There are two questions that can set me in a tailspin faster than gas through a Hummer:
1. What is your favorite (fill in the blank)? (color, food, team, facial-wax product…)
2. What do you do [for a living]?
On any given day, my answer to the first question will be different because I just can’t decide and I’ll spend countless hours in torture, wondering if I gave the right answer.
I respond to the second with “I am a life coach”, but when it comes to expounding on my area of expertise, I stutter like Porky Pig on peanut butter. After nearly six years of coaching, I have not “claimed a niche”.
Niche. It’s a funny little word upon which nobody can agree how to pronounce. Is it “neeesh”? Is it “nitch”? Whatever. It means a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted (finally found her niche); or a specialized market.
Alan Wolfe, New York Times Book Review (1/7/01) wrote, “To succeed in this new world, you have to sell yourself. You go to a brand-name college, not to imbibe the wisdom of its professors, but to make impressions and connections. You pick a niche that can bring attention to yourself and then develop your personal public relations efforts to let the world know who you are.”
Hmmmm. What about me? I didn’t go to college. But I went through coach certification (and master coach certification, and relationship coach certification). Surely, I should have a niche!
My mentor-guru-teacher-trainer Martha Beck said you can find your purpose in one of two ways:
1. Where your gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
2. From your own life experiences: Think of the worst thing that has happened to you. Then go help people with that thing.
Beck said you can help people if you’ve “been to hell and back.” If you’ve overcome major obstacles in your life, you have something to teach. In coaching lingo, your “hell-and-back” becomes your gift and your “niche”.
I’ve certainly had my share of hell-and-backs: a string of rotten romantic relationships, issues about time, parenting, self-esteem and self-image, narcissistic bosses, and don’t get me started about my mother. I’ve coached clients on each of these issues and have done a damn good job – so they’ve told me. But niche? Yeeeesh! The word still made me feel as comfortable as a nail in a can of Coke. None of my hell-and-backs’ fully resonated as my real pain. To choose one as a specialty felt disingenuous.
And that’s when I discovered my real pain. My real hell-and-back.
Despite all of the “perils of Sheila” mentioned above, the greatest pain that I never expressed (even to my family and closest peeps) was the guilt and shame I felt for not being able to decide. For not having a clear vision of the one thing I want to do or whom I want to serve. I never wanted to specialize in anything for more than a short time. I didn’t go to college because that would mean choosing a major. I skipped from job to job, hobby to hobby, sport to sport, looking for the one thing that would make me happy and make me appear “successful” to the outside world. I thought I’d found “it” about a million times, only to unfind “it” again and again. The amount of shame and self-loathing I suffered over thinking that I SHOULD be focused could fill the Grand Canyon ten times over. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t belong. I wasn’t “one of them.” And everyone was waiting for me to show up and do something big. Something worthy.
I COULD NOT claim a niche. And moreover, I simply didn’t want to. In Alan Wolfe’s world – I would never be successful. I was doomed to live in mediocrity – a place I fear more than Walmart on Halloween.
Eerie how easy it was to not acknowledge this as real pain and suffering. It never occurred to me that “not being able to choose” was my albatross. Until, that is, I read a book that brought me home faster than Dorothy clicking her red heels. The book is Barbara Sher’s “Refuse to Choose! – Use All of your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams”. Yes, another self-help book among hundreds I’ve read, but I sobbed as if I were reading “Gone With The Wind”. I found my Tara at last!!
Briefly, Sher’s book describes a personality (MY personality!) she refers to as Scanners:
1. Scanners are genetically wired to be curious, multi-talented, have many interests, learn quickly, be very smart, and want to do it all! They have no choice but to be this way. It would be like telling Buddha not to be wise or George Clooney not to be dreamy.
2. There is NOTHING WRONG with Scanners. It’s just the rest of the world that is caught in the dreaded thinking that we all “SHOULD” be focused and do one thing and finish everything we do. Truth be told, we Scanners freakin’ ROCK!
3. If Scanners can let go of the shame and judgment of not choosing and accept and appreciate themselves for the awesome multi-talented people they truly are, they can be uber-successful in business and in life. It just takes a few adjustments. Or not. Benjamin Franklin was a true Scanner and dare I say, highly successful.
To say this discovery, this permission to be myself, was radically eye opening, enlightening, and soul freeing would be an understatement of epic proportion.
Guilt and shame exited my body like cleansing sweat after running a decades-long marathon. And the healing inner-voice of confirmation sang its repetitive chorus so loudly and playfully that I couldn’t keep from dancing. “There is nothing wrong with you – and there never was.”
I’m out, ladies and gentlemen. I am a full-blooded, true-blue Scanner. I am a multi-talented, intensely knowledgeable, fast learning, curious, varied interest, idea machine who wants to DO IT ALL! And I LOVE that about me!!!
I’m clear about my hell-and-back. My gladness and the world’s deep hunger have met.
And I’m passionate about helping other Scanners uncover, discover and become a lover of who they are so they can bring their true gifts to the world without guilt or shame.
Would I call that a niche?
Please. Don’t make me choose.
If you are interested in learning more about Scanners or joining our community, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or join the Facebook Group @Sheilas Playground. You can also sign up for my newsletter at www.sheilawhittington.com. Thanks! I can’t wait to meet you!