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As you might have guessed by now, I'm not one of "those" life coaches. You know, the ones who are selling a proprietary program for "elevating your mindset" that will enable you to own a Greek island in 6 months or something else along those lines. That type of coach is more aptly described as a luxury lifestyle coach, and are frequently found to be part of or orchestrating a pyramid scheme. For coaches who have undergone accredited training, certification, and those who practice an adherence to a code of ethics, being lumped in with that crowd is a major bummer. I also come into coaching with a social work background and license, which ingrained me with systems-thinking, calling bullshit on mindset being the "only thing standing in your way" to the financial gain life of your dreams.

What gets tricky though, is that as someone who feels aligned with the role of co-imaginer with my clients, mindset and perspective work are important parts of our imagination so they can't be written off totally. We understandably have to live in this shared economic and social reality, and we know there are mass inequities therein, and that often surviving in this shared reality can take up the vast majority of our time and energy, especially for those who have been systematically excluded from accessing resources or obtaining assets, wealth, or even a basic income. And so that becomes the argument against the coaching posture for imaginative perspective or mindset work: what use is this kind of engagement when we are focused on surviving? It's not a great answer, but the only one I have is this: it is of use because we deserve to imagine something different. All of us deserve that. We deserve a space, even if it exists only in our own minds, where we can be more than units of productivity. Where we can be more than survivors of this system, always just getting through.

So for me this has meant a difficulty with balancing the support needed to survive in this reality with the empowerment needed to imagine a different reality AND create micro-movements and gestures toward that reality in both our inner-dialogues and actual lives. Exploring self-care becomes central. And not the self-care that gets hawked as a product, but self-care in the tradition of Aude Lorde. Self-care as in how gently are you speaking to and about yourself. Self-care as in how are you finding and cultivating peaceful, joyful, and pleasurable time that does not meet any standard of "productivity." Self-care as in deep curiosity and openness. Self-care as in how are you finding even the tiniest pathways to move forward. Self-care as in sometimes having to pick the least worst option and radically accept it.

I've had challenging and straight up rocky situations with clients in this area and they have taught me so much. Clients who were in jobs they hated, in housing that sucked, and the options in front of them were rough for a variety of reasons. And the coaching stalled out. We came to an impasse. My approach above wasn't right for them in that moment. Some needed more validation about the injustice of the system and their experience in it, and needed to stay in that space and be seen. Some needed counseling, and directive advice. I kept looking for doors we could open or mouseholes we could peep into. In these instances, it is understandable that these clients might have perceived my approach as entering the territory of toxic positivity. I could have done a much better job of providing validation and affirming their experience AND with their consent, continuing to search for ways and pockets to resist and create what we can for ourselves in this one quick and precious life we get.

And that's really the point. It's trite but this is it. Our one life. And I refuse to believe that it needs to be spent living inside the cruel confines of capitalism's narrow and inhuman imagination. I want to make my own, and I want others to make their own. It's my heart's hope that enough people imagining and creating their own reality and finding their community of imaginers doing the same will band together to co-create something wild and weird and more just for us all. So I will keep walking this line in humble gratitude.

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Almost 2 years ago I left a more traditional, full-time, salaried role in the social work field. The pandemic and benefits of remote work factored into my decision to leave, but I had also started to reflect on how my identity was wrapped up in my work and the amount of time I spent fixated on productivity (shout out to the amazing book, How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell). It felt like a quick unraveling as I had been rooting more into anti-racist and equity learning and work around that time too. It forced me to confront a difficult truth: just because my work/identity was in the social work field, that didn't exempt me from the deeply ingrained cultural messaging about striving and "playing the game" to advance my own material interests. This was also layered with my growing understanding that social work as a field emerged as a field to only mitigate the harshest effects of capitalist society and not as a rallying or reckoning point to dismantle it.

Leaving the superstructure of my public sector role created space for me to both continue exploring the systemic thinking and how I wanted to shape an identity that wasn't overly embedded in work - all while still living "on the grid" and necessarily seeking out and engaging in income-generating activities. Deciding to work for myself, both as a contractor and in my own private practice, certainly didn't remove me from the social work field and all the forces mentioned above, but it gave me more agency. I had to decide for myself how, when, where, and for how much I would sell my labor. I had to come to my own understanding of what constituted enough.

