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Being A Running Coach Doesn't Mean You Have to Be Perfect :)

Posted Jul 25 2009 10:38pm
It's been a while since I've written searingly honest prose here, so after chatting with one of my friends about the topic of the importance of balancing the concepts of "blogging with honesty & realness" with "putting one's best foot forward in the professional realm," I've decided that it was time to finally get some things off my chest here.

First of all, I would just like to say that one of the reasons I switched careers & became an entrepreneur is that, in addition to feeling the need to control my destiny & make executive decisions, I wanted to work in a different & much healthier work environment, one that agreed with my constitution & frankly, with my soul. :)

I also felt that a need to resolve the internal conflict between the need to "be myself" (in a fuller & more meaningful way) & "being successful."

In both the running & writing worlds, the concept of these entities living in harmony is frankly, much more possible. In what I'm doing now professionally, these two ideals aren't in conflict with one another. This is not always so in the realm of "behemoth corporate world."

I'm not saying that resolving the two has always been easy. In fact, this blog has born some of that internal struggle over the past few years, whether or not people have realized it.

Indicators include some of the subtle & not-so-subtle changes to this blog. To those of you who've been long-time readers, witness how much this blog has changed, even over the past year or so.

Now, to be fair, some of the changes are only natural in the evolution of a blog. For example, a blogger typically develops a more specific & refined viewpoint as time goes on & is still free to develop or change the blog's scope as the blogger themselves develops as a person & as a writer. Hopefully that growth is a lifelong process. :)

It's not simply about getting to know one's own mind better; it's also about improving & fine-tuning the way in which one's thoughts are communicated.

So yes, this blog has probably changed in all of those ways.

And, "not that there's anything wrong with that," to quote the famous Seinfeld line, but it's probably obvious to readers who've been with me from the beginning that there's now "less of me" appearing here in this blog (& not just in a literal sense, after getting into shape! LOL!) & "more of other people." This blog, is now focused, to a much larger degree, on providing running-related tips & covering events in the running world, whether local, national, or global. It is less "journal" & more "resources & advice." There is no judgment either way in mentioning this fact; it just is.

It's not that I'm being any less honest in the process, but rather that, as I've transitioned my running-related activities into a professional sphere, I'm feeling a bit, well, more reserved. :)

Basically, it's the internal struggle between the need for "protection" & a sincere longing for "openness" & "communication."

This goes back to an earlier discussion I had with a friend. She told me that her running coach feels a lot of pressure to be perfect. It's as if somehow, in the act of becoming a running coach, that they appear "less human" to others. They are expected to somehow have all the answers, etc., etc.

Now laugh if you want, but I think there's some truth to this.

The pressure is both externally & internally imposed.

Without revealing a lot of details, let me just say that I recently had an interaction which more or less confirmed this expectation that some have of running coaches. :)

Of course, we are just as human as the next person, but somehow, in becoming a mentor & role model to others, we're expected to put forth a "veneer of perfection."

This is not only ridiculous, but dangerous as well. Why is it dangerous? Because then it means that the process of coaching & running becomes vastly oversimplified & somehow synonymous with "perfection." And what happens when we've supposedly attained "perfection"? There's no room to improve! Is that really what people want?! Why would we ever want to misrepresent ourselves this way? Another way to phrase that would be "stunted growth."

We must not forget that error & failure are part of the larger process of learning & growing, & that running itself is a process of struggling & overcoming, & persisting through it all, & becoming the better for it.

Failure is part of life, & instead of being fearful of it, I say, "Embrace it, learn from it, & then move on." That's what will make you a better athlete & a better person. It also keeps us humble, real, & connected to the process as well. :)

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Now I used to be in IT for several years, & one of the lessons you learn being in this profession is how to be resourceful & think on your feet. It's not so important that you (as a systems administrator or even as an IT manager) know all the answers, but rather, know how to find or figure out the answers. That requires quick, adaptive thinking, knowing how to ascertain the nature of a problem (troubleshooting), & leveraging one's resources to their best advantage.

In a profession that's all about learning & the application of practical knowledge, it's common for technical people to come into contact with people (i.e., whether they be part of the user community or upper tiers of management) who have absolutely zero cognizance of the processes required in order to arrive at these solutions. Now, of course, you could argue that it's not really their concern, which is probably, in most cases, a fairly accurate assessment.

