Transforming awareness: being a life coach – part 1
In October 2019, PETER J. REDING spoke with VICTOR KANNAN about being a pioneer in the field of professional Life Coaching. In part 1, they speak about the role of helping people to be authentic and raising awareness.
VK: Peter, thanks for joining me. We’re having a great day here in Atlanta; it’s pretty nice, sunny and cool and comfortable.
PR: Same here in Orlando, Florida. And Happy Diwali to you and to those who are celebrating that today around the world.
VK: Yeah, this is Happy Diwali. The world is becoming a smaller place, with everybody celebrating each other’s sources of joy.
PR: That’s absolutely true, and the world needs as much light as it can possibly get, so this is a particularly happy time for the world and not just for the Indian people who are celebrating Diwali.
VK: Thanks Peter. You’re a coaching profession pioneer, teaching holistic coaching since 1996. You’re also one of the founders of the Association of Coach Training Organization, and you have a book to your credit called Positively Brilliant Self Mastery: Reclaim Your Authentic Self Now. So you have enough in your DNA as a Life Coach. I would like to start off by asking, what is a life coach, what do you do as a life coach?
PR: A life coach is really a facilitator of awareness of the client. We tend not to give it bias, we’re not mentors per se, we’re not educators, nor are we parental authority figures. A professional coach will ask questions to reveal to the client who they really are, and what they really want to do, and what brings a sense of satisfaction, completion, fulfilment to the client. Then we ask the client if they’re willing to do that. So I’m in the business of raising awareness.
VK: That’s a pretty broad base. In terms of raising awareness for a CXO, who’s supposedly already aware, how does that happen? When they advance, do they become less aware? Or is it the general risk of life?
PR: A CXO is still human. They get caught up in the busy-ness of life and they forget who they really are in many cases. So, if you’re human then get a life coach.
VK: What in your experience are the keys to success for a CXO? I thought they are the “aware” people already, and yet you’re raising their awareness.
PR: I’ve been one, first of all, and I’ve trained thousands of CXOs, and as you may well know yourself, they are generally task oriented. They’re there to get the job done; they’re there to produce results. And if you think about the number of hours they spend in “getting it done,” it’s an external drive, mostly. There are exceptions; CXOs who are hugely compassionate human beings. They come from the heart, from the soul, they come from a place of supporting individuals as a sense of humanity. But, I would propose to you, there are more CXOs around the world that are driven by the external “What’ve you produced for me lately?” “Where are the results?” “How come this isn’t done?” “You’ve dropped the ball.” And so, in the coaching relationship, its “Who are you?” and “How do you want to bring your most authentic self to your work?”
So then there is an internal drive; an internal passion, compassion, that comes through and still gets the stuff done. I’m not saying that CXOs need to switch hundred percent over to Heartfulness. For me it’s a both/and, not an either/or situation, and it’s again raising that level of awareness for the individual on an on-going basis. It says, “What’s the right thing to do here from the place of humanity?” “What’s the right thing to do in terms of …?” “Yes, let’s get the job done, but let’s recognize that we’re working with people who are mothers and fathers, who have great responsibilities beyond their work.” And if they’re in the wrong position, then let’s bring that to the awareness of the employee and to the CXO and reposition them – find a place where they can bring their passion, their strengths, their natural God-given gifts and talents, to a different job, as opposed to the one they’re suffering in right now.
And this goes on. I don’t know if you noticed, but learning continues throughout life. So, it’s kind of like that angel on your shoulder that says, “Is this what you really want to do?” “Is there a better way?” “Is there a way of bringing more of your authenticity into these negotiations, into letting this man go?” That’s what we’re talking about here.
VK: You talk quite a bit about authenticity. And I’m reminded of an interaction that I had with my spiritual Guide when I asked him once if he had any tips for me so that I could progress faster. He said, “Be yourself.” It was quite a long time ago, and that has helped me just be myself. I understand it’s very difficult to coach a person who’s pretentious, but what do you mean by authentic Self? And also, you’re talking about authentic transformation, so what do you mean by Self and transformation that are authentic?
PR: That’s a great question. It’s a compound question, actually, so let me decouple it just a little bit. Authentic transformation – transformation mostly – around the world, and this includes South America and North America, India and Asia, has the connotation of “You’re not okay the way you are. I want to transform you into ______” – it could be a better employee, a better communicator, a better parent, a better spouse, a better citizen of the world. Actually I have a bit of a pushback with the word “transformation,” but the way I use it is a deep, personal, back to who you really are. In the words of your spiritual Guide, “Be yourself.” Exactly “what and who am I?” is at the core of that question. Am I the product of my parenting? Am I the product of being an American citizen? Am I the product of being in the generation I am? Am I the product of the education I received, and all the influences around me? You know, you have to do this or you have to learn this in order to be successful, to be accepted, to be loved. So, for me the “who I am?” is a much, much deeper place. It’s a very spiritual place, it’s “who did my Creator make me to be?” What have I been endowed with from that creator (whatever name you give the creator)?
Now, in order to be true to that, comes the authenticity part. To what degree am I honoring those innate gifts? Not the skills and talents that I’ve learned because I had to learn them, but the natural innate God-given gifts and talents that I have been endowed with? Am I developing those? Am I using them in my work? To what degree? Am I true to my life’s purpose? By life’s purpose, I mean in all my different roles – as an educator, as a coach, as a spouse, as a brother, as a son, as a citizen of the world?
