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  • Sara Johnson

The Freedom of Both/And

It used to scare me thinking that there was no capital-T “Truth” of how to best live my life. I loved the idea of an attainable destination where my life purpose and big Truth would coalesce. Surely the perfect job, mate, and city was out there for me. I worked hard trying to find the path to get there. Arriving would surely solve everything! Back then, it felt comforting and secure to believe I was working towards a solid and definite life plan. A plan that was unshakable, certain and singular.

Plot twist: I no longer believe that each of us has one right path.

Further plot twist: Changing my thinking on this set me free.

One of the greatest gifts of coaching is how this work has shifted my thinking from binary "either/or" thinking to "both/and" thinking. I am excited to observe how impactful this shift can be for coaching clients too!

In the coaching space, one of the most powerful places to travel with a client is where they recognize that two seemingly contradictory things can both be true.

For instance, perhaps a client is trying to make a decision about whether or not to quit a job, and through the coaching work they realize there are compelling reasons to stay as well as compelling reasons to move on. Or perhaps a client is trying to grow self-confidence in order to make braver choices in their life. Yet, the idea of being braver is bringing up conflicting messages: part of them is screaming “caution!” while other voices are hollering with excitement “go for it!”

The coaching work isn’t about negating this complexity: it’s about embracing the breadth, depth, and multitudes of everything. From this “both/and” space, we can create many possible ways forward that honor how we are complicated, ever-evolving creatures. The path needs to be paved with malleable materials.

When I started coaching, I got in my own way trying to support people towards discovering their one true purpose and path. It didn’t take long to recognize that so much of coaching - and so much of being human - is about getting more comfortable in the gray areas, the spaces that are not definite. I’ve been amazed at the expansion that people experience when they accept that things aren’t binary and that there is more nuance in everything. It is transformative and expands our capacity to experience life.

When there is no perfect, right choice, there is also no wrong choice. Though this would have terrified me in my earlier life, it now thrills me to think about how adaptable and flexible we can be! We are so imperfect and multidimensional!

We are allowed to check in with ourselves throughout our lives and ask the question “What do I want?” (a core coaching question) and be delighted at how the answer has evolved over the years.

We can give ourselves generous permission and compassion when our desires seem at odds with each other. What if we made room for all the contradictions? Then what?

I love that we change - that we are always changing. I love that while there might be big things we desire and are moving towards, the path to get there can always shift. The path becomes wider as our imagination for how our life might unfold grows.

I love that more than one thing can be true for us. I love asking a coaching client, “What if both of those are allowed to be true? What would that change for you?” And I love listening together, into the space around that question, into the mystery and certainty.

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