June 2020 Newsletter
Reflections from Red Maple's Owner
By Raechel Pefanis
MDiv, MSW, RSW, PCC - ICF
A few years ago, Beatrice stepped into my life. It was as if I set out to renovate my house, and right on time, the right project manager for me simply showed up. When I needed a drill, she was there, bit in hand. When I went to install the lights, she was already up on the ladder. She was one of those characters who show up in our stories right when we need them, with something we very much need. Like an apparition, they appear.
Beatrice is a 70-something kid at heart. Our paths have had an eerily similar arc to them, and it made me want to tell her things. And so, one day as we talked away on the phone, I found myself confiding in her that I was struggling immensely with this "awful" internal experience that I couldn't quite articulate, one that was keeping me up at night and causing paralysis on the very long to-do list I desperately needed to tackle. Well, not one to let such things just go by in a conversation, Beatrice paused. "Tell me more," she probed, as though she knew something delicate was beneath the surface.
I explained that whereas I had always been a driven, "get stuff did" kind of person, I found myself losing my edge, giving in to waning energy and a plummeting inner mojo. It was not depression, I explained. It was more like a stuck, inner thinker, one that refuses to get off the proverbial pot. I had become a bit of a ditherer, a spinner of circles. She probed again. "And? What's the problem with that?" (ahem; let us stop here and notice the power of a good, disruptive question, one that knocks us back on our heels and destabilizes us).
I told Beatrice that I was frightened. "I feel like I've stopped thinking clearly. I notice myself second guessing, stepping back, conceding that other people know better than me, even when they don't, and WHO THE HECK AM I IF I'M NOT A DRIVER??" I had no template for this part of myself, or at least not one that I could easily conjure up, and so I peppered her with questions. "How is one supposed to be a successful entrepreneur if she is low on "driver" instincts? What the heck happened to my get-up-and-go-at-top-speeds self?" ALSO, I stressfully explained, I had started to care less about things I would have previously insisted on. I disclosed my highly unhelpful, black-and-white thinking that only drivers with ambition really get anywhere in this world. I expressed feelings of worry. And most of all, I put words to the scathing self-judgement I was living with, words that my inner critic had been spewing for weeks, but that could not seem to whip me into getting moving.
Most people would empathize with some part of my story. They'd say "that sounds hard," or perhaps try to solve the "problem." Some of my more evolved confidants would even comfortably explore it with me. But, no. Beatrice started to cackle. Like, laugh out loud. And she did it without any apology. Had herself a nice little laugh at my expense, and without softening it at all, said "yes, my dear; welcome to your 40's. Kiss your certainty goodbye, because it's not returning. It's not supposed to."
It stuck in my craw for days. WHAT WAS SHE TALKING ABOUT? I'd gotten everything I had in my life through sweat, grit and persistence (or so I was telling myself), and the one thing that had propelled me towards those things was a DEEP FREAKING AVERSION to being told to "chill out." Ugh, shut UP! Don't even talk to me about chilling out, because -dramatic eye roll- the world doesn't spin because people sit on the sidelines and eat freaking popcorn.
I see this differently now, many months later. Now, I have put together that one of the biggest problems we get ourselves into is when a well-loved value is put on steroids. Hyper-individualism. Hyper-innovation. Hyper-service. Hyper-everything. In my case, hyper-driving. Values are meant to anchor us for chapters (usually a decade or so), but evolve over a lifetime. And we don't usually realize that values have handcuffed us, until someone gently points out that we have become distasteful, controlling human beings that need to re-think our hyper-whatever.
It took me days, but I got there. I rehearsed my newfound insight that "my sense of certainty is not returning...and it's not supposed to" with my husband and some friends. I poked some of the assumptions I had been holding. I allowed some daylight in on the idea that maybe my hyper-certainty had at times been about my fragile ego, and that perhaps people get to results through plenty of avenues other than ambition (stop the press, because that one just about knocked me out cold). And here's where I ended up on my possibly permanent state of self-doubt.
