. :)

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