Coaching in a pandemic - Reflections on 2020

In February, I was finishing a series of coaching sessions with a client in the City of London who was planning a round the world trip in 2020 to start in March. She had left her high-profile job in finance and wanted some coaching so that her year of travel would be more than just a lovely trip but it would be a year that she could use to explore and plan her future beyond 2021.

The Covid-19 breakout in China was just a item on the news. It seems remote. Far away. Slightly worrying but not overly relevant to us.

She was due to set off in March and we finished our coaching by the end of February. I wished her well and continued to coach other clients for the first couple weeks in March.

Then Covid hit. It felt like the world was completely turned upside down. As many of you know, I also work for Quakers in Britain as their Fundraising Manager alongside my coaching practice (I love being able to work to help my faith thrive). Immediately, the day after as Boris made his announcement, we were all sent home and the whole organisation had to adapt to pure remote working.

I thought at first that my coaching practice - in which I coach around 60% of my clients remotely, would be less affected. I cancelled my face-to-face client appointments - giving those clients the option of continuing via phone at a later date. Over the next couple of weeks, I was in touch with my clients that I coach via Skype and phone to ask what they wanted to do. Most of my clients opted to postpone coaching for a while, feeling that it was difficult to focus on what they wanted for their future when the present was so uncertain.

For me, everything seemed so bizarre and unreal that the idea of coaching people didn't feel right. When most of my clients wanted to postpone appointments during late March and April, I was relieved. I felt too shaken, too uncertain to be coaching. I felt consumed by the day-to-day activities - what was the best time to do the shopping? Where could I get masks for myself and my family? How can I support my teenage son who was now meant to study at home? What about my husband who has Parkinson's disease and is more vulnerable?

Like many of us, I found myself more focussed more on the bottom two rungs in Maslow's Hierarchy of needs physiological needs and safety needs. Food, security, health are all more important than those needs higher up the pyramid - the need to achieve our full potential.

I think that many of us went into a modified survival mode ...... and for those of us who are fortunate and privileged enough to have a home and job and good health, our feelings of stress felt strange and unjustified. But it is crucial to understanding why so many of us felt at a loss, anxious and stressed, even when there did not seem to be an immediate threat.

From the end of April, clients contacted me and I started coaching again.... it felt good to have some semblance of normality and booking in clients gave me this.

What were the themes that were most pressing for clients in 2020? Some of the most common themes included:

- dealing with uncertainty

- struggling with the polarity of control vs letting go

- should I bring a child into this world?

- managing boundaries between home and work life.

Challenges with relationships continued to be a major theme for most of my clients. For many people, living and working such close proximity was a key trigger point. Issues that might have been simmering boiled over for many people.

By September, I was finding that clients were also coming back to look at careers and work life issues. People were starting to feel about to look again at their working life and were feeling more confident about the idea of making career change.

And what happened to the client mentioned at the beginning of this post? The worldwide travel plans didn't go ahead planned due to the Covid but she did find that life brought some unexpected new directions. Our work together to explore how to be with uncertainty, how to plan while at the same time, be open to the unexpected. This was something allow her manage the initial shock of the disruption to her plans and it was one of her key learning for 2020.

2020 has taught me to really appreciate and be grateful for those things that give me a secure base to fall back upon when everything else seems uncertain. Good friends who I can walk around the park with, discussing all and sundry. A supportive Quaker community to connect with on Sundays on Zoom and throughout the week on What's Ap. A partner and son who I can spend more time with. And a beautiful small garden where I had room for a hammock where, in the summer, I could lie back and enjoy the clouds moving across the blue sky. Whatever happens in 2021, I will continue to give thanks and appreciate this things that I have in my life.

note: details of the client above have been changed to ensure anonymity

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