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3 Strategies for Self-Coaching: How to Grow Professionally

Sketchnote about how to grow

For many of us, our dream job is the endpoint. When we finally land the job we’ve dreamed of (or the position that will eventually promote us to that job), we often stop pursuing professional growth.

Sure, we may continue to attend continuing education, work seminars, and work on personal development outside of work, but for many young adults, growth can slow after entering the workforce.

Learning environments like schools, universities, and even on-the-job training gives us the experiences, training, and feedback that help us to grow rapidly. Once we’re settled into a job, however, those experiences are usually lacking from our management on the job.

Continued growth requires self-initiative.

3 Strategies for Self-Coaching

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For individuals trying to figure out how to navigate a challenging work environment, these three strategies for self-coaching, adapted from The Squiggly Career by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, can help discern goals and move towards achieving them.

1. To Self-Coach, Ask Yourself Open-Ended Questions

Good coaches listen more than they offer advice, and this is easy to model for yourself while engaging in reflective exercises.

Instead of asking concrete questions with black-and-white answers, explore the gray space. For example, instead of asking, “Should I quit my job?” Get curious. Ask yourself what you like about your job and about what’s missing. Would it be possible to shift your current job to focus more on using skills that you’re really good at or to outsource parts of your work that are extra challenging or unfulfilling?

2. To Grow, Intentionally Create Distraction-Free Spaces

Sketchnote about how to grow

Did you know that when a phone is sitting on a table, a conversation is less likely to include meaningful topics? 1

Whether we are having a heartfelt conversation with a friend, working on a big presentation for work, or sitting down for some reflective journaling, we need to mindfully be present in the work that we are doing. For better focus, don’t just silence your phone, silence it and place it out of sight.

  • If you can flip your phone over, flip your phone over.
  • If you can silence your phone, even better.
  • If you can flip your phone over and silence it, why not put it out of sight area until your tasks are completed?

With a phone and other distracting technology out of sight, it’s easier to focus on the task at hand – whether that’s completing a job or work project for our current position or checking-in with ourselves to determine if a career-course correction is in order.

3. Value the Voice of Your Inner Coach

Sketchnote about how to grow

We all have an inner coach and an inner critic, but most of us give more airtime to the inner critic. Sometimes, we’re even captive to intrusive thoughts from this critical voice. If you’re serious about personal growth and career development, mindfully practice selectively honoring the voice of your inner coach.

Some of us can spend an entire lifetime learning to silence the voice of shame, an internalized scolding parent, or the haunting criticism of a terrible boss. If the voice of your inner coach is quiet (or perhaps not speaking to you at all) therapy may be able to help. Psychotherapy is often a place where we can learn to build up the voice of our inner coach and remove power from our inner critic. Learn more about how to start therapy and what to expect.

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Recently, I read The Squiggly Career by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis. In this book, Tupper and Ellis describe how the corporate ladder is changing. Where employees were, in the past, often expected to stay with the company and rise through the ranks during the course of their careers, today’s employees tend to shift positions.

Journalists writing about changes to the job market frequently cite statistics about how this results in better pay for workers. We rarely discuss the mental health cost of switching employers every few years.

The Squiggly Career cover

The Squiggly Career

by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis

(Shop at Amazon or purchase through an independently owned bookstore)

For people who are trying to discern career decisions and navigate personal growth, career growth, and vocational sustainability without burnout, Tupper and Ellis outlined three strategies for self-coaching, which I have visually translated in this doodle.

Personal coaches have never been more popular. As an alternative to the open-ended nature of therapy, personal coaches listen and respond with advice, assignments, and personal development plans their clients can use to seek specific goals like a career change or higher-paying positions. While personal coaching is often helpful for increasing insight, not everyone has access to personal coaching or psychotherapy.

Image Description

Yellow bubble letters at the top of the image read, “How to Grow.” Below are three suggestions for how to cultivate self-growth. The first suggestion, marked by the number one in a yellow shape, is to ask yourself open-ended questions. There are two people drawn with this suggestion. The first is wearing a light pink sweatshirt and has their arms crossed. Below them is written “reactive.” The second person is wearing a dark pink sweater with their arms open over their heart and stomach. Under them is written “curious.” Between the two is a column of text bubbles showing “instead of… try:” for inner conversation switches. Instead of asking, “Should I quit my job?” Ask, “What is missing from my job?” Instead of asking, “Why did they get promoted?!” Ask, “I wonder if I should seek more feedback?” (Take ownership; don’t blame.) Instead of saying, “I’m always late and anxious and tired!” Ask, “What about this job makes is so hard to relax?” (Focus on one thing at a time.)

The second suggestion, marked by the number two in a yellow shape, says, “Create distraction-free spaces. Above this is a drawing of a bird cage containing a cell phone. 

The third suggestion, marked by the number three in a yellow shape, says, “Value your inner coach over your inner critic.” Above this is a drawing of a person wearing a blue sweatshirt with a yellow lightening bolt, with a neutral expression. On their left is a ghost with an angry expression. On their right is a ghost with a happy expression who is saying, “I really admire you, actually…”

Image source is Tupper, H. & Ellis, S. (2020). The Squiggly Career. Visually translated by Lindsay Braman. 

  1. “A study by psychologists at the University of Essex found that the mere presence of a phone on the table—even if it’s silent—makes those sitting around the table feel more disconnected and disinclined to talk about anything important or meaningful, knowing if they do, they will probably be interrupted.” in Murphy K. (2020). You’re not listening : what you’re missing and why it matters (First). Celadon Books. []

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