In a recent first coaching session with a new client, as we were exploring what exactly he hoped to get out of our partnership, I asked him, “What is your growth edge right now?”. He responded point blank that he had no idea what I was talking about. This is an intelligent, capable, and very creative leader of a successful organization, and a professional coach and yet somehow the concept and phrasing didn’t make sense to him.
I love when clients push back in this way. It is easy for coaches, who spend a lot of time on self-development and around other coaches discussing theories and approaches to just assume that clients will receive any kind of question or assertion without a hiccup. And what can happen in coaching relationships where there is not a deep basis of trust is that the client will not feel like they can say if they don’t understand something their coach has shared (or just to say that they think the concept doesn’t make sense or is not useful to them) because they fear it will make them look inept to their coach. It’s always a good sign when a client can say to me, “What the hell are you talking about?!”
One of the great gifts of getting to do this work is that the questions that come up for me with clients are often the questions that are coming up in my own life. And so this conversation helped me to examine: what exactly do I mean by a growth edge? And where is/are mine at this moment?
The simplest way that I can describe what the concept of a growth edge is for me right now (as I’m sure this will be an evolving concept), is that it is a place where there is discomfort in my life. Discomfort often is a signal for opportunity - what happens if I sit with the discomfort? What happens if I don’t try to numb it or avoid it? What might emerge as possibility if I can be uncomfortable without the need to change anything?
As an adventurer, I like to think that I have been seeking out discomfort for a lot of my life - moving far from home as soon as I could, living in foreign cultures for decades, going on major solo expeditions, taking on jobs that I felt utterly unqualified for. But in retrospect, often these adventures were as much about avoiding discomfort as they were about seeking thrills and exploring. Being on adventures could allow me to avoid questions like: What am I running away from in my family life? What does it mean to fully commit to relationship? What would happen if I stuck with something even though I didn’t feel like an expert at it? What if I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?
But life is ever generous in providing genuine discomfort, adventurer or not - hasn’t the last couple of years been a great example of that?! As a person of such privilege and good fortune, I hesitate to talk much about my own discomfort during that time, but it has been real, and I have had some serious edges to tease out and grow from.
In a world that is providing so much discomfort these days, how do we know what is really worth pursuing in terms of growth edges? I’m of two minds on that question. On one hand, I believe that pretty much any area that you pursue growth in is going to have some kind of positive benefit (although not necessarily the benefit you set your sights on). On the other hand, it seems wiser to me to pursue growth edges that come from a place of being enough and of self-compassion (eg: “I notice that ______ makes me uncomfortable. I’m curious what it would be like if I explored ______ more. How would it help me more fully express my potential?”). Contrasted with what is often sold as ‘self-improvement’ (“I suck at ______ and it’s probably why I am not as successful as I should be. I better hurry up and find time to set goals to get better at ______!”)
Here’s a recent example from my life. I came across shadow work for the first time through this book. The gist of this work is that the parts of ourselves that we are most ashamed of, that we most want to hide and avoid are the ones that hold the greatest gifts if we embrace them. This has knocked me for a loop and makes me really uncomfortable. It means all the places I sit in ‘comfortable’ judgment of others are places I have to explore in my life, and it will likely require going places emotionally I’ve never gone before. I could probably be fine and continue to achieve things I want to in my life without doing this work. But I refuse to leave any stone unturned when it comes to self-exploration and being the fullest expression of myself that I can be. I sure as hell am not going to go it alone though, and am working on finding a therapist that can help me with the journey.
I’m likely biased, but I believe that growth edges are best explored with a competent partner who have a deep belief in your growth and who will take a stand with you when you need it. I feel incredibly privileged that my work allows me to partner with others in teasing out their growth edges. If this is something that you want to know more about, let’s have a conversation soon.