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  • Stephanie Thrower

The real reason I like career coaching

I got my first job as a gymnastics coach when I was 15 and I went on to coach in four different gyms and 4 different states between the ages of 17-23. As the years went on I worked with gymnasts who trained for more hours and higher level skills. For many gymnastics coaches, it is somewhat common to specialize in the events or areas of the sport that you yourself excelled as a gymnast. This was true for me. At my highest level of coaching I became more and more specialized as a beam coach.

Most of my work as a beam coach was working with the (legitimate) fears of little girls. While all events can be scary as a gymnast, I think the beam is easily the scariest first. It’s just so easy to fall. We would work impossible skills from the floor on a strip of tape and move each skill incrementally more difficult with an incredible amount of repetition. Although that sounds very methodical, progress was rarely linear. But, to witness what these girls could accomplish over time was astounding.

Career coaching is more similar that one might think to being a beam coach. There is a lot of repetition in work and a lot of incremental difficulty structured built into our jobs. Despite this methodical progress, we can be very scared to take risks to make changes. However, I continue to have the honor to witness what my clients are able to accomplish.

Witnessing and facilitating this kind of growth might sound like enough of a reason to enjoy career coaching.

I do enjoy this aspect of the work. But I’m truly drawn to career and vocation because of its relationship with our mental health. My true career counseling training began when I was working at the VA during my graduate training. This is where I learned the interesting and confusing relationship between vocation and our mental health. I recall clearly my supervisor explaining to me that one of the biggest precursors for severe mental health difficulties included loss of work. Something clicked into place for me (like the perfect size Tetris piece you didn't know you were waiting for).

It struck me how much power yet also how much tension our careers and vocations hold for us. Career can be a major source of stress and actually worsen mental health, yet without vocation or access to purpose we may feel lost and disconnected. Career can give us purpose and identity yet it can feel meaningless. Career can give us freedom and empowerment yet it can make us feel chronically powerless and oppressed.

I really enjoy examining these tensions of their careers in their lives and finding opportunity for change so they can experience the positive aspects career can offer - exploring purpose, building self-efficacy, feeling connected and a part of a team, supporting and helping others, building businesses, seeing their integrity in action, finding pride in making tough ethical decisions. But one element is always present to pursue these changes (or even be able to envision these changes): courage.

What I loved about being a beam coach wasn’t really about watching the skill be accomplished, it was the courage to try it. The reality was the skills would come and go, the girls would stay on the beam or fall. But what was astounding to witness was the courage to be brave, to keep trying, or (just as important for the mental health and empowerment of girls) the courage to hang

their leotard up when they wanted to do other things in their life.

That is also my favorite part of career coaching; witnessing and encouraging the courage to make change, to follow their yearnings for something different, and/or to face the hard things that need to be done. I believe these actions can help us feel more resilient and more connected with our purpose, all of which tend to help our mental health and I love being a part of that.

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