CHRISTINA GONZALES Writer
THE GIG Torontonian Gonzales shares how sessions with a life coach helped fire her passions and get her on track. SELF-CENTRED “Get to know yourself. Learn what moves you, and do it often without any pressure to succeed.”
late summer 2012. It’s the Sunday morning after my going-away party, and my friend Robbie and I are sitting on the balcony of the two-bedroom, twobathroom downtown Toronto condo I’m renting. We chain-smoke Belmonts for most of the day and revel in the fact that we don’t have to buy booze for the week—my fridge is kindly stocked with leftovers from partygoers who’d come and gone the night before. That night we giddily make our way to the bar, which is packed with other twentysomethings who, like us, don’t seem to be acknowledging the workday ahead. We dance until 2 a.m. I bring home a guy who told me that he played professional hockey in Europe. He slips out while I’m still groggy—sometime before 9 a.m. I didn’t catch his number, and I don’t even know his name.
The weekend was a series of celebratory indulgences. I’d just quit a high-salaried job in advertising sales, and I was basking in my new-found freedom. Over the past year or so, I’d become bored and uninspired. I desired more from my 25-year-old existence; I yearned to write and travel. Going to England to get a master’s degree in journalism had become the only choice that felt right. I would do anything to get there, even if it meant taking on debt. In truth, signing off on a $40,000 student loan had been an afterthought. Plus, I was only in my mid-20s— I had plenty of time to pay that money off.
Fast-forward three years and I’m slumped over my bed in my parents’ home. I’m now 28 and raw from a split with my boyfriend of two and a half years, apartment-less and lacking the drive to pursue any real career. A message appears on WhatsApp from my friend Meaghan: “You may hate me for sending this to you, but worth a watch,” accompanied by a link to a TED Talk: Why 30 Is Not the New 20, given by Dr. Meg Jay, a psychotherapist who specializes in twentysomething adult development.
I watch the video and I’m instantly overwhelmed. Claim your adulthood. Get some identity capital. Use your weak ties. Pick your family. The phrases from Jay’s talk are hitting me upside the head. “That video has made me feel like complete shit,” I fire back at Meaghan.
“Identity capital” is what Jay calls experiences that add value to who you are as a person. They’re experiences you can put on a resumé—experiences that enhance your preparedness for future opportunities. “At least I have that,” I thought. During my year of graduate school abroad, I had built a network of friends from Valencia to Jakarta, travelled to seven different countries and completed a summer placement at Britain’s largest news agency.
But in the year that I’d been home, I had spent the remainder of my $40K loan and racked up another $10,000 in credit-card debt trying to keep up the frivolous lifestyle I’d led before grad school. I’d moved in with a man whose values were clearly not aligned with mine, hoping that one day we’d stop screaming at each other and just get along. But we never did. And I had no choice but to leave him. In career, money and love, I was in the negatives.
When I left for England at 25, my late 20s felt like they were far off; my 30s were completely out of sight. I had
It was clear that I was on the self-loathing end of the spectrum. And I had to free myself from those intense feelings of inadequacy if I wanted to make any real progress in my life.
no clear path to the house, husband or career that I desired by 32 (the arbitrary age that I’d determined I should have all these things by). I’d never even thought about how I’d actually get to that point. My foresight simply wasn’t there. In her book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now, Jay says, “Self-definition needs to be affirmative— do rather than not do.” If I wanted to have what I’d envisioned for myself in the next two to five years, I needed to act—now.
My friends were all on different paths, which didn’t help. On one end of the spectrum, some had it all together—houses, stimulating jobs and fruitful relationships with well-matched partners—while others were lost and unable to pinpoint what made them want to get up every morning. But we were unified by one characteristic: We all wanted great things for ourselves, and that desire either manifested in action or self-loathing. It was clear that I was on the self-loathing end of the spectrum. And I had to free myself from those intense feelings of inadequacy if I wanted to make any real progress in my life.
Enter the life coach. I had read about Caird Urquhart of New-road Coaching in an online article; the writer had been a client of Urquhart’s at a time when she was struggling to find full-time employment and living in her inlaws’ basement apartment while her husband trained with the military in a different city. She felt worthless, and her confidence was eroding by the day. I could definitely relate.
I called Urquhart. In fact, I called a number of life coaches. “What do I have to lose?” I thought. During our first conversation, which was 30 minutes, free and over the phone (most life coaches let you scope them out for “chemistry” before you commit), I felt at ease. Best of all, Urquhart viewed my life with a lightness that only a third-party perspective could have. At the first mention of my struggle with writing, she exclaimed, “It’s not like you’ve been doing this for the last five years!”— a.k.a., go easy on yourself, girl. I was sold.
Our first session would be the longest—an hour and a half. Each of our meetings thereafter would be a 30-minute call. During our first chat, Urquhart asked me to list 30 of my values and three words associated with them: “If you’re running blank, think about a time in your life when you felt really good—a time when you were really happy and succeeding. Your values usually pop up then,” she said. By our second phone meeting, we’d honed in on my top five: balance, adventure, creativity, learning, challenge.
After 28 years, how had I not known this about myself? My need to have enough free time for wellness and play, my need for spontaneity, my need to fulfill artistic tendencies and my need to constantly be discovering new things about the world are all components of who I am.
Urquhart guided me toward living a life centred around my values—I was to consider them with every decision I made. (She even made me carry the list around in my wallet.) At first, it was difficult. Like when I sent a round of networking letters to people I knew—old friends and acquaintances—and no one responded. I was tempted to retreat, stop discovering the real me and apply for jobs that weren’t necessarily a good fit. “Stop apologizing,” said Urquhart. “People want to talk to people who know their own value.” I stayed on track and sent a second round. This time, I pumped up the letters with feigned confidence and sent them again (including some to people I didn’t know). I landed my first big assignment. I finally felt like I was on my way.
There are still lots of questions that remain: Where do I want to live? What kind of man do I want to be with for the rest of my life? And how exactly will I see my goals through? But having learned what I truly value, I am now better equipped to answer them. As overwhelming as selfdiscovery can be at times, it’s definitely worth the effort. I found not only true inspiration but also direction. I found a journey. And suddenly, Jay’s advice didn’t seem so harsh.
“For what it’s worth... it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald