The Provocative Edge

In a coaching session this past week, I used a tactic that sometimes gets good results.

[Sometimes. Whether it did this time remains to be seen.]

My client is a very smart, very talented, very successful guy who is in a leadership role in an industry that’s failing, in a company that’s panicked. From the day he started the job almost two years ago, he knew something was wrong. Something was off. And now he’s seeing all the bad stuff come to fruition. He’s exhausted, burned out and stressed. Yet he’s spending 80 hours a week stacking the deck chairs on what feels like a sinking ship, and there’s never enough time to do everything that could be done.

“But,” he asks me.

“But, at his level can you leave a job after less than two years in the role?”

“But, I”m a smart guy – isn’t it my obligation to make it work?”

“But, shouldn’t I have another job in hand before I leave?

“But, they’re paying me – don’t I owe them?”

I call this The Motorboat moment: But, but, but, but.

Which is no pleasure trip. It’s more like bumping through heavy chop in high winds. It’s no fun, and a little nauseating.

So I whipped out my best coaching stuff – I put on my figurative trench coat, dark glasses and beret – and I became The Coach Provocateur.

For every “but” he said, I said, “Go ahead, quit.”

For every reason he offered for staying, I offered a vision for what’s next.

For every “no”, I said “yes”.

Because time after time I have seen that when I offer a rather outlandish suggestion – “Quit today and move to Tahiti” – it allows the client to say, “Well, not Tahiti, but maybe Atlanta.”

And there you have it – Atlanta. A workable goal. A clear objective.  Something that feels pretty good.

But you only get there by considering the extreme potential.

My client’s homework is to consider what it would be like to leave in three months. What it would be like to take some time to recoup and renew – his soul, his body, his psyche. And he may come back with another solution than the one I offered. And that is perfectly OK – as long as it’s a solution he can use.

As long as it expands his comfort zone and gives him the relief he craves.

So, no doubt you have something you’d like to address.  To fix. To do better.

OK, what’s the most extreme, Lady Gaga-esque approach you can think of? Dream it up. Biggify it.

Then say, “If not that, then what?”

You may find that by considering that provocative edge, you’ll find your perfect solution.


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  1. says

    I just talked to someone who was fired on Friday and when I explored recoup, renew and restore before deciding what’s next she said, “Yeah, I’ll take a week.” We are honestly that strapped, both financially and mentally in this country that we can’t allow ourselves to go inward before being behind another desk that we may hate for five more years.

    When I lost my job 3 years ago I took 8 months to go inward, partly because the economy sucked and the offers I did receive were so much lower than what I had been making that it was a no-brainer to start my own business, but I wasn’t ready yet, but partly because I was so worn down from 7 years in corporate jobs that I needed time to remember who I was and what joy felt like. I needed to imagine.

    That 8 months went full circle, from absolutely HATING what I had just left behind and never wanting to do it again, despite my credentials and student loans to imagining a new way of doing it on my own terms. I could never have arrived there in a week, I wasn’t even over the anger of losing my job (hell, the shock) in one week. I would have just started another job in the same trajectory, and I would have been miserable for that much longer.

    Some moments change the trajectory of your life, if you let them.

  2. says

    Another thing that’s often at play is our reliance on defining ourselves entirely by our work. “I’m a lawyer”, “I’m a store manager”, “I’m a school teacher” – so when that definition is gone, we don’t know who we are. Which is why we only allow ourselves a week off between jobs – gotta have that definition in place! When, really, we can often economize and downsize, and take the time to define ourselves on our own terms so we can find the right job at the right time for who we are at that point. I didn’t say that is easy, but having space and time really makes a huge difference. Thanks, Dana. :-)

  3. Matt says

    Thanks, Michele – I found this post to be incredibly relevant and enlightening! I’m in a VERY similar situation; at a literal “career crossroads” so to speak. I’m contemplating whether or not to transition from a business that I’ve built over 12 years to pursue something that I’m passionate about – but I’m holding myself back with the notion that I’m “giving up” or “throwing in the towel” on my investment. I can’t see myself sitting behind the same desk in another 10 years, so I’m motivated to act. But I’m struggling with developing an exit strategy, or harnessing a safety net or bridge opportunity. But you’re right: why roll my chair under another desk, in a job that might be equally as dissatisfying? I think there’s sage wisdom in taking time to reflect – to immerse one’s self in an open, unencumbered space before taking action. I considered quitting this week… and now, I’m catching my breath and committing to taking some time off. I appreciate your advice, and thanks for sharing your coaching experience here.

  4. says

    Thank you for sharing this Michelle. Such great thoughts. What makes you happy with life is to have a life that you love and wanted. If being unhappy with the career you have, it is better to seek for the one. I agree with expanding yourself or going out with your comfort zone, in that case, you can explore and experience things that you least expected. Instead of asking yourself “what if”, you wouldn’t know unless you try.

  5. says

    Hi Michele!

    Thank you so much for sharing to us such an uplifting and inspiring post. What you said about expanding beyond the comfort zone made me realized a lot. Whether you want to be rewarded at your job, be successful on your own, improve your financial situation, or just feel like you accomplished something, the key is to break out of your comfort zone. Some people may experience difficulties dealing with this strategy because we are all fond of familiarity – location, people, type of work, etc. But if we cling to familiarity in these aspects of our lives, there’s no opportunity for real growth — personally, professionally, or financially.

    The Solution: even if what you are doing works for you, a little effort to try something new could result in a better outcome and most of the time challenges and spice up your life more. If you keep doing only what’s ordinary or mediocre, your results will continue to be just as ordinary.

    Thanks again for this great reminder Michele! Keep on inspiring :)

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