Discovering a Dichotomy

I’ve been working with Karen Friedman for over 6 months now. It’s remarkable to spend separate coaching and mentoring time with her. As she builds her coaching practice, I feel lucky to be a part of her journey. Karen is an esteemed and highly accomplished educator. She is newly retired from her role as Associate Director of Education for the York Region District School Board. In her “retirement”, she is an Educational Consultant, coach, and mentor. When we were first getting to know each other, I had to get over the fact that she even knew my name. When she first reached out to coach me, I was amazed. She then joined The Mentoree and became my Mentor, as well. Karen works with us on strategic planning and she works with me on my professional goals. Karen is a huge asset in my life, and she makes an impact every time we connect.

Karen has become an essential guide and consultant in my work and my professional development. I learn so much from each session with her. Last week, we did an exercise that got weird quickly but turned into a profound moment of realization. I discovered the dichotomy that has challenged me more than I ever realized.

It started off as a simple exercise. Karen and I were going to do some work around balancing the many things I have on my professional plate. I teach a grade 8 homeroom online as well as ELL, I am the executive director and co-founder of The Mentoree, I have two weekly podcasts, The Personal Playlist Podcast and OnEdMentors, I serve on two boards, Learning Forward Ontario and VoicEd Radio, and I have other projects, one with many intricate and moving parts. On top of all of that, I am a mom of 3 daughters and a wife, and I want to do a good job at everything. Clearly, balance is not my specialty. I was looking forward to the exercise that Karen has spoken about and was ready for anything. Karen began the session by asking me to write 2 words.

At first, she wanted me to choose 2 words that I saw as opposing. Right away, I knew that they were scattered and organized. One is how I was feeling at the moment and often these days, and the other was aspirational. It’s not that I am a disorganized person, but I have always imagined that organization would result in a life improvement. While I, at first, saw scattered as the polar opposite of organized, I soon discovered that there was even more to my word choices.

Karen asked me to copy the words onto paper and then write a neutral line. She also asked me to spread them out around 5 feet apart in the room. Finally, I was set up. Then, Karen asked me to face towards my goal from the centre neutral point.

I was in a frisky mood, channeling Blondie’s One Way or Another, and preparing to be moving around playfully. Karen asked me to define what scattered and organized meant. I spoke to her about efficiency, thinking that I may be able to get everything I do now done in more streamlined ways so that I could be more focused on each area of my work. I also spoke of scattered as distracting and added that it makes it difficult to focus on and complete tasks, as there are so many things to do each day. Then, she told me to take a step towards organized and stop. I took a single step and froze.

Karen asked me how I was feeling as I took a step closer to the paper that said organized. I must have been particularly in touch with myself that day, because I was able to answer her question with surprising detail. It felt cold and dead. I was taken aback by the feeling and my ability to describe it. I was also embarrassed at how I felt, but Karen suspended judgement, as she always does, and she asked how it felt behind me where the word scattered was located. It felt warm and inviting, vigorous and creative. I actually said all of that with such clarity, I was making fun of myself while Karen maintained neutrality. How could it be that two words that I had written so simply and casually could evoke such deep emotion? How could it be that what I aspired to made me feel so awful?

Our session ended, and I looked to her to help make sense of what just happened. Unlike mentorship, coaching is about standing at the sidelines and throwing the questions back at me. One of the things I love about the consolidation part of each session, even though it is sometimes just the clarification of where I want to go from there, is that there is routine, even in bizarre scenarios like this one. For the past 6 months of sessions, they end in questions. This time it was: How could unpacking why you feel this deep opposition between scattered and organized help you professionally? She then asked how I will know when I have unpacked it, creating the success criteria for this line of thinking and wondering. Finally, she asked how the session has supported my professional journey. I usually answer in gratitude with one of my many take-aways. This session’s result was the profound realization that somewhere, inside of me, organization feels like an opposing force to my very essence. I now wonder how reconciling this could positively impact my work and hopes for balance. So much to explore in this powerful dichotomy. Discovery is just the beginning.