From Closet to Coaching

By William A. Campbell

This past weekend I finished my certification as an organizational and leadership coach. I am excited and proud of this accomplishment, and reflecting on this point in my career, I see the patterns and threads from each part in my professional and personal journey.

One year ago, I didn’t know that what I wanted to do was provide coaching. In fact, I had so many stigmas in my mind of that “life coach” who had people walk across burning coals, that it was the last thing I wanted for myself.

Now, I realize that this is where my life has pointed me all along. At one point I thought I had my vocation stolen from me when I was fired for being gay (or…for my “political views” – see post here). Now I see that no one could steal it. My vocation had a resilience all its own. No matter what people, politics, religion or the world would throw my way, my vocation would crop back up like the little weed it was and say, “I ain’t going away.”

Upon reflection, I have learned that my entire career has revolved around a central issue:

  • I want to see people and groups thrive as their best selves.

I have spent most of my career circling around the field of human development and human potential. Whether it was working with students on personal and leadership development or my pursuing a degree in divinity and spiritual direction, all roads point to the same place.

I entered divinity school with this intent in mind. I was drawn immediately to courses around pastoral care and spiritual direction. However, divinity school wasn’t the right place for me. At first I thought it was because of my sexual orientation. I entered divinity school in a place of transition. I had just decided to come out of the closet, but my decision to apply to the school in question had happened when I was still of a closeted mindset. This had the effect of feeling like I was ready to step out of the closet yet outside of my control the closet had moved underneath my feet to a hostile environment.

As I went through the program, I was repeatedly reminded that this place was neither safe nor healthy for the vulnerable place I was in. To my knowledge, I was the first openly gay student they had (while in school), and my presence caused quite the ruckus. I think some people thought of me as a gay person fully formed – I was the angry gay that lived into their stereotypes. In truth, I was just trying to figure myself out. Each class was a reminder that I did not belong. With the stares and whispers in the hallways, I had to erect barriers to protect my nascent queer Christian multiple identities. So within a year, I left and sought out other ways to continue my career. But I wasn’t quite sure what direction to take things.

In the intervening years, I came to a realization that led me to coaching and further clarified why divinity school wasn’t quite the right place for me. I realized that what I actually wanted was to work with people from a variety of beliefs, backgrounds, and cultures – not just of the Christian faith. Even more, I saw that work was the space where we spent the majority of our lives. It is in this space where people are striving, struggling, and seeking to make meaning of their lives. Yet the most interesting and important questions we are asking happen in other spaces – religious communities, politics, or home. Why is it that we spend so much of our lives at work, yet we spend so much of our time not figuring out how to make it meaningful? We spend so much time avoiding it or avoiding thinking about it.

Taking a lesson from what the closet does to queer people, this compartmentalization has led to people living unfulfilled lives.

As Parker Palmer says in A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey to an Undivided Life.

“Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”

So I come to coaching by way of wholeness. In my own journey of integrating all aspects of myself, I want to partner with others in doing the same. In my coaching work, I am drawn to the metaphor of unlocking potential. My training and approach to coaching draws from cognitive, humanistic and positive psychology. These are fields of research that turn the focus away from what is wrong with people to what is right and helps them develop those areas for more effectiveness.

I cannot help but see the thread from the closet to coaching. It is through a relentlessly positive and holistic view of the self that we can find fulfillment in work, life, relationships, and more.

When we break down the barriers we have erected to compartmentalize our different selves and lives, we suddenly find immense resources and power we did not know existed within us and our communities.

I’m still not having people walk on coals anytime soon, though.

 

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