Once upon a time I gave a lot more advice to people than I do now. I used to consider it an important part of my identity that people know me as someone they can come to with their problems who will help. If you asked me for help, I wasn’t shy about telling you the “right” way to do it. That sometimes worked out, but not every time.
As a youngster I lacked the discernment to recognize when I was projecting my own ideals and perspective onto someone who may not see the world exactly like I did. It wasn’t too much of a problem in childhood because we tend to grow alike in our youth. It was in adolescence that we started to grow apart and in adulthood when I encountered new people as I traveled and expanded my geographical and social world. Today I am thrilled to meet someone who is so wholly different from me that they show me a new way to look at the world; back then that person would have been a threat, or at the very least, just wrong.
I would get upset when my advice wasn't taken if it turned out bad for the person I cared about. I wished I could control them to keep them safe from harm. There were times when I couldn’t bear to witness the choices a friend made, and we had to part ways. Sometimes it was because they knew of my disapproval and couldn’t face me, and sometimes this was my own self-preservation because watching someone I cared about struggle caused me to suffer. If we held onto the friendship an uncomfortable resentment could develop until we could hardly be honest with each other near the end. If I knew then what I know now, this handful of relationships could have had very different trajectories.
A few years ago, on a lark, I signed up for a free “discovery” coaching call. My understanding and experience of helping others was flipped on its head. I received gentle, careful guidance, the choices were all mine to make without my coach inserting herself as my savior, and the unconditional positive regard… it all was so very different from what I was used to. The experience transformed me, and it was impossible to see things the way I had before. I no longer wanted the responsibility of judging others and determining what is right for them. I so quickly adopted this new paradigm it makes me think perhaps I never really did, but that was how concern and nurturing were modeled for me by many elders when I was growing up.
It’s not for me to say what’s right for someone else. I want the freedom and joy of opening doors and letting others choose which to walk through and discover what is uniquely right for them. My coaching clients determine the end goal and they determine the steps they take to get there. I guide a process, but they make all of the calls. What a relief?! There is no fear, no shame, no guilt, no blame, just open-ended questions and infinite possibilities for answers. I am reminded of my first weeks in college… walking on the green, feeling small on the steps of the looming, red brick buildings with tall, white columns housing great thinkers, deep feelers, and all of this potential. Though small, I did not feel insignificant; these buildings inspired me to believe I could be or do anything, express and experience everything. Today, every time I speak with a client, I get the same rush of overwhelming joy and infinite possibility.
As a coach I get to hold space for people on their journey without judgement, expectation, or attachment, just a profound hope for their happiness in the present moment. I am free and my clients are free. I don’t have to let people go and there is no cause for suffering, just a deep mutual respect and appreciation for the beauty of our human commonalities and diversity. I am encouraged by the changes in my personal relationships and professional life from this new way of “helping.” I model this way of being for others so that they don’t mistakenly think passing judgment, ordering others around, and condemning others’ failures is “love.” Ah the bliss of giving less advice!
There is still a wholesome, positive place for advice in relationships when requested and offered with compassion. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to do this work without having to govern others’ choices and I am no longer susceptible to the insecurity of attempting to define myself by this one aspect of my life and personality.
Does any part of this resonate with you? Are there people who have tried to control your choices or have you been the person who has tried to control others with love and good intentions? How has that worked out for you? Please comment below, I’d love to hear your perspective.