Lisa, me, and mindset
“A good friend will let you into their life. A good coach will let you into your own.”
Curiosity is where my journey began. This was the first thing I learned from Lisa. She opened a Pandora’s box when she uttered the words: “Who are you blaming for all of this Abbie?” WTAF! My face went pale, so I was later told; and yes, its corny but it’s true. My whole life suddenly flashed in front of my eyes. Every shit decision, every nasty relationship, every mistake, struggle, and moment of self-pity, all speeding past me like a freight train. That was the moment that my whole inner narrative started to make sense. The “why me”, the “what did I do to deserve this”, and the “if I just do more …” When the freight train finally passed, the weirdest thing happened. Instead of feeling judged or broken or upset, I felt energised. I felt taller suddenly. I stood up, as I had in fact slumped onto the floor and turned my head towards the window. The sunlight was warm and bright, and I had to close my eyes. “Is this what the light at the end of the tunnel feels like”?”, I asked myself.
Curiosity explains why I am who I am now. My willingness to get down and dirty with curiosity is what drew me to coaching and is what fuels my very being. I am a positive person. Annoyingly positive sometimes. And you won’t ever catch me turning up to a pity party. Not unless I can come dressed as a unicorn waving a confetti cannon. I won’t sit with you in pity. If you just want to wallow in self-pity, then I am annoying to be around.
I am not naive in my relentless pursuit of personal joy. Curiosity is painful and has been present during my lowest and highest moments. We can’t just ask ourselves questions and hope that we will come up with an answer. We must be curious and allow ourselves to be vulnerable too.
Lisa taught me to be curious. How to lean into the uncomfortable process of becoming self-aware. And it is bloody uncomfortable sometimes. But ever since the moment I met Lisa, with everything that I have been through and let’s face it, put myself through, none of that discomfort compares to the feeling of utter despair that I was experiencing before that moment. Avoidance, shame, guilt, and a lot of self-medicating is a shit place to be, and so I remain curious. Even when it pinches, I trust that the door will always open to what is on the other side.
Curiosity plays a fundamental part in coaching and in growth. If you are challenging yourself to do something new, like starting a business, then you need to get down and dirty with curiosity too. Coaching helps to facilitate that process, and I could not have done this without Lisa’s help and expertise. I look back now at how patient she was and how no matter how hard I resisted, she always remained calm, kind, and empathetic.
Curiosity and vulnerability remain my constant companions, and with Lisa gone, not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself, “What would Lisa be asking me now”?
I met Lisa in 2002, Just weeks after I got married and was already pregnant with my second child. We were, I suppose, forced together through circumstance; our husbands were best friends, and so we met regularly and soon became good friends.
Although much younger than me, Lisa was an old soul, balanced, humble, and wise. And it wasn’t long before I started to experience some rather unusual thought processes after spending time with her. She was, to be fair, training as a person-centred counsellor at the time, and as I discovered for myself later in my own training, you need to practice as you learn – so I guess I became her very willing guinea pig.
Each time we met, despite being surrounded by children, friends, family, conversations, and the occasional “drama”, I always felt completely listened to. My life back then was a shit storm. I make no secret of how unhappy I was, and to be clear, there were huge reasons why this was true. Some of them yes, were on the outside of me. People and situations that made me doubt my worth and my very existence. People and situations that caused me to feel helpless, sad, anxious, and depressed. People and situations that confused and upset me. However, these people and situations were not the focus of our conversations.
I had suffered the consequences of wearing my low self-esteem and self-doubt like a printed t-shirt for the last 30 years. Self-doubt had gotten me to a very uncomfortable place. Thankfully, after meeting Lisa that all began to change. It all changed with these four words: “Just say thank you”.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable when someone pays you a compliment? Even though you know it’s well deserved, do you ever just want to walk away? Every time I would go to visit Lisa, she would comment: “I like your top” or “nice earrings” or “you look beautiful today”. And every time, I had a self-deprecating or sarcastic comeback. Sarcasm is our family’s superpower and one I used tirelessly to defend myself from any kind of vulnerability or curiosity: “Oh, this is old”, “Oh yeah they were cheap”, or “well I have had a bath and brushed my hair so that’s probably it”.
And every time without fail, Lisa would pause, look me right in the eye, smile, and say, “just say thank you”. It was so painful. I would laugh. Not a good laugh, but an uncomfortable laugh like when you don’t quite hear what someone said, but instead of asking them to repeat it you laugh weirdly and then walk away. 18 months we did that dance. 18 months of birthday parties, BBQ’s, nights out, weddings, and piss ups. Every time the same dance. I dreaded it. It was like some sort of initiation ceremony. You can’t come in until you have felt the pain of your own self-awareness. I didn’t get it. Why was she doing this? It didn’t make me dislike her, quite the opposite I was drawn to this initiation like a puzzle trying to be solved. Knowing I would walk away beaten and frustrated, still I needed to try.
