Work in progress

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My first college advisor died after my freshman year.

My second advisor left the school.

By my senior year, I assumed the English department was drawing straws to see who got stuck with me next, given that I was prone to weekly existential crises about what to do with my life. Eventually I fell to former department chair Dr. Kelly, a kindly fellow who used long guttural “uhhhhhhs” to fill the silence while he searched for his next thought.

In my final meeting with him before graduating, he looked across his desk at me, touching his fingertips lightly together and his kind eyes smiled through his wire rim glasses.

“You Kim…uh……are a true….uh…..work in progress….”

I don’t know if I laughed awkwardly aloud, or just avoided eye contact as was often my style back then, but I thought the comment was spot on. If he’d said something like “you’re going to set the world on fire” or pretty much anything else, I would have shrugged it off as the kind of thing you say to any graduating college senior.

But in this case, I appreciated him complimenting me for who I really was. Someone who was working hard to understand herself, someone who was exploring her faith, trying to be a better writer, and mostly trying to find her place in this world.

I've thought of his comment a lot recently, in conversations with clients.

We are all works in progress, aren’t we?

But I think we often lose sight of our progress because we are so focused on the arrival. That because we did not “arrive” at our destination or our goal, we’ve come up short, didn’t work hard enough, or failed ourselves. I didn't enjoy my graduation from college for more than a hot minute before I was consumed with what came next.

Ok, ok. I basically had a panic attack the day after graduation…

At Spurling, we recently hosted an eight-week drop two jeans sizes challenge. Most clients have seen results - some more dramatic than others. But nothing was quite so shocking as sitting down with someone who lost 20 pounds and almost 7% body fat while gaining 5 pounds of muscle and hearing the disappointment in her voice.

But look at how far you’ve come, I said, imploring her to see what I was seeing.

You have made lifestyle changesnot been on some crazy diet that you can’t sustain. You will continue to see positive change.

She nodded, but quite frankly there were no words I was going to say that would have made a difference. Because it is so hard to suddenly un-do in 10 minutes what society has spent 50 years creating.

The constant perception that we're not good enough as we are. That we won't be good enough until....

I’m not going to just suddenly convince her in a 20 minute conversation to focus on how far she’s come. I can talk until my lips turn rubber and she’s not going to believe me. My words alone can’t suddenly change the belief.

My question as a coach - no - as a human being - is what's it going to take? What's it going to take to help each and every client understand that she is good enough as she is? Clients, students, partners, parents, friends - we need to change our language and our belief system to both/and.

You can be working towards progress AND celebrate your achievements.

As with kindness, as with civility, as with compassion, I can only think that it's going to take what it takes - a minute by minute, day by day effort from each and every one of us to help each other not only realize that we are all works in progress, but to love ourselves for the journey we're on, not the destination for which we search.

Be kind.