When you go to a doctor he or she asks you to remove your clothes and then hands you something slightly larger than a paper towel with armholes to wear while you wait under fluorescent lighting. You sit in all of your corporeal fragility waiting for that gentle knock when a stranger will enter to ask you too many questions and try to make you feel comfortable in the most absurd and uncomfortable of circumstances. You want to cover yourself or speed up that moment but instead you must sit in an unprotected state waiting to be assessed.
Some time ago I used to say that I’m a lot like a doctor because I ask people to get naked so I can tell them what’s wrong. I realize now with all of the work I’ve done that in fact I ask for much more. In the process of helping people ask for a raise for the first time in their life, make a play for the largest deal they’ve ever made or build a business with little more than hope, we have to assess what keeps them from what they truly want. What I really do is ask people to remove all the protective layers of skin to get to the heart of the matter. I’ve worked with attorneys and advisors who are educated, competent people, but are unable to ask a client for business or make a case for more money. There is so much shame, confusion, and self-loathing in accepting less. The question I get asked repeatedly is the same and goes something like this,”I know that I’m worth more and I know that I deserve more, so why am I not earning more?”
It’s feels fraudulent and bitter to walk around feeling that you’re always just shy of placing in a race and the world is zooming by you, some who appear to be (dare you say it) less deserving. The truth is placing yourself boldly in the world and elegantly suggesting that you are worth what you ask is the work of the courageous few. Most people are just plain scared. Make no mistake courage is not absent of vulnerability. It is in the midst of twisted stomachs, racing hearts, weak knees and sometimes tears that I guide someone to their worth. If you are among the fearless few earning your worth, asking for what you need and getting it, congratulations, you are truly among the most rare of beings.
We accept less for all sorts of reasons. We have complicated relationships with money and power and asking for something feels like confrontation, which we loathe. The key is to choose someone you trust to help you through. When people want to hire me and want to speak with former clients, I’m happy to connect them. The truth is that it will only tell them about results, but that isn’t what you need to know when you hire a coach or consultant to guide you to the next place in your business or career. What you really and truly need is to choose someone who is as I say “your person.” It’s not about finding someone with a five-step process or who wrote a book. It’s about finding someone you trust to hold your hand when you’re scared and kick your ass when you’re making excuses. That is your person. I may not be your person; and if I’m not, I don’t want to work with you, because you need the absolutely right person to do this work and I want you to choose the right person.
This year I worked with a client who was making a play for a much larger position in her company. There were lots of complicated factors and it was an extremely high stakes negotiation on numerous levels. Right after the presentation we spoke and I asked her how it went and this is what she said, “I thought getting the job and the money was the prize and that’s what I cared about, but after I made that presentation I realized I had already won the most important thing. I made a case for myself for the first time in my career and that was much bigger than the job or the money.”
Her response taught me so much about what you truly garner from being able to create your own opportunities. The ability to stake your claim in the world buys you a kind of freedom and power that is larger than a paycheck. She got the job and the money and if you call her, she will tell you that, but that was not her biggest gain.
If you decide to hire a coach or consultant here is what I advise:
1. Trust your gut. It doesn’t generally lie to you and you need to choose someone who feels right to you.
2. Ask yourself if you are willing to tell this person the truth. If you aren’t – keep looking.
3. If you ask for references and call those references, outcomes are only the surface of what you should be asking. Ask about what they learned. What you learn is what you take with you. A simple outcome is a one time affair.
4. Look at the business of the person you’re hiring. Does he or she reflect your values? Read what they write and listen to what they say. If it’s all sales pitch and no humanity, then keep looking.
5. Steer clear of a one-size fits all approach. You come to the process with your own unique challenges, strengths, history and desire. Choose someone who has an approach that is suited to your individuality and respectful of your character.
Working with the right expert to guide you through your challenges, help you get out of your own way, and reach your highest and best self is exciting, interesting, demanding and extraordinary. I feel privileged to do this work. Choose someone who will feel privileged to work with you and for you.
Ann marie Houghtailing is a speaker, coach and trainer. Her writing has been published in Washington Post, Huffington Post, Daily Worth, Yahoo! Finance, San Diego Business Journal, XO Jane and Thought Catalogue.