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  • Sara Johnson

Let's Be in the Mess Together

It’s the last Friday of the month and my newsletter is late.

“Late” – of course – only by the standards I set for myself, by the rules I have created about the cadence of this newsletter.

Despite a core ethos of my coaching practice being “break the rules,” I find it easier to break the rules society or other people set for me and harder to break the rules I create for myself. Anyone relate?

This newsletter is late because of perfectionism and an underlying sense of urgency I’ve been carrying for some time now. There are things I want to say that I don’t know how to articulate.

I want to talk about inevitability. Which the online dictionary defines as “certain to happen, unavoidable." Interestingly enough, underneath the definition written in quotes is this example of the word in a sentence: "war was inevitable.”

The only thing I want to say with complete conviction is that nothing is inevitable. Certainly not war, but also not the stories we are stuck in about ourselves, the barriers and challenges that make change feel out of reach.

I want to talk about inevitability because I want to talk about liberation and how the unnecessary violence, destruction, and bloodshed in Gaza has me all the more clear that liberation is the point. For all of us.

Nobody has articulated my feelings on our connectedness better than Anna Fusco in her recent essay, and I encourage you to read the whole thing if you have the time. But here’s a pull quote to bring us into some of the messages together:

“ humanity knows no territory. There is no real distinction between what’s mine and what’s yours…On earth, war is still the dominant creative solution to getting our way. I wonder if we will ever come close to our capacity for love, innovation, and magic if military force and violence remain acceptable responses to big questions.”

Will we ever come close to our capacity for love, innovation and magic?

What if we knew that the transformation we seek begins in the imagination, in hope?

My work as a coach is rooted in questions like these. My work as a human (who is a coach) is to stay optimistic in the face of so many examples of how far we are from reaching our capacity; in a world where even the dictionary uses “war was inevitable” as a straightforward, no-questions-asked example. 

My work is to stay constantly connected to a belief in transformative, justice-centered change. My work is to stay grounded in my belief that our liberation is connected, that we all do better when we all do better and we all do worse when any one of us is suffering. Individual and collective liberation go hand in hand.

The older I get and the deeper I get into my work as a human on this earth the more I find myself saying, “It doesn’t have to be this way!” 

There can be more softness, more ease, more joy, more peace, more possibility. Again, for all of us!

There can be less suffering, violence, and war. But look what I did there: I kept my imagination small yet again. Radical, world-shifting imagination wants to edit that sentence to say: there can be NO suffering, violence, war etc. Not just less, but none. This is actually possible. I choose to believe it. I have to.

I choose to believe that we are creative. I choose to believe that we humans are daily creating our world. Thus, I can assert that human suffering is not required and war is not inevitable. We can co-create this world into something better.

I have felt called throughout my life to be a proactive part of reducing harm and suffering. I have been loud in using my voice to call out injustice and call others into the work of activism and world-(re)building. Even as a young child I felt how unnecessary the level of suffering and violence in our world is. There is enough for every single person on this earth to thrive, baby Sara was sure of it. I carry these values into everything I do. 

My work as a coach is an articulation of this. My work at its core is to amplify the dreams of my clients and be a partner in possibility. 

And so I come to this page and I give voice to how it might all be connected. I reach for the words to explain something simultaneously complex and simple. It doesn’t have to be this way. And if one person in the coaching space can begin to believe that about their life and begin to overcome whatever barriers are limiting them, what is possible for the collective? 

"The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary."

All of this makes me think of the book Emergent Strategy. I devoured the book back in 2019, underlining a good majority of the text, just as I was starting my coaching practice. The author, adrienne maree brown, describes Emergent Strategy as “a way to build complex patterns and systems of justice and liberation through relatively small interactions.” A coaching session, a collaborator in dreaming big, a newsletter.

My goal in this newsletter is never to be “the wise one.” I want to give voice to something other humans find relatable or resonant, even if I get to the universal through a story about myself and my process. I want to build connection through these stories. I want this newsletter to be another container, like the coaching space, for what is possible. 

I was only a coach for six-months when the pandemic started. I have coached and learned how to coach through major collective trauma and suffering. I have coached when I am struggling alongside my clients, when I am grieving just as my clients grieve, when I am without answers just like my clients. 

It is not my job to have the answers. My coach training taught me to bring just enough but not too much of myself into the coaching space. To watch for my bias and to do something called “self management” when clients touched on subjects that stirred something in me. Notice what was coming up for me, put it aside quickly, and resume focus on the client. And to never, never assume what worked for me – my answers, my truth – were someone else’s truth.

Yet I realize that my training created an expectation that I would be able to create more distance from my clients when I was in coach mode. I thought there would be “Sara the coach” and “Sara in everyday life.” I thought part of me would exist in the coaching space, as a coach, and the rest of me would exist outside this special container. Perhaps part of me wanted to be a bit removed because it felt safer. Perhaps I wanted to be seen as a little bit wise as a way to create healthy, emotional distance or boundaries. And perhaps I thought by "being the coach" I could be a little less “in the muck” alongside my clients.   

Well, guess what? I am in the muck! I am most definitely in this messy world alongside you. I am in the mess of a world that says war and suffering is inevitable. I am in the mess of being an empathetic, rebellious heart who screams NOT TRUE. I am with those who are heartbroken and feeling “too sensitive.” I am with those who are finding it difficult to stay present, stay embodied, to not numb out. 

It’s not my job to diminish or gaslight what is challenging. I can see all the suffering in the world too. I can feel called to mend and tend without presenting transformation through a framework of toxic positivity. I want to say what is real, what is here, what is hard while never losing sight of what is possible. As a coach I need to stay present with my belief that nothing is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I will always take my job as a partner in possibility seriously. As Mary Oliver wrote: it is a serious thing/just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in the broken world.

It is a serious thing. And an abundant thing. And a joyous thing. And I am so hopeful, so excited to see what we create in the new year. 

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