Sunday, January 8, 2012

Finding feedback in your life

With the return of the NBA and college bowls and professional football playoffs going strong (I'm watching the Steelers play the Broncos right now), I can’t help but remember how I used to view the role of the coach.

Naively, when I was young, when my dad would watch sports on our TV, I would sit wondering why coaches were needed. Most of the coaches didn’t even look athletic, and I just didn’t understand the point. 

The players could play the game by themselves, right?  

Of course not.

The truth is: athletes need coaches because players are too close to the game to always see the big picture. 

And sometimes, its not just one coach.  Whenever I am watching football, I notice how, in addition to the coaches on the sideline, there are also coaches/coordinators who sit high above the field and call out advice from radios and phones. They are able to give a unique and valued perspective.

And they are integral in helping teams win games.

And now I think about how this same concept works in our lives.  So many times, we are too close to our own situations, our own habits, our own behaviors - and often need someone else to help us see the bigger picture. 

And yet, too often, we think we can play the game all by ourselves and don’t need anyone in our lives to tell us what to do – or how to improve.

So, every once in a while, we need to ask ourselves: 

Do I have a coach in my life? Someone who can see my life from a vantage point – a unique perspective?  Sometimes we’re so busy playing on the field that we forget to ask for advice.

And what we forget is that coaches can see and draw out potential in us that we didn’t know we had - just like coaches do with professional athletes. 

For example, one of my good friends started using a running coach a few months ago and went from running a 15 minute mile to running a 7 minute mile and completing her first half-marathon. I asked her how in the world that was possible and she said it was because her coach told her he knew she was capable of more and pushed her to believe in herself in a way she told me she never had before. She started to believe that she had that running capability in her. He coached her. And  - the most crucial part – she listened

And that's the catch - getting any sort of coaching or criticism in life is really hard (e.g. think about reading those red marks on an essay or hearing a friend tell you how you hurt them with your behavior). It almost never feels good. And truthfully it probably never will. 

However – those who really succeed in life are those who listen to and act on coaching and feedback. 

It’s the only way to improve.

I thought a lot about this when I recently had my book edited. I sought out students and professors and friends to edit the book before I sent it off to the publisher. I didn’t have to do this. And to be honest I didn’t want to because I knew – no matter how much I needed and wanted it – the editing process would be painful. And it was. But it made the book better. 

Now, of course, you shouldn’t always listen to every voice of criticism or feedback in your life. In fact, it is essential that you develop your own sense of self -- know what advice to take and what advice to leave behind.  But often the instinct in life is to feel defensive and ignore almost any source of criticism in your life - and that is the instinct you want to resist. 

The trick is to be brave enough to take feedback from people you trust.

The simplest way to do so: just ask yourself - does the person have my best interest in mind? 

While sometimes there will be feedback that can be hard to take, it is the only way to truly improve. And the best part is -- coaches can bring out potential in you that you didn’t know you had.

The greatest athletes do not achieve that level of performance on their own. They have coaches. Often the best coaches. Why should life be any different?

Who is influencing your life? Who are you asking advice from? Find yourself some great coaches (a great place to start is with your college advisors and professors). Ask them for help, have the courage to listen, and have the diligence to act. You have no idea what kind of potential and greatness they will be able to draw out of you.

Because it is there - sometimes we just need someone else's help to realize it :)

My book Community College Success will teach you how to find these types of coaches in your life and how to create relationships that lead to your great success. You can enter to win a free autographed copy of the book in the e-mail sign up at the top left-hand corner of the blog. The book will be available on March 15, 2012! :)

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