Self-doubt comes in many forms. Most of them are unhelpful, such as when we doubt our own lovability, or when we doubt out gritty selves to recover from setbacks. Unhelpful self-doubt also looks like doubting other people's intentions and generosity, when there is no solid reason to do so. Also unhelpful? Doubting our own wisdom and intuition -a particularly popular brand- which is almost never of good use. But, self-doubt can be deeply healthy at certain times of life. One of those is middle life. There is a certainty of the 30s that fades in the 40s, as it must. I hear that there is another wave of it around retirement. Notably, there is also a tidal wave of self-doubt that seems to surround the beginnings and endings in our lives, such as the end of a relationship, the arrival of a child, or the end of a career chapter. And, may you be unusually kind to yourself if your beginning / ending occurs at the same time as a developmental milestone. Will you be getting a divorce around your 50th birthday? Having a baby at 40? Well, geez. Make sure you're fitting in your tree baths.
Self-doubt is not itself a bad thing. Many times it is something to overcome, a barrier that keeps us from taking important risks. But, every so often, it is a softening of a certainty that was -ever so subtly- misplaced. It can be a check and balance against unintended dogmatism, slowing us down to be more thoughtful, more reflective, and less pressuring to ourselves, to others, and to our circumstances.
The end of the story is that, in my case, it made me less interesting (bummer). Brashness and surety sure do make an interaction more fun and dynamic than hedging and spinning does, and so I am a little less entertaining for the time being. For others, their healthy self-doubt might hold other liabilities, such as permission to no longer saying "yes" when they want to say "no." Perhaps it looks like giving up a familiar but thorny path for an enterprising new one. But Beatrice was right; certainty sometimes takes a hiatus, and it's supposed to. She told me her own story about how her dogmatism slowly eroded, and how over time, discernment, wisdom, and patience grew instead. And I admired her so much that it gave me what I needed to finish the process. If self-doubt looks like Beatrice...well, bring it on.
By the way. All this talk of lessening our inner driver, or strengthening our inner contemplative...these are concepts taken from the world of Internal Family Systems, a form of therapy and coaching that some of us at Red Maple are getting our hands dirty with. In Update #1, you'll see that Red Maple is now Red Maple Coaching and Counselling Services. COVID has meant that the mental health needs of the general public are about to be far more pronounced than usual, and so we've re-sorted ourselves. If you know someone that is looking for great mental health care services, please suggest us!
NEW! Red Maple Professional Coaching is now
Red Maple Coaching and Counselling Services.
Unbenownst to some, we've been doing counselling services with our professional clients as they were needed. Given the times, we've decided to make this part of our work explicit and accessible. In addition to our professional coaching services from the past three years, we now specialize in four key modalities of psychotherapy. You can see more on this on our revamped website here.
UPDATE #2: The Certificate in Professional Coaching is on!
"Coaching is the new management." After cancelling our April cohort, plans for a fall, 2020 cohort of the Certificate in Professional Coaching are now confirmed, with contingency plans prepared for pandemic realities. To learn more about this partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University, please check out this latest course from the OCEANS program (our teaching and training arm) here.
REMOTE Corporate / Workplace Coaching Options
We have done some re-jigging! Red Maple has created some new offerings for intact teams and organizations that would like to move forward with remote coaching. Done in small group formats, you can take a look at our newest products and services, here.
UPDATE #4: 41 Erb St. East....Our New Space!
Red Maple is getting a new home! Since February, we have been renovating 41 Erb Street East (at Regina and Erb St) in Uptown Waterloo. It will be a place for 10-15 people that do our work to do so in an entrepreneurial space of dignity, support and collegiality. Take a look at how we're preparing this unique community here!
UPDATE #5: We've gotten social!
It only took a pandemic! Red Maple is now active across all social media, where we are posting thoughts and insights, renovation progress, new corporate curriculum etc. Come find us!