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Dear Friends,

It has been really hot in Toronto — summer arrived hard and fast a few days ago, and with it a burst of energy for me. I've been thinking, learning, making plans and getting things done.

The heat is breaking today: it's raining as I type this. Along with the rain comes news of Black people dying at the hands of police in America and here in Toronto. And just like any given rainstorm is a specific instance of the larger context of climate change in which weather exists, these events are a specific instances of the larger context of white supremacy and patriarchy in which we exist.

From day one of week one of coach school, I've had questions (and thoughts) about how coaching, which is about individual growth and effort, fits into a world which is deeply unfair, where people start off in different places and are systematically granted or denied resources according to their race, language, gender, ability, sexuality. That's what I'm writing about today.
Butterflies drink at a mud puddle

Change Within and Change Without

There is a line of thinking in the coaching and personal development world that says you can do anything if only you try hard enough; if you hustle, if you grind, if you never give up, then the only thing that can come between you and success are your own limiting beliefs and self-defeating behaviours.

In short: If you fail, it's your own fault.

That's just not so. Here in the real world, most people have the deck stacked against them in ways large and small from the moment they are born, if not before. Systematic oppression wears a million different guises: limited access to good food, poor education options, noise pollution leading to poor sleep and learning, discrimination in countless ways overt and subtle, and on and on. To claim that personal change and success can be driven entirely by internal work is, as feminist marketing strategist Kelly Diels says, to inflict more violence on people who are dealing with enough crap already.

So where does coaching fit, given that it is entirely about inner work: mindsets, inner critics, beliefs, values, and strengths. The organizing principle of coaching is that something needs to change within a person in order to effect change in the outside world. How does the coach-coachee dyad navigate the focus on inner work while also holding the truth that the world is sorely lacking in justice, and as a result, the work, inner and outer, that most people have to do is harder and slower than we are led to believe it should be?

The key, I think, is in a core tenet of coaching that says we meet the client where they are. To meet a client where they are is to meet them in this complicated, oppressive and sometimes awful world, and to believe them when they tell you what it's like to live in their skin. It is to know about microaggressions, gaslighting, tone policing, etc, etc... — and if you don't already know about the millions of tiny ways that the world gets in people's way, then to be willing to listen and learn.

To coach in an oppressive world is to recognize the ways that systems of oppression show up disguised as personal limitations: the voice of the oppressor shows up as an "inner critic", stereotype threat as "low self-esteem", a lifetime of navigating a threatening world as "risk aversion". Yes, clients still have to work through those beliefs and obstacles, but they are not personality defects, they are understandable responses to living in the world as it is.

The American activist Grace Lee Boggs said "People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative." She was talking about society, but at the personal level this is what coaching is about: imagining an alternative way to live, and choosing to not continue in the same old way. It's hard work and it takes courage, but the work becomes easier, I think, if you (and your coach) understand the forces at play.
 

My thinking on this has been informed, of course, by the numerous books and articles I've read on the subject. But most recently my thinking has been focused by the work of Kelly Diels, whose We Are the Culture Makers business development program I'm currently taking. She's writing a book, so look forward to that. Also thanks to Ted Bober, who helped me think through this in the context of coaching.

What's NewI love this picture because it's so summery

As I said at the top, my energy is back. After a week of reading and thinking, I'm ready to do stuff. For starters, I created coaching packages to help people understand who my market is and what I can do for them — and of course, in the process I got more clarity on those things myself. Funny how that works, eh?

My next big job is to get my certifications sorted out. That's 80% paperwork and 20% passing exams. 😬 I've found a buddy to keep me focused, so that should happen... sometime. Also on the to-do list is to find a web developer to update my website, since it's a little Web 1.0-ish right now.

One more thing: today is this newsletter's first birthday! 🎂 The newsletter is kind of a weird thing, a little bit bloggy and introspective, still nameless, but I hope it's useful, or at least entertaining. Thank you to all of you for sticking with me, and for the lovely messages you send.

Fun and Interesting

  • This graphic (? can you really call something a graphic if it's just a triangle-shaped list?) is a handy list of the numerous ways that white supremacy sneaks around. There are a few things in the graphic that I don't know about, so I'll be doing some reading. The White Supremacy Iceberg [instagram.com]
  • Without healthy boundaries, it’s very hard to be true to yourself and live in accordance with your own goals, values, and desires. You find the darndest things on Buzzfeed — this is an article written by a psychologist about how to set boundaries, including handy scripts. 10 Important Boundaries Everyone Should Set In 2019 [buzzfeed.com]
  • It was as if half of America had decided all at once that they needed to bake. A lot. Apparently American flour mill King Arthur Flour was as surprised as I was by everyone's intense urge to quarantine bake. This is an interesting article about how the company managed the increase in demand, both for flour and for advice from their helpline. Inside the Flour Company Supplying America’s Sudden Baking Obsession [medium.com]

Thank you for reading this far!

If you like what you read, hit reply and let me know, or forward it and let someone else know. If you have questions or comments, hit reply and let me know. If you have seen something interesting out there, hit reply and let me know. Are you seeing a trend here? If so... hit reply and let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

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Copyright © 2020 Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching, All rights reserved.


I live and work on land which for thousands of years has been part of the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Huron-Wendat. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am glad to be able to live and work here.

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