March 28, 2022
By Allison Iantosca
Candlepin bowling with a twelve-year-old is very frustrating. Which has nothing to do with the twelve-year-old except his superior ability to toss a two-and-a-half-pound ball down the glossy straightaway and knock over eight or nine of the ten pins at the other end…every single time.
I, on the other hand, hit the gutter with regularity and only ever managed to eke out three a round on average. He was humble. I was less graceful. In my mounting frustration after two games, I was ready to hang up the rented red and blue shoes for good. He suggested I might like the rails next time, “To keep my ball from going into the gutters”.
Of course, in my competitive mind the rails are only an overly-enabling crutch rendered unnecessary by determination. Even though I became more and more disillusioned with the fun of bowling over our fifty-minute visit to the lanes, I opted to spiral into a darkened mood, eventually deciding that I don’t have what it takes, and, well, essentially – in my mind anyway – quitting.
Bowling aside, I think this happens regularly in our corporate life. We find ourselves inside a paradigm (or game) that we don’t particularly care for, feel unsuited for, and either by the design of our teammates or by our own competitive insecurities, we opt to quit.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we stay inside a structure that doesn’t work for us, but sometimes we get so lost in perseverance that we forget that this is our career to navigate. Tenacity certainly matters—how else did we get this far? Feedback from others is fundamental if only to get a lay of the land. Skill alignment is essential to fulfill our positions. BUT how we manage each of these is absolutely up to us.
In other words, go ahead and put those rails up!
We executives are a tough bunch. Mid-career and we have come so far, but we have so much further we want to go. I don’t think the kind of coaching I seek to do pertains to a specific type of executive leader (e.g., “Start Up Venture Backed Tech”) but rather around life place and complexity. This tends to mean my clients have people to manage and goals to achieve, are usually overworked, are operating in a high paced environment, and are often beginning to get a sense of personal power and skill.
All of this can occur after climbing a bit of an early career ladder with success in certain and reliable behaviors. Some of these behaviors still matter and work, but perhaps the reliance is less and it’s time to exercise some other aspects of self. This is a really exciting place to be, but it is transition nonetheless and requires some endurance and determination to stay connected to one’s personal value proposition while feeling pulled in multiple directions including family and personal life.
This is where the rails come in…and where I actually love them. Now that my clients have this deepened sense of self in life, and so a broader and deeper vision of the possibility of their future, it is a very juicy time to slow down and gain some control. And it can be as simple as starting by naming your values – begin with a hundred options (a word list) and narrow down to ten and then five and then put them in priority order. Intelligent and philosophically based—two things hard to argue. Two things entirely yours.
The rails, if you will, offering you some structure, making it more likely that you are going to hit those pins at the end of the alley dead on. What is your life purpose? What drives you to succeed? What environment gives you energy? How will you evaluate the best option for you? These get to be your questions…and your answers can be found inside a supportive and dynamic coaching process.
Now that I think about my own metaphor, those rails would have made for a much better bowling experience. I think I will reevaluate my relationship with them. I suspect I will opt to set my competitive preconceptions aside and opt for joy. In the end, that was the pursuit. That was my purpose. Next time!
Allison Iantosca is a Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) trained coach with extensive leadership and management experience. She is an ICF-certified Executive Coach and is the Owner and President of Boston-based FH Perry Builder.
*Photo Karla Rivera