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Stepping Past the Borders of Our Knowing

By Ivy Woolf Turk
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Originally Published in Coaching for Transformation


One day, early in my coaching career, I received an unexpected telephone call from a client I had been coaching for about six months. I was surprised to hear from her on a day when we hadn’t scheduled a coaching session. I sensed a shrill quality in her voice that was not familiar. I asked her what was going on. She said that she needed to talk to me about something important, and was feeling very “ambivalent” about it.

I roused my curiosity and began to ask questions about her mixed feelings. After some beating around the bush, and a silence that seemed to go on forever, she informed me that it was because of some information she had found out about me! Specifi cally, she had googled me and found out that I had been formerly incarcerated. She explained that she felt very vulnerable and unsure about the discrepancy between the woman she thought she knew as her coach, and the woman she had read about in the news articles. She felt she had divulged information about herself and her family that was very personal, and didn’t feel safe. She expressed concern about not knowing what to do going forward.

Well, that made two of us! As her words fi lled my head, my heart sank into my toes. I literally felt cold, like menthol had been injected into my veins. One of my greatest fears had been actualized. My inner critics were marching at full speed. My head was pounding with the words that my new career was over before it had even begun. My past would forever thwart my future… So I thought!

I knew instinctually, though, that I had to be in the moment, tap into my power, step into my coach’s stand, and with all of the courage I could muster, go to a place where neither she nor I had the answer. I knew that it was possible for each of us to hold a vision larger than what was appearing at the moment. I wanted to empower her to step past her ambivalence and give myself an opportunity to step past my fear. I knew that if I could “self-manage,” we might hold a space and create a safe container that would allow a new future for both of us.

So, I took a deep cleansing breath, and asked her if she was open to exploring this ambivalence more fully. I asked her what that might look like. She told me she needed to hear whatever I wanted to share about my journey, but couldn’t promise any outcome.

And, so I did! Twenty minutes into describing not only the choices that led me to prison, but the authentic stories of my life and the resiliency that carried me through so many other adversities, she stopped me. The shrill in her voice had turned into a soft and compassionate whimper. She said “Oh Ivy, if you would still consider having me as your client, it would be my honor. “

I started to cry. She went on to say that she hoped I didn’t mind taking some advice from a client! She suggested that from now on, in my discovery sessions, I let every client know that “my greatest adversities, became the greatest curriculum for my growth.” And so, stepping past the borders of our knowing, a truly authentic coaching relationship began and lives on to this day, and the foundation of what is now my successful coaching practice, was born.


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