Then, one day, it happened. I don’t remember what day exactly; I do remember it was sunny and I had lost a bit of weight and for once I was feeling good. Back then those days were few and far between, so I was going to make the most of it. All the way to the house I was planning my response. Today I’m going to win. I’m going to show her. I am going to say thank you. This will make her think. I bet she won’t ask me today. I bet she only says it when she thinks I look rubbish to try to make me feel better. I bet she won’t say it. I know now, of course, Lisa would never have done that.
We arrived and I got out of the car, off loaded all the food I had made, because I know that if I bring food that will make people like me and think I’m a happy housewife. Because that’s what normal housewives with no job and loads of time on their hands do, isn’t it? They bake and sew and decorate and go to PTA meetings and help their kids with homework, right? Anyway. I got out of the car and stood smiling and waiting for it. And sure enough. After a big long hug. Lisa was a pro at hugging, she stood back and said, “you look lovely and that perfume is delicious”. “Thank you”, I said, “I love it too”.
She smiled, kindly and with so much love in her eyes. “There you go”, she said.
I thought I was going to be smug, and we would laugh and joke about it. Instead what happened next was a feeling I will never forget. It was as though a surge of energy rose inside of me, from my feet to my head. I could not move. I was fixed to the spot. I literally was paralysed for what was probably seconds but felt like minutes. The world stopped spinning; I swear. Yes, I know, another dramatic life changing moment, but I swear the world slowed down for just a split second. It was as though it was waiting for me to catch up.
When I finally regained the movement in my feet and the ability to talk, I started to follow Lisa up the driveway to her house (while carrying a big bowl of chocolate covered strawberries – which to this day I don’t know how I didn’t drop) and I said, very quietly almost in a whisper: “Fuck. I get it now. Is it always going to be this painful?”
“If it’s uncomfortable, then its working”, said Lisa.
They’ll believe it, when you do
When you’re given a second chance at life, it’s hard not to find yourself utterly consumed by it. I owe my new life to Lisa and her unwavering determination to help me to see that I had choices. She would take no credit for what I have achieved, and every time I went to thank her, she would simply reply, “This isn’t about me Abbie, you are doing the work, not me, make it about you”.
Lisa did not have all the answers – she never once told me what to do. Even when I begged her to. She knew that for me to make the changes on the outside of my life, I needed to experience the realisations on the inside. Take responsibility for the part I was playing, and, through curiosity, start to make better choices. I used a little poetic licence with the quote at the start. Honestly, it is my wholehearted belief that with the right help and support we are each capable of anything. All any of us need to do in life is to know ourselves so we can be ourselves.
Who knew that learning to take a compliment would be such a life changing moment? My inability to accept or take compliments and tendency to belittle or dismiss any kind of praise with sarcasm or deflection was at the centre of everything that was wrong in my life. “Abbie, you are awesome”, Lisa would say. “But no one else is going to see it, until you do”. This rather eloquent and slightly painful statement was repeated to me quite recently when I asked a fellow coach, “why am I struggling so hard to convince people to pay me for coaching?” “Abbie, they will believe in you when you do”. Urgghhhhhhh, shit. Yes. Feel like I should have known that. That was the point in my business journey when I realised, I would have to go back to the beginning and redo the steps of mental resilience. Learn how to love myself again – in the business sense. Learn how to be the best version of me. Learn how to be confident and fearless again and, yes, learn to take a compliment.
There is nothing worse than being excited about someone’s product, only to hear them apologising for it, holding back from promoting it, or hesitating to place value in it. I had my second chance at doing life, and the lessons I learnt are still what guide me today. I owe my life to an angel. She saved me. This time I needed to save myself. It took a bit of time to work it out, but the moment I realised I have choices and began to choose curiosity over control, and the moment I chose vulnerability over perception was when it really started to get better. I couldn’t have written this book without sharing with you where it all began for me. Not everyone will have to have experienced these personal ups and downs – although I offer many of you will have. I needed to share with you what got me to this point, what makes me tick, and what brings me joy. In this book, I hope to share with you my skills and my short comings, my vulnerability and my purpose. I do this with hope. Hope that after reading this book you not only get to know me a little better, but more importantly I hope that you get to know yourself a lot better. Because when we know, like, and trust ourselves, we are invincible.
This passage is an extract from the book Does it really need to be this hard? Overcoming the 7 Big Struggles for Women in Business by Abbie Broad