The third case is core values. Everybody in the world lives by values. My question, has always been, “Yes, I’m living by values, I’m living with a purpose, I’m utilizing strengths that I have; but whose strengths, whose purpose, and whose values? Are they the values of my generation, are they the values of my parents?” Again, it is not all bad. I’m not pointing a finger and saying, “Mom and dad really screwed up.”
And, are they my core endowed values from my creator in terms of my most authentic way of being? So, I come back full circle to authenticity.
So, transformation is not so much to be somebody different for the sake of my job, or because of what somebody wants from me in the current situation, but to what degree am I living in alignment with who I’m meant to be?
Deep, deep dive. There’s a lot of internal returning to my true Self, what I call now my core Self, as opposed to my adapted or adopted self. And therein lies the challenge. It’s life-long learning and a life-long course correction to what degree am I authentic, to what degree have I drifted away from that sense of authenticity.
That’s the absolute core of my work, why God put Peter on the planet. I support people to find that core Self.
VK: I love that a lot. People are not brave enough and honest enough to confront this primal issue of authenticity, and I don’t think there can be any combination of success and happiness without authenticity. Some may be successful, but at the end of the day if they’re not authentic I think happiness will elude them.
PR: I totally agree with that, one hundred percent.
VK: Peter, where does acceptance come into the picture? Because acceptance has got a big role to play in authenticity, does it not? And not just the “aware” part.
PR: Acceptance, first and foremost, self-acceptance. “I screwed up, I’m human. I hope I can do better the next time.” Again, awareness! Am I aware that I screwed up, or that I didn’t follow the path of authenticity? So it’s self-acceptance, and when I find I’m more and more self-accepting, then coming back to coach or to a CXO, or a good friend, I can hold a bigger space for them.
I have more compassion for being human. I have compassion for “it’s not all perfect, it’s not going to be one hundred percent, absolutely straight arrow authenticity.” I strive for that, personally, and I understand when you say it takes a lot of courage to be yourself.
I read something by Whoopi Goldberg many, many years ago that said the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life is be yourself. I think that’s a true statement. It takes courage to stand up to parents: “Mom, dad, I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t like medicine, I don’t like autopsies, I don’t like biopsies, I don’t like this, that and the other, and I’m not particularly good at all the science that is necessary.” Wow, huge courage for a kid of 18 years old, heading off to university. I tip my cap, because at 18 I didn’t have that courage. That’s something I developed later, in the latter half of my life.
VK: But to have that choice is a privilege, Peter, because growing up I just needed to get admission into any college, leave alone the subject or career I wanted to choose. I’m talking about 35 to 40 years ago.
VK: Today this is a problem because there is choice. And so, there are desires from the point of view of the parents, and fears and concerns on the part of the children. That puts them at odds, and they have to develop courage. So, is courage a necessary thing when you have a choice, when you have choices to make? If there was no choice where is the question of courage?
PR: In my experience, in businesses and organizations there are international surveys at least 2 or 3 times a year that talk about employee engagement, or the lack of employee engagement. So now we have a system worldwide, a universal humanity thing, where parents out of the goodness of their heart want their kids to succeed. They want them to be happy, they want them to be good citizens, they want them to be good contributors to their communities. I don’t believe any parent wakes up in the middle of the night and goes, “Let’s see, what can we do to screw up Peter so that he needs therapy at 35 years old.”
That was not the case with my parents. They loved me and I loved them. Well, they don’t know what they don’t know, and it’s generational because that’s the way my parents treated me, and I turned out pretty good and my great-great grandparents, and so on. There’s a genuine love that a parent has for their child, for them to succeed, for them to avoid the pitfalls, traumas and dramas of their childhood, their career choices, their choice of partner etc.
Nowadays, courage is required at all points of life, not just for the 18 year old; it’s also for the 22 year old, the 30 and 35 year old, to break the pattern of what society or peer pressure wants from them and say, “That doesn’t suit me, that doesn’t conform to what I need to do for myself, to honor who I am.” When they don’t know who they are in the first place it’s a guessing game of trial and error: “Let me try this … nah… that didn’t work. Let me try this … that didn’t work. Let me try this … that feels a little bit better, maybe I’ll stay with that one a little longer.”
So, the question of courage when there’s no choice: Well, for one, I believe that there’s always a choice, and again it is tied into the courage of making that choice, and pushing back on bosses, parents, society, peer pressure, my buddy’s from B-School etc. In the modern world, there are billions of choices that are facing all of us right now, not just kids. Again, it comes back to transformation. Am I transforming to a norm in all of those choices? For instance, I need to get so many likes on my Facebook or Instagram posts because that’s what the social media peer group is measured by. Am I making a choice to come into alignment with who I’m meant to be, who I was designed by my creator to be? That conversation really isn’t taking place, not a lot in the world around me.
One of the sayings that I’ve always shared in my classes is,
“You’ll never go wrong being your authentic self;
you’ll never go wrong in being your authentic self.”
In our coach training some 8 years ago, at the end of a self-discovery process, one gentleman in India said, “Wow, this is an accurate description of my original self,” what you and I are talking about, the authentic self.
One of the sayings that I’ve always shared in my classes is, “You’ll never go wrong being your authentic self; you’ll never go wrong in being your authentic self.”
VK: That’s very powerful, Peter.
To be continued.
Interviewed by VICTOR KANNAN
Illustrations by JASMEE RATHOD
July 30, 2020
July 29, 2020
June 29, 2020