Don’t Like Where You Are? Here’s Why You Don’t Need to be Afraid to Pivot—No Matter What Your Age
I remember the energy vividly that one September day, three years ago. I was walking near Grand Central Station in New York City, about to enter a place unknown—a giant room full of strangers whom I was convinced, before I even pushed open the steel door and put on my name tag, I wasn’t going to like. Who are all these people? I wondered. What has brought them to this moment? What did they do before today? I was nervous. Perhaps even scared. I was, after all, one of them.
I had signed onto an executive coach training outfit—an international venture known for its excellence and rigor. I am the sort of person who looked at every stroller before I had my first baby. I shopped for a coaching education with a similar thoroughness. And yet, the idea of becoming a life coach made me uncomfortable the way an ill-fitting dress feels. What in the world is a life coach?
I walked in, cased the joint, and took in the view: People of all genders and ages were percolating in the wide-open space. They looked sophisticated, funky, interesting, eclectic. Some were polished with high-held chins of professionalism. Others were young and hip and informal.
I was the oldest.
Every one of those strangers seemed eager to discover something big. The belly of the room buzzed.
But—I was still not sure it was for me. I walked up to the leader of the class at the front and said, rather coldly, “I am a journalist by training. A skeptic. And so, I’m just not sure I want to drink the Kool-Aid here.” He looked at me with a calm diffidence and responded, “You’ll figure it out.”
There I was, at 60, thinking: Figure what out?
I had come to coaching because I wanted to have an immediate impact on other people’s lives. A cataclysmic health journey prompted me to rethink the next chapter of my life. And so, there I was.
I had been a broadcast journalist for 40 years, a producer and director of non-fiction for cable and network TV. I had produced Katie Couric’s colonoscopy, and allowed my own procedure to be broadcast live on TODAY two years later. While creating Katie’s series, I discovered my grandfather died at 53 from colon cancer. I was 42 at the time and got screened. Sure enough, the doctors found a pre-cancerous polyp.
My experience fed my determination to help people understand colon cancer. I wanted women to know it was not a man’s disease, and how critical proper screening is in the face of this cancer that kills over 50 thousand people every year.
How ironic then that 18 years later I landed in the hospital with a ruptured colon and an abscess, leading sepsis to my door by way of acute—and in my case, near deadly—diverticulitis. I had been on antibiotics for months, but they weren’t working, so I had to go to the hospital to receive mega doses of new meds. On the day I was scheduled be discharged, I felt a sudden pain as if a hot poker was piercing right though my gut. My colon had burst.
Five hours later, after an emergency surgery, one third of my colon was removed, and I was on a “bag” offering my colon a break as I recovered. This sort of colonic crisis rarely occurs. Had I not been at the hospital when this happened, chances are I would have died. The doctors and nurses kept telling me how lucky I was to be alive. I heard them loud and clear.
My hospital room became my new normal for two weeks. I was determined to make this community a circle of life, a way of appreciating every one for who they were right then and there. I wanted to know these people, learn not just their names, but also glean the glorious and not so glorious stories of their lives.
I wanted them to know how much they each meant to me for showing up and being skilled, and gentle, and on top of my case. I would tell them. I would reach out and tell them again and again. That was my mantra.
I didn’t realize at the time that my time spent in that post-op hospital room was a beautiful miracle. I came to a higher consciousness. I committed myself to a Zen-like place of calm and gratitude. In that cozy room, with warm blankets draped over my lower body daily and fresh cups of lime Jello by my side, I felt as though I was conquering this crisis with a game-on spirit. I rejected aIl pain meds whenever possible. I was consciously modeling my best behavior for my two daughters, showing them that courage and kindness are the artillery when the going gets tough. I sang songs with them as I walked the halls with my IV thingy on wheels, I videoed the nurse attaching my ileostomy “bag” to my body, so that I would learn to do it myself. I named the “bag” Prada, because I had never had a Prada bag, and decided it was time.
When I left the hospital, I was depleted but determined to get well soon. I had lost 15 pounds, and the bag situation was daunting and at times disgusting, but I was one of the fortunate patients, who knew it wasn’t permanent. I did exactly what my doctor said. I never cheated on the prescribed and precise diet. I didn’t try to walk too soon, or even go downstairs too fast. I was a total goody good girl. I had six weeks of down time before a second surgery to get rid of the bag-followed by another 6-week recovery.
Then, when I got to the other side of it, I decided to rethink the rest of my life. I was about to turn 60 and I was not happy with where I was heading professionally, and the effect that was having on me personally.
My film-making had come up against a flood of young whipper snapper producers, creating gobs of great content, making fundraising for my projects incredibly difficult. One day, my genius therapist said to me, “You’re a coach. You always have been. Get trained!” I was reluctant to even make the first phone call of inquiry. But a few weeks later, I did, and eventually I dug into my savings and paid a whopper of a sum to a gold standard coaching education outfit called IPEC.
My prevailing thinking was that I was ready to try something new. Why not? And… If not now, when?
Beginning with that initial interaction with the class leader on the first day of coaching school, I soon learned to let go of old assumptions that had eclipsed the lens of my life.
I was committed, after one day, to changing. I became a more careful and ready listener. My responses to the world, meaning how I interpreted every single conversation, the details of each day, were no longer the same.
I let go of stuff. I even deleted a big chunk of a diary in my computer filled with old worries, sadness and pain.
I had found my purpose: to help people lead empowered, productive, fulfilling, passionate lives.
All those years of globe-trotting journalism, asking questions to bring people out would come into play during coaching sessions. My conversations with clients would carry them to exactly where, who, and how they wanted to be.
After 14 months, I became a master-certified life/executive coach and created Steiner Coaching Solutions. I am a company of 1. I work with a galaxy of people from all over the world. I am their team captain, sounding board, and a person with whom they know they are safe and heard.
I also coach at the Harvard Business School, a class of budding entrepreneurs. (And I coach the class professor, too!)
Today, I look back on this poignant pivot with wonder. I celebrate my life and my reinvention of it every single day. I know this: there is no dress rehearsal, so seize the moment. We are here now, and given the sacred chance to decide who we are every minute of each day.
Coaching has brought to me are some pearls of wisdom I want to bring to you. Perhaps you will string them together and wear them with a heartfelt commitment to keep moving forward.
- There are no Shoulds. You can discover what works for you, and that doesn’t need to be what works for anyone else.
- Most problems are arenas for opportunity and growth.
- The only thing for certain is change.
- Finally: Believe in your own courage and curiosity to try anything new.
You will discover a chance to free yourself of past anxieties and thought patterns that keep you stuck and wear you down. You can learn to reframe your thinking and your behavior to create the life you desire. It is nothing short of fantastic.
Someone told me when I was very young that, ”The world is your oyster!” That never made sense to me. Does it make sense to you? How is the world possibly like an oyster? And… how is it my oyster or your oyster?
I guess we’ll have to figure it out.