As with most things in life, understanding my relationship to 'enough' has proven to be and unending and non-linear journey. When I first started making preparations to leave my full-time role, I understandably obsessed over the material aspect of enough. Constantly crunching numbers and tinkering with my contract availability with a simmering fear that I wouldn't be able to pay my bills. Thankfully, that time never came, though my income did decrease (and increase and decrease again and evened out and on and on and on). Riding those waves forced me to confront the scarcity messaging capitalism instills in us all, especially when it comes to thinking about the future. Earn more, spend more, hoard more. What you have now is not enough, what you have now will not support you then. Circumstances change, of course, shit happens, of course, but I started to see more and more how I was living for and thinking about then instead of now.

Being in the then, it turns out, had become another major part of my identity and personality, not just professionally but personally too. I have always prided myself on being a planner, being organized, and forecasting my future steps as they aligned with the traditional (white supremacist capitalist) ladder (or I prefer the productivity-death escalator). Cliché warning, but as I started to recognize that distortion rearing up, I felt more able to come back to now, and all that I have, now, which is actually pretty fucking beautiful and abundant. I still get into that distortion and ride away into terror about money and lack sometimes, but it's less now. And that part of my identity is sloughing off in bits and pieces. I'm kind of a mess now by my old standards. I'm less organized. My vision for the future is much shorter. But I'm calmer. My stomach is no longer in near-constant discomfort. I walk more. And I'm in a near-constant state of gratitude for the minutiae of my days.

The 'enough' of intellectual and emotional fulfillment has been an interesting parallel process. I chose the social work field and getting into the mental health/supportive/care work space because I felt it was closely aligned to my values for compassion and justice. I still feel that alignment, but what I have noticed in myself, and in the clients I partner with, is that so much of the hardship and emotional suffering people bring to coaching is caused by the (1) external and harsh conditions wrought by capitalism (mainly the exorbitant cost of living compared with stagnant wages and the razor thin margins that dynamic creates for the average person, but there are so many others!) and (2) the internalized pressures of productivity as worth and all of the false binaries and ever-growing dread that a scarcity-based economic model yield. If in my work, I am helping people cope and navigate these areas, am I just further enabling capitalism's reign? Or am I helping people get loose from the constant narratives of urgency and lack that are driving their anxiety and depression? Neither? Both? I think it's probably both, maybe, hopefully. Which brings its own shift for my identity and how I think of myself as a helping professional and the field as a whole.

My grip is releasing on this work as an identity. It's what I do, not who I am. I do many things, social work/coaching being one. I am humbled and eager to get the opportunity to speak with people about their lives and I aim to be supportive and helpful in thinking about their path forward, but I don't forget that we also have collective power to challenge this way of life. My identity feels more grounded in that idea: in being an imaginer of different ways of thinking, doing, and being, and cultivating that in the present. If I can be of service to others in their imaginings, and we can both be well and move in those hopeful directions, that sounds like a fairly lovely way to spend time.

If you made it all the way to the end, thank you! This thinking has been maddening and joyful to tease out. Next week I'll be back with a bit about how supporting myself and others in their imaginings can sound/feel and how I think about the dreaded thin line with toxic positivity in this work.

I'd love to hear from others about how you are exploring identity or authentic self outside of a work or capitalist framing. Take care!

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It's been a little over a year since my last blog post. When I started writing back then, it was honestly from a place of scarcity, feeling like I needed to create something of mass-marketable value that I could cross-post to LinkedIn (my personal black hole of career and growth platitudes). As the year has unfolded, I've been challenging myself to think more about how I want to work, how I want to spend my time, and how I want to express myself. Shockingly, I no longer want to work at creating mass-marketable pieces, I no longer want to spend time in narrow ways, and I no longer want to express myself with cross-post-ability in mind.

This is going to mean that this blog takes a turn. This will be more of a creative and analytical space. I'll still talk about my work in coaching and facilitation, but I'll be talking about more. I'd like to talk about how I've been navigating dissonant thoughts in the personal and professional arenas, the traps of late capitalism and the climate crisis it unrelentingly feeds, and how I'm spending more time thinking about health and death these days. This will be more personal, messier, sillier, and probably a lot more frustrating to follow, but I hope you stay with me. I can say that I will be fighting every day to stay with myself and would be grateful for the company.

Next week I'll be back to officially get into it and talk more about the dissonance I've been experiencing around identity and work. Thank you for being here.

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