School Ghosts: haunting or helping you?
It’s back-to-school time.
If you think this is going to be a blog about the joys and wonders of starting a new school year, think again!
I never liked school, and even though I’m now a full–fledged adult, and I’ve raised a child who is now an adult, I still find myself experiencing minor waves of anxiety this time of year.
What does this have to do with coaching?
Our past school lives have unexpected connections to our work today.
School comes up as a topic with most of my clients, and what happened to them in their school years often relates to issues they are experiencing now in their work – either directly or indirectly.
Some of my clients loved school. Some dreaded it. Some tolerated it. Some experienced all three at the same time.
What seems obvious is: many of the elements that propelled us to succeed in school still work in our favor today, and some elements that got in our way then continue to derail us now.
But what’s surprising is: some of the elements that got in our way back in our school days now work to our advantage professionally. And even more startling: some of the elements that helped us in school now leave us foundering in our work life.
Which of these ring true for you?
Worked Then | Works Now
Take Steady Steve.
He’s the guy who turned in his papers a day early because he got started on time and never pulled an all-nighter. He had time-management down and took life in stride. No procrastination meant he had energy to deal with emergencies and then some. Those skills come in handy on his job now. He can handle multiple priorities and be relied on to get projects done on time, and under budget.
Didn’t Work Then | Doesn’t Work Now
Take Nervous Nora.
She’s the one who worried whether the others liked her, who was afraid she’d be late for class, who was frightened that if an assignment fell through the cracks, the consequences would be dire. Nora was unhappy in school – always fearing the worse, even using fear as a motivator rather than more positive forms of motivation. (“If I fail this quiz I’ll be in big trouble” rather than “Let’s see if I learned the material as well as I think I did.”) When it comes to career, she still struggles – beating herself up rather than being gentle, always worried about what might happen rather than attending to the good work she’s doing or positive impact she’s having. Even if she’s successful in her work, true happiness still eludes her.
Worked Then | Doesn’t Work Now
Take A+ Alex.
He is the student who always had his hand in the air, who aced every exam, who had his work extolled by the teacher in class. A high-achieving student, he knew how to work the academic system and reap the rewards. At work, Alex often feels he knows the “right” answer and is flabbergasted when co-workers not only don’t see it that way, but bristle at his “know-it-all” manner. Alex struggles now because knowing how to achieve individually in school isn’t working for him in a team environment; he’ll argue for what’s “correct” instead of working with others to determine what’s “best” or “good enough” or “feasible.” Worst of all, his long string of being honored for academic success led to intertwining achievement with approval. Now, when professional success falls short, his self-confidence plummets.
Didn’t Work Then | Does Work Now
Take Mischievous Mel.
She was the one disrupting class, taking conversations off target, leaving students snickering. Teachers would send her off to the principal in exasperation, though every so often, you’d see the teachers trying to suppress a smile, too. In her work today, if she’s learned how to use her creative sociability for the good, Mel can be extraordinary at resolving conflict, taking conversations in unexpected directions, and coming up with innovative solutions. These impish traits make her an inspiring leader – the type of person that people want to follow. This is a person who can build a cohesive, energized, hard-working team.
Our school experiences, and the insights we gain from them, can have a profound impact on career effectiveness and happiness.
If one (or more!) of these stirs something up in you, or if reading this brings other issues to mind that you’d like to discuss, please reach out! Coaching can help us tease out these elements and use them to our advantage, and better understand how to get out of our own way.