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Too Frustrating to Tolerate

Too often, people refuse to move forward out of fear of failure. "I'm never going to be good enough at big presentations, so why am I wasting my time?" "I will never find this type of job, so I don't want to try." "I don't have the business acumen to become an entrepreneur, so I better just stay in my job." This attitude stops progress. But coaching has a (strange) way of working with it.

At a closer look, what masquerades as a fear of failure is a fear of not succeeding right away: a fear of being imperfect. The person imagines their first attempt at big-stage presentations or at finding that dream job, imagines a disappointing result, and avoids action. This is, of course, not the felt experience: the felt experience is "I will never succeed." Of course, rationally, people understand that if they do not succeed at something right away, they can learn from that experience and try again — and again and again, for a while; that is called "learning," and everyone agrees that it's a real thing. Still, the felt experience is not "learning is impossible" (because that would be obviously untrue) but "I will never succeed." As if there is nothing beyond that first failure. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the fear of the first failure is so intense that it paralyzes the person.

Coaching has a strange way of working with that: giving the client an experience of being with that unbearable feeling of failure. Dive into that feeling, zoom in, and experience it as vividly as possible — until it loses its power. It is like exposure therapy (not really) or meditation: an experience of getting close to something one normally avoids at all costs. What opens up then is the realization that one actually CAN survive the feeling of being imperfect or rejected. As unpleasant as it may be, one does not die from it. One even finds the ability to move on from it. This type of coaching opens up a path to progress: learning to become a good big-stage presenter, going through rejections to find one's dream job, or failing forward to get one's business off the ground.

It has broader implications too. Failure is only one of the things people often cannot tolerate. Other intolerable things can include condescending jerks at work, corporate politics, unfair managers, and more. Every single thing one cannot be with leaves less and less room to live and work. That is why coaching shines a light on these strong emotions and makes one sit with them, getting as close to them as possible. And if the client doesn't run away from their coach after that, they will get better.


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