Shall you live authentically who you are meant to be or will you spend your allotted time living the life of someone you imagine yourself to be?
No matter what the specific reasons are that brings a person to me seeking mentoring, the focus almost always ends up on that question. Perhaps the understanding of “authentically” or “imagine yourself to be” is not what it needs to be but the feelings of inauthenticity and of being a virtual presence in a real world are there and growing. The results are unsatisfactory.
Daniel was referred to me by one of his close friends. After a couple of phone chats, we agreed to meet. He was approaching his 45th birthday with a growing feeling of disconnectedness from who he was. “I look in the mirror and don’t recognize who I am”, was how he put it. It was as if someone with dark intentions had hijacked his life and was living it. “It’s me but it’s not me. But I don’t even know who ‘me’ is!”
After years of mentoring work and as a result of my own journey, I have come to realize that there is something underlying a crisis such as the one Daniel’s was experiencing – a dark shadow – one that goes unnamed because the imagined reality is so frightening. It is an existential crisis in every sense of the word. Daniel was afraid that there was no ‘real me’ – that, if he went on a journey to find his true self, he would end up finding an empty room and find himself (whoever that was) staring into that emptiness.
This is the real reason that we develop avatars – artificial representations of our ‘self’ – imaginary ‘me’s – and why many insist to their dying breath that they are the real ‘me’. The suspicion of self-bad-faith – of inadequacy – of being less than we should – of being not there at all – of being a hole in reality – drives humans to provide a substitute reality in place of authenticity. We fake who we are because we lack faith in who we really are.
After a long first session, I agreed to consider working with Daniel. But, before I did, I outlined in detail how we were going to proceed and laid out the ground rules for that work. I insisted that, before we would sign the agreement that would formalize our arrangement, he needed to write out his version of the ground rules and be prepared to sign them as well – a double signing.
A week later we regathered with predictable results. Daniel had indeed produced a description of the ‘rules’ but he had hedged heavily – left himself plenty of wiggle room. He was shocked when I refused to continue our discussions. I explained. “This is your life that we are talking about Daniel. If you don’t take this seriously enough to do what must be done, why should I waste my time? You didn’t write this draft; your avatar did. This is not a declaration of intent to reclaim your life; it’s an advertisement for continued existence of your avatar. Go back, decide if you are really serious about finding your true self and path and then, when you are ready to commit to a difficult and extensive effort, send me a revision and I will consider meeting with you to discuss possible ways forward.”
Now that may seem a bit harsh but I have found it necessary to establish a level of understanding before beginning to mentor someone. We live in a world of snake oil salesmen selling quick fixes – four week journeys to a new you – instant makeovers – revolutionary approaches that require no real effort and produce ‘astounding results’ – ‘this changes everything’. Before I begin the hard work of helping someone reclaim their life, I need to be sure that they are not out looking for yet another snake oil salesman. I don’t like to waste my time trying to dissolution the intentionally delusional.
More than a week passed before I received an email from Daniel. It contained a revision of the ‘rules of engagement’ draft and a statement of objectives – what he was determined to get out of our work together. It was the first genuine thing that he had provided me. After thinking on it for a day, I suggested that we meet.
The second meeting was quite different from the first. Where certainty and bravado were mixed with uncertainty and self-doubt during our first meeting, the second was dominated by something more of Daniel himself and his determination to reclaim his life. Certainly the avatar was there but I could tell that Daniel was working hard to keep it in check. It was a start. I agreed that we would start working together but only on a trial basis for six months.
Why Make Getting Started Difficult?
Most professional coaches are so eager to get the funds flowing that they take it very easy during the initial meetings. For them, these are ‘sales meetings’ designed to induce a potential client to become a paying one. As most of these professional coaches are depending on the revenue to pay their bills, it is an understandable attitude. What separates me is the fact that I am not relying of the income to pay the bills. I get paid because I have found it is the only way to make sure that a person I am working with is serious.
Mentoring is not for the faint of heart. It involves heavy lifting and confronting very inconvenient truths about yourself. It can require peeling back years – and sometimes decades – of accumulated self-deception and lies. It can require disabusing your closest friends and relatives of the notion that you are who you have been telling them you are for those years and decades. After all, they have been co-conspirators in your deception. It’s not just your life that is being reclaimed. It’s their vision of you that will change as well. Mentoring is a life transforming and world changing undertaking.
If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude – the guts – to face the challenges that come with all of that, you are better of overpaying for a self-help book and wasting your time without wasting anybody else’s.
I make getting started difficult because I don’t like wasting my time. I have an aversion to people who don’t take their life and the opportunity to live it authentically seriously. It is, after all, a matter of life until death. After your ass is cold, nobody will give a damn and your chances will have run out – the clock stops. Those who have made the commitment, found the courage, did the heavy lifting and stayed the course will tell you that their lives are transformed – nothing of the ‘old life’ can compete with being authentically who you were made to be. They are awake to the fact that they are uniquely alive.
I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and can become – if you intend to finally find the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we’ll arrange a time to chat.
© Earl R Smith II, PhD