What are the one or two questions you are asked most often? It’s worth slowing down to consider, because it says something about who you are, your priorities, and your deepest values. Be warned that this is not an exercise for those who are thin-skinned, take everything personally, and are not actually committed to self-growth.
In my life, two questions come my way regularly. The first one is, “What’s Life Coaching?” and the other is, “Why do you do Ultramarathon races?” For those who are new to the sport, an Ultra is any foot race that is over marathon distance. These events are almost always on trails and require training to overcome a host of physical, mental, and logistical challenges. SkyUltras are distinguished by requiring a minimum of 9800 feet of vertical gain/loss, are generally held at high elevation, and allow poles, crampons and when necessary, hands for scrambling.
I have a complicated but committed relationship with my favorite SkyUltra, The Broken Arrow 52K, which takes place in the majestic mountains of Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley). To be female, 56, with absolutely no background in youth or college running, is to be humbled each and every time I have attempted this race, twice to the finish and once dropping out after mile16. Yesterday, I finished the race with literally 5 minutes before the cutoff time. As in the past, I was one of the last runners to finish, but what I take with me from completing this effort is no less than an elite or front of the pack runner who might complete the race in less than half the time I did. One might argue that I gained even more because for me, it’s harder and I’m exposed to the elements and on my feet much longer.
“Why do you do it?”
I do it because life is hard and knowing we can do hard things is the ground zero of one of the most important life skills we can cultivate – confidence.
I was born into privilege, and although I’ve had my share of life challenges, there’s no denying that comfort has been my unearned state of life. I was born into the first generation of Iranian Jews that did not live in a ghetto or have limited freedom and fear for their lives. My generation was born into a new and modern Iran, and those of us that escaped the Iranian Revolution of 1978 gained even more freedom and comfort in the United States and other first world countries.
Many Iranian immigrants continue to navigate difficult lives because they were wealthy and enjoyed a level of power in Iran, but overnight lost everything and had to start from zero. My story is not that. My father’s vision and foresight allowed for an incredibly soft landing for me and my entire family.
I realize that a life of hardships makes a better story, but I cannot apologize for being the beneficiary of privilege and comfort, a road paved by the extraordinary sacrifice of past generations.
But the ability to navigate challenges with the confidence that we can handle pain and do hard things is often lower for comfortable individuals who have lived a life of ease than it is for those who were born into lack, hardship, and difficult circumstances. This is the price we pay for being wrapped in a blanket of comfort from birth, and an epic challenge for so many parents who work tirelessly to create lives of ease and plenty for their children, only to see those children grow into young adults who lack the confidence to launch themselves into adult life.
If there is only one thing I know for sure after Coaching so many people, it’s that life is hard regardless of our external circumstances. The pain that drove Anthony Bourdain to take his own life, may seem too foreign to so many people who day after day are struggling to make ends meet, but it’s no less of a real thing. To be human is to sign up for life and life is a thing that’s just freakin’ hard for every single person in their own unique way. The pain of a person born under a lucky star is no less difficult to bear than anyone else’s.
This is perhaps where the two questions I’m asked most often converge to reflect who I am, my priorities and highest life values. Life Coaching is supporting my clients to step out of their comfort zone so they can cultivate the confidence to successfully manage their unique life challenges. I run these races so I can expand my own ability to do hard things. It’s my belief that a professional Coach can take her clients only as far as she’s been. Life Coaching is deep, intimate, life changing work and trusting that your Coach knows how to help you gain the confidence and skills to live a robust (if not easy and painless) life is a fundamental and non-negotiable requirement.
For all the people who have asked me these two questions (sometimes repeatedly) and for others who have silently wondered but not asked, I hope I’ve shined a light on the answer. Now, it’s your turn. What is the question you are most often asked, and what does the answer say about you?
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