This is the story of Ana, a fictional character, inspired by many higher ed. leaders I’ve had the pleasure to coach. Ana was a Vice President at a large university. She knew how to work effectively with the rest of the leadership team, resolve conflict, listen to people and make them feel understood, and do her work with professionalism and excellence. She was respected and admired.
Ana never complained and made her job look almost easy. Nobody worried about her well-being because she seemed so strong. Her President had such trust in her ability to handle anything that he kept assigning her more responsibilities. Her coworkers never thought twice before emailing her or texting her at night or on the weekend because they were used to relying on her anytime they needed her help. While she was highly valued, Ana rarely received any appreciation because people assumed she already knew how they felt.
Ana’s recipe for success
Ana’s parents valued hard work and accomplishments. They raised her to be a high-achieving but also highly self-sacrificing person. As a girl, she was taught to nurture and take care of others. She was praised and rewarded when she did things perfectly and pleased her parents. Unfortunately, she was never taught how to speak up when too much was expected of her, how to ask for what she needed, and how to realize how precious she was, regardless of her achievements.
As an adult and a leader in higher education, Ana was still honoring the same values without questioning if something was missing. Her extreme dedication to her work and her ability to put her ego aside to maintain good professional relationships allowed her to get her dream job. She was successful! But she didn’t realize that her apparent success was based on ignoring her own needs and never making herself a priority. To give others what they wanted, she had to silence what she wanted. She kept telling herself that servant leaders are here to serve others and not be self-serving.
Beneath the surface
On the surface, everything looked perfect. However, Ana was deeply unhappy and felt guilty about being unhappy. How dared she feel badly when she had so much for be grateful for? Ana was not able to see how she had been repressing her own voice, her own needs, and her own desires. She had put many aspects of her life on hold until she would have more time. But there was never any free time to do the things that made her happy. On the rare occasions when she had some time off and didn’t feel an urge to work, she needed to rest.
Ana intended to stop eating sugar, cook healthy meals every night, go to the gym, lose weight, and meditate. But in reality, she was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to take care of her health and her wellness. She somehow always managed to step up to the challenge when someone else needed her but not when she was the one in need. Weeks, months, and years passed, and she was still neglecting self-care which made her more self-critical and feeling unworthy.
Ana made an appointment to speak with an Executive Coach who specializes in higher ed. leadership. During the call, Ana said she wanted to improve her time management and have someone keep her accountable and push her harder. It quickly became clear to the coach that what Ana really needed was to create healthy boundaries so that people wouldn’t take too much from her, and to improve her relationship with someone who was making her miserable, which was her own self.
Ana’s friends had told her countless times that she was too hard on herself, that she needed to relax and make time for hobbies, and to stop worrying so much about work. Not only the comments were not helpful, they sounded like judgment and made Ana feel misunderstood and criticized. Nobody had the power to convince her about what to do, what to think, or what to believe. She had to come to her own conclusions after re-examining old beliefs and assumptions.
Trying a new way
In her coaching sessions, Ana didn’t feel judged or misunderstood. It was a safe place for self-reflection and to identify different ways to continue thriving at her job without sacrificing herself in the process. Her most important breakthrough was to realize that creating healthy boundaries and asking for what she needed did not damage relationships or her reputation. In fact, once she expressed herself more, people started to have even more respect for her and were eager to meet her needs. She became a more inspirational role model.
At first, she was worried about asking for too much. She needed some time to become comfortable expressing her needs, but as it turned out, all of her requests were perfectly justified, reasonable, and also in the best interest of the university. Nothing was self-serving. She started to see the difference between service and servitude.
Ana is not the only one
While Ana is a fictional character, the dynamics I describe in this story are very common, which is why I am sharing these insights with you.
Can you relate to Ana’s story? If yes, I invite you to schedule a time to speak with me about how we can work together. Coaching is not therapy or counseling, and we will not revisit the past. Through a process of inquiry, you will uncover what old beliefs or old programs continue to drive your decision making and your actions. You will choose for yourself what you wish to keep and what you wish to change.
We will design strategies to make possible what didn’t seem possible before. Let’s talk and I’ll explain how much fun and empowering the process can be.
If you don’t want to work with a coach one-on-one but you still want to improve your time management and productivity, take a look at the program I created for you. It’s only $47 now and you can do it at your own pace, in 5 weeks or less. Every module includes self-reflection questions to help you free yourself from old limitations. Check it out, and let me know what you think!
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.