She smiled at the other tenants of this posh New York condo, all ready to brave the streets of Manhattan. They returned her smile. No one said anything yet wondering why she was wearing a fur coat in the heat of August.
Her name was Ruth and she was a senior V.P. of a major insurance company. She worked really, really hard; her income was well deserved. She had been groomed from childhood to excel. Her single mother worked three jobs so Ruth could attend a private school and get into whatever top university she wanted.
So what was she doing walking to work in the stale, lifeless air of summer in that coat meant to keep her warm in winter? The answer is in the next paragraph.
She walked into the CEO’s office. He had been her best champion, the one who paved the way for her to get to the top. She held the coat close as she entered his posh private quarters. He smiled the same type of smile she had seen on the elevator, a kind of “What the heck is going on” smile.
He asked if he could take her coat. She pulled it tighter and stood for a moment before she blurted out “If you really want me to I will take off my coat. Just be forewarned, I’m stark naked, so what do you want me to do?”
With the help of time and tea she blurted out the story: she had been on the verge of leaving her position for months. She was coming unglued as he could see, wrapping the coat even closer to her bare body. What should be a quest for constant self-growth, for leadership development, had turned into an obsession for perfection.
She wiped a few tears that escaped her steel composure, finally let out a deep, from the gut sigh and said “I think I am driving myself crazy being not just excellent, being beyond a super achiever.”
That began my coaching journey with Ruth to help untie the knots that had formed into a big ball of anxiety that was about to pop.
Here are several of the ideas we tackled: the fear of being ordinary, the guilt that she was not happy while “having it all”, the sense of depression that nothing was ever enough.
Years later Ruth is still successful, only in a different way. No longer proving her worth through status she has created a team to work together and what a relief to not have to have all the answers.