However, the problem with others who are "peering from the outside in" is that, not only can they not understand or relate to the nature of the challenge, but that they often make incorrect snap judgments about the nature of the problem & the troubleshooting process itself, as well as the persons putting these processes in motion. :)

The reason I bring up all of the above is that there are a lot of parallels between the IT worlds & the worlds of training & coaching running. Also, more specifically, I think it's important that people recognize the true nature of what's required as part of the process of performing these activities, from the perspective of the one who's in the "driver's seat."

And yes, like troubleshooting a computer problem, both coaching people & getting into shape are processes. I say this, not to "cut myself any slack" as either a coach or an exerciser, but rather, to put the process of exercising & coaching into a larger perspective.

All of these processes share something in common. They require flexibility in one's approach, being able to think on one's feet, & the ability to make changes as other elements shift in one's personal/physical/mental constitution & overall training.

In fact, many (although not all) of the same qualities that make a great IT professional -- "quick, adaptive thinking, knowing how to ascertain the nature of a problem (troubleshooting), & leveraging one's resources to their best advantage" (as previously mentioned above) -- are also the very same traits which make a good athlete & coach.

Likewise, in IT, a profession that's all about creative troubleshooting & the application of practical learning, you learn how to stay focused in the present. The same could be said of training & coaching. :)

And also just like IT, training & coaching are all about the process of getting there, whether the "getting there" part be a solution to a computer problem, getting into shape, or effectively motivating clientele based on who they are & how they respond as individuals. :)

And similarly, in all of the above activities, it's important to be constantly learning & keeping up with the latest cutting edge technology.

Additionally, those technical people who interface with the public are expected to have people skills, whether as part of the general workforce or on a managerial level. It's a seriously incorrect assumption to say that all "geeks" don't have people skills. :) OK, there are indeed some who could be placed in that category, but chances are, unless you're an IT person who spends all day in the network closet or working with servers, you're going to have to have some interpersonal skills, or you won't be successful.

Likewise, there's both a technical & a personal side of coaching. While, on the one hand, I frankly don't want to spend all of my day being nothing more than being a "calorie calculator" for someone else because they are too lazy to do the calculations & the upkeep for themselves -- That's fairly low-level & uninteresting work, & is not the reason why I became a running coach -- I also recognize the importance of designing programs which factor in such calculations, so that people can reach their goals.

Again, it's all about balance & the specific individual with whom I'm working. There are some people for whom metrics are going to help them hold themselves accountable & further motivate them. And then again, there are others for whom this technique is completely inappropriate. In certain cases, focusing on calorie-counting or other metrics too heavily might actually be counterproductive. In this particular instance, it's my job to refocus these individuals on other positive progress markers which will spur them to reach their goals.

As a coach, it's my job to provide an overall balance between structure & variety, & to make sure that the exact amounts of both are appropriate to the specific individual I'm coaching.

Also, while I am there to provide motivation, I also realize that, unless a client really wants to make the necessary changes to reach their goals, & wants this more than I want it for them, that any changes they make to their training & their lifestyle will only be temporary.

The client has to want the changes for him or herself more than I want it for them. Only then are they ready to do what's necessary to truly take them to the next level of their fitness.

I am a catalyst, but it's up to them to be the engine.

And this is a thought which is not static. These are principles which I too must put to the test every day, not just as a coach but as a marathoner-in-training.

In both the personal & professional realms, it would be unfair to set others accountable to a standard to which I'm unable to hold myself. As a runner, professional running coaching, & the managing editor of a magazine, I'm continually testing myself -- to perform to the best of my abilities, & to be the kind of leader that embodies the kind of consistent internal strength, courage, vision, & ideals that both I & others will respect and believe in, without losing my humanity in the process.

Once again, the point is not to be perfect or to appear so. Rather, we need to find a way to exist in the present without precondition, & accept the process of growth & help others to understand that its ever-changing nature is an opportunity & not a threat. As a running coach, I hope that others can see the beauty in the struggle & not just in the end result. Those who can understand this will continue to growth, & develop a newfound respect for those who both teach these precepts & go through the process themselves.
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