Yesterday, I almost fired a client. For the past year, he had been depressed about work. He had been looking for a new job and sending out resumes. He had zero social media accounts for networking purposes (something about principle) and he hadn’t attended any networking events. He wasn’t hussling to change his situation. He built a cave on his couch and had been hibernating there for a year, outside of work. So I decided to put him on an 8-week fat loss challenge with eight of my other clients. I asked him if he was up for it. He said yes, with the caveat that his full effort might not be there- already defeated before he started.
I knew that this challenge would help him make changes in his life, teaching him that effort and hard work were the only things under his control. He sent me pics of his first day’s meals. Needless to say, I was disappointed. He wasn’t even trying. I could sense it through the intent and content. “I’ll give him a few more days,” I thought. Nothing changed.
So I made the decision to let him go. Listening to a talk by Gary Vaynerchuck on YouTube inspired me to think about what I was going to say. I was going to give him the speech about ho lucky he was. He was a white male born in the U.S. He hit the lotto and he had wealthy parents that paid for his expensive DC apartment. I was going to go into how my dad raised me by himself in Queens, NY in the mid seventies, how I never saw him because he was working 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week, how I was raised by television shows like the Cosby Show, Three’s Company and the Jeffersons, how I had my first job when I was 8 years old and hadn’t stopped working since. I was going to tear him a new one. I knew no one in his life was going to step up for fear of confrontation. Not me. I wanted to slap him silly for not being grateful.
He showed up early for our session, as I was finishing up with another client. I called him into the office for a chat and sat him down. I broke the tension by making a comment about him being called into the principal’s office. He smiled meekly. I saw the sadness in his eyes. I buckled. Although my planned words were truly coming from a place of love, not anger or spite (ok, some disappointment), there were some elements of my own experiences as a child in my perspective. That wasn’t fair to him. I readjusted my perspective and tried to feel compassion and empathy for him. Just because he had been raised with all the perceived advantages, I really had no clue what else might be going on, or how deep his sadness was. My life shouldn’t be a model for his.
I had been through exactly what he was going through and I hussled my way out of it- AFTER being upset about it for many months. I changed my situation, WHEN I WAS READY TO DO SO. I relayed all my thoughts and perspectives to him, how I wanted to shake the crap out of him, how he needed to work harder in all facets of his life if he wanted to change his situation, how he was lucky to be a white male born in the US, how he had hit the lotto. I also told him some very personal stories of my childhood, how we were homeless for a period in my life, how I used to be a “cutter” and mark my own skin when I was upset at myself, how I so wanted desperately to slit my wrists when I was a teen, but knew in my heart that there was something better for me. I had been at rock bottom at multiple points in my life. I didn’t want him to hit that point because, simply put, some people just don’t get back up. I asked him if what he was currently doing was going to change anything. Of course, his answer was obviously no. With a feeling of immense love and caring for this human being in front of me, I told him the truth he needed to hear.
I have an extremely sensitive side that has been blunted these past few years due to my work as a Firefighter/Paramedic. I’ve seen some horrible things and it has hardened my heart. Usually, I’m the type that tears up during a commercial or a beautiful song. I’ve been like that since I was a child. But as a public servant, it’s easiest for our psyches if we shut everything out. I had been doing that for so long, that I lost my empathy and compassion until recently. I’m regaining that part of me back and it’s difficult- but that’s for another story.
I told him that I had a check in my pocket and would give him his money back if he couldn’t give some sort of effort. I told him that I wasn’t angry or upset with him. I frankly told him that it was up to him to change his situation and that I would be there to coach him through everything he was going through. It was okay if he “messed up” in the act of trying, but not ok if he gave little effort. I gave him a big, warm hug and told him that I would know his answer if he showed up at our next scheduled session. He smiled and thanked me. He told me about a co-worker that needed my help and how he bragged about me, showing her my YouTube videos. I told him that I would take any and all people that were desperate and wanted to make a change. That included him.
As a coach and a human being that cares about others’ suffering, no matter how hard we want others to change, we cannot force it. Whether it’s a relative, friend, partner in crime, or client, I can only throw the life raft- I can’t force him to get in. And honestly, how egotistical is that of me to think I can help anyone. That’s just a part of me too and I wholeheartedly accept it. I truly do believe I can help anyone. But only when they are ready, willing, and able will it be possible for true change to occur. As Gary Vee says “Don’t be half pregnant. Either have the baby, or don’t.” Will I see him this Saturday? I’m not sure, but he’s still sending me pics of his meals. I think we have change in the making.