Several months ago, I lost a friend. Her death was caused by a messy knot of physical, emotional, and financial problems: emotional wounds that led to addiction, addiction that led to physical problems and that made it hard to earn a living, then inner blocks and financial limitations that kept her from getting the help she needed for her health problems.
Over the past few months, in the wake of her death, I've kept wondering: What could have made a difference?
Would it have made a difference if she had been given a big chunk of cash a decade ago to fund the many costs of living a healthy lifestyle? I don't think so -- emotional problems seemed to get in the way of her making healthier choices day to day, even when she could afford it.
Would it have made a difference if our group of friends had been more supportive to her? I can't see how it could have. Many of us tried to help in various ways over the years, but calls went unreturned and visits were cancelled as she fell into deeper and deeper isolation.
What could have made a difference?
One answer keeps coming back to me: a long-term, supportive, loving alliance with another human being could have made the difference. A person who knew how to listen and how to love, how to help her work through past pain and old ways of being.
Coaches and therapists, you know that at our best, this is what we do.
My very first coach was not the kind of person I ever could have predicted hiring. I was into working with people who had the best formal qualifications. He didn't have any fancy degrees, any brand names on his resume. I was an English major who loved words and had spent years studying Shakespeare. He was an immigrant with a fairly unique approach to stringing together English words and an accent that made his unusual grammar even harder to parse.
But he gave me love and support -- and powerful, skillful coaching. He greeted me on every coaching phone call with pure loving energy and presence, acceptance of who and where I was, and a kind of unattached curiosity about what lay underneath the surface of my self-doubts and my shoulds. From that place, he asked me to look into my own heart and find out what it really wanted for this life. Then he held my answers tenderly and helped clear away the blocks so that I could get on -- and stay on -- the path of a more fulfilling life.
When we were about to hang up the phone from our coaching sessions, he would always say, as his closing line, "My love is with you." At first, I cringed. With my newly-minted MBA, this sounded insane. It sounded cheesy. It sounded ridiculous.
But after I hung up the phone, as I went about trying to bring into reality the dreams for my life we had talked about during our sessions, it mattered that he had said it. It mattered that someone's love was with me. I felt it supporting me -- especially in the early stages when I hadn't yet found much of my own strength.
Shouldn't this be the role of our parents, our closest friends, our siblings? You might be wondering. Shouldn't the people we have "real relationships" with in our lives provide that kind of love and support?
It would be wonderful if they could. And it's wonderful when they do. But in most cases, even when our family members and friends love us like mad, that love tends to be loaded with the baggage of their wounds and infused with their fears on our behalf.
Mom and Dad probably feel responsible for your survival in the world and worried about any risks you might take. Or your identity and success may be tied up, in their minds, with their own. Your friends might adore you, but the changes in your life might provoke their jealousy, or cause them to fear that you will leave them behind.
Quite often, when we contemplate major change, major evolution in our lives, the reaction we get from our dear ones is a combination of an attempt at support, combined with fear that can manifest as undermining, judging us or lashing out.
So sometimes an outside person is needed. A coach, a therapist, a midwife of dreams, who blends the best of mothering, fathering, supporting, problem-solving, healing. A person who can hold the risks you are taking with less fear, who is not attached to your old identity, and who is trained in the very best ways to support people and help them make positive change.
Back to my friend. I do believe that the right coach, therapist, healer -- by which I mean the right person showing up for a sacred, loving alliance -- could have made a major difference in prolonging her life. That of all the possibilities of what could have helped, that kind of relationship is what stood the best chance of actually helping.
Other kinds of support -- financial support, resources for a healthier lifestyle, connections to community -- would have been important and helpful later on, but I believe one-on-one support would have been needed to free her up to seek any of those other resources.
I share this because I think as coaches, therapists, healers, midwifes of other people's transformation, we are at a crossroads. As our fields mature, as technology allows us to grow our individual reaches like never before, and as our work swirls in the stream of commerce in ways it hasn't in previous eras, we could lose our way, thinking our work is mainly about building businesses and articulating a brand and scaling products and e-courses and services. That it's about tele-summits and book deals and Web radio shows.
All of those things are fine. All of them are interesting ways to reach and serve more people. But I am betting it is not why you got into the work. You got into the work because you knew that showing up for another human being with love, standing by them and being midwife to their transformation is the work you were made for. You got into it because you believe in the magic that happens when we show up to love in the unattached, wholly committed, skillful way that people who do this work do.
I want to remind you of that. To remind you that is the heart of your work and what deserves the central place on the altar of your attention. To remind you that you change lives and more often than you know, you save lives. To remind you that your work reverberates beyond those you touch, lifting all of us, in ways we have yet to understand.
In the sadness of the past few months, I have remembered all of this.
For more by Tara Sophia Mohr, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.