On Surrender and Self-Imposed Limitations

I’m working on reaching one of the most challenging milestones in my life right now.

surrender-limitations-1016For the past 12 years, ever since I entered the coaching field, I dreamed of the day when I would achieve the pinnacle designation of the field, the coveted Master Certified Coach Credential (MCC). Granted by the International Coach Federation, the governing body of the field of coaching, the MCC is sought by many and achieved by few. I like to think of it as “the MBA of coaching.”

I have played out the fantasy of achieving this many times, opening the email that congratulates me on a job well done. I imagine the party I will host when I achieve this important milestone.

AND, I have yet to achieve it.

In fact, I have now failed the final step in achieving the designation not once, but twice.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, the path to achieve the MCC is rigorous, especially when you went to a non-credentialed coaching school like I did, causing me to jump through quite a few hoops to qualify for the designation.

I’ve persisted through hundreds of hours of effort, logging 2500+ hours of coaching experience with clients and taking (and passing) a complex written exam. I’ve progressed through two prior levels of credentialing achievement, acquiring first the Associate Coaching Credential (ACC) and then, my current Professional Coach Credential (PCC), along the way.

I have recorded, with clients’ permission, coaching sessions that mentor-coaches and assessors have listened to in order to rate my coaching ability against a set of competencies that hail the standards of the profession. I have worked with a cadre of experienced master coaches who have mentored me in the ethics and abilities one must display to work at the master level.

And yet, the achievement is still not mine.

I have failed the final part of this multi-level, challenging process twice in the past 18 months. I am now in the final throes of yet a third attempt to finally securing this credential. It is humbling to admit to you that I have not succeeded in my endeavor, especially when I have worked so hard for it.

The journey to this point has been maddening, frustrating, disappointing, and a host of other emotions. I have resisted the feedback I’ve received from the assessors about what I’m not displaying in my work, and have felt a lot of shame as I have hidden this experience from others, thinking that because of the work I do that I cannot be I about how hard this milestone has been for me to reach. I’ve felt like people will think less of me and conclude that I am not skilled at what I do.

Sharing My Story

I am sharing my story with you now, which is very much still in progress, in hopes that you can draw courage from it as you walk your own journey. We all have our struggles, whether we display them openly or not.

Truthfully, several times I have considered throwing in the towel.

I have a personal tendency to strive to overcome an obstacle, persisting through hardship to ultimately vanquish the foe. I have considered whether this MCC evaluation was a fight I wanted to continue to wage. Of the few people I have let into my confidence about my struggles in this arena, most have asked me some form of the question, “Do you really need it?”

The truthful answer is no. My coaching and consulting business is successful and I can count on no hands the number of times I have been asked if I have an MCC as part of the screening process to be hired as a coach.

One of my coaches, the indomitable Pam Slim, even sent me flowers this past time I failed the portion of the evaluation I’m struggling with. On the card, which sits prominently on my desk, is the note, “No external NO can match an internal YES.” The gift made me cry, and I wondered if yes, indeed, I could and should just let this go, and surrender to the reality that I alone designate my own definition of success. I sat with that contemplation for a long while and considered it.

And yet I have decided to re-engage with the MCC process.

I am back at it again, going for my third, and hopefully, final try at MCC. I’ve passed 2/3 of the evaluation, and the deadline for the resubmittal of this final piece expires at the end of this month. After which I will hear the outcome a few months from now.

Why do I persist? Because, I believe there is deep learning here for me.

Not about vanquishing a foe and achieving the credential, actually. Over time, it has evolved to be more than just that. It is instead about how I can learn to be of better service to myself, and to others.

Five minutes into our first meeting, one of my mentor coaches told me she knew why I was failing my MCC evaluation. She said, “You are trying too hard. Working at this level of coaching is all about surrender.”

Surrendering is a tricky idea for me to get my mind and spirit around.

I have been a coach and consultant for a many years, and I know my work provides value, as evidenced by the changes my clients have made in their professional and personal lives. AND, there is something in this learning for me personally about how to BE in the world, and how I can let go of belief systems that have held me back from letting myself surrender into the full resourcefulness and resilience of my clients, and ultimately myself.

As I practice uncomfortable behaviors that I hope will become natural over time, I am encountering all kinds of limitations I’ve had for years about others and myself. It feels all wrong, because it is unfamiliar.

And yet, as I practice letting go and working with my wonderful clients who are helping me show up in new ways, I am noticing transformations are happening in both of us. I am seeing what feels like the unlikely path of relinquishing control is actually guiding me to a higher level of service in the world.

It is a learning process, one that is super-uncomfortable. In fact, it is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. AND, it is worth it. It is worth it for me to be vulnerable in this way, to open myself up to new ways of being in the world, so that I am truly walking my talk with my clients and with others in my life, holding space for myself and for others to find their own answers. This learning serves not only my clients but those in my personal life too, including my children.

What I’m learning from this experience is that when we welcome the discomfort of growing past our self-imposed limitations, all types of things are possible.

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