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This Is The Work of Our Lifetime: Noelle’s 2021 Reflections

January 5, 2022
Inspiration

A Conversation with JRNI Coaching CEO, Noelle Cordeaux

Noelle Cordeaux

Noelle, let’s talk about 2021 and the current state of society. What’s happened?

This year was really tough and really beautiful. For me (and so many others) a sense of time - specifically the marking of time with the passage of a New Year - has felt odd because the last two years have really melded together. 

I’ve noticed that my loved ones and I have had a hard time placing dates, birthdays, and milestones. As vaccines rolled out and the world began to open up, it felt like life could possibly go back to normal again, but as the leaves fell with the onset of fall it became clear that nothing would return to the way that it was before the pandemic.

All of us must find a new way in this changed reality.

How has the past year affected us collectively?

Noelle: Collectively, we have suffered greatly… and also strengthened. Parents especially seem to have been hit hard by the trials of this time. But strength has come when communities, colleagues, and extended or chosen families have pulled together to support those raising children. 

Workers have suffered as the demands of employers pushed people to a breaking point. Those same workers then sent a resounding message through “The Great Resignation” that wages and conditions must change to meet the future of work.

Systemic inequality, both racial and economic, deepened as wealth and power was visibly amassed by too few and poverty and injustice remained prevalent for too many. 

Strength, however, came through greater visibility of these fault lines in society. Today more than ever individuals are turning towards collectivism, questioning our leaders, our systems, consumerism, capitalism. We’re seeking to do better, to understand racism, to hear the perspectives of people who think differently. We’re having conversations about what we could do differently as a society.

How can we move forward? 

Noelle: I hate to be dark at this time of year, but we are living through dark times. 

The pandemic continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives. We are on the brink of a climate disaster. Autocracies are gaining strength around the world. In the United States ideological divides are destroying hope for a unified society. White supremacy is alive and well in our policing and judicial systems. Reproductive rights are under threat. And that’s just what is top of mind for me today. 

A path forward feels pretty daunting right now. Something that brings me comfort is the meticulous, slow, steady pacing that the science of coaching employs. 

Long term change requires very small steps taken very consciously and consistently. It would be impossible to impact change in one fell swoop. And, all of us can collectively push the boulder of change uphill with a commitment to conscious and consistent action.

When you think about what needs to change, what does reform look like?

Noelle: This will look different for everyone - and that’s important to keep in mind. There is so much work to be done. Everyone is on such different journeys that we have to remove comparison from the equation. Grace is a good alternative. 

Every action no matter how small matters. This could look like:

  • Speaking up if you hear a micro-aggression or biased statement
  • Taking the time to check in on the people around you and help if it is needed
  • Learning about what is happening in the world, and either physically work on or financially support causes that matter to you
  • Holding empathy for others - because we are all going through it
  • Asking someone to tell you more about the way that they think and feel. See if you can find a bridge to commonality instead of shutting down views that are different from your own

We all have to live our lives while creating change. Some dedicate their lives to change and we love them for it. Not everyone can do that, though, and all of our contributions are important. 

How about careers and the workplace - what’s changed there?

Noelle: Shifts in our ideas about work seem to have come mainly from the experience of workers during the lockdown period of the pandemic - the good, bad and ugly. I’ve heard many personal antidotes that line up with what has taken place nationally: 

  • An executive in the beauty industry told me that she disagreed with how company leadership was treating staff members, so she quit to start her own company in alignment with her own values of equity and sustainability. 
  • A manager at a big print warehouse became demoralized because company leadership balked at raising front line employees above the minimum wage. These low wage workers were encouraged to put in 12+ hour days, and work on weekends and holidays. My acquaintance was ultimately let go from his position for encouraging workers to take weekends and holidays off to rest. 
  • Friends of mine who are service industry workers were left with no lifeline and many reinvented themselves, launching into new careers - most of them entrepreneurial and passion driven. 

Many other folks have shared that they started to see how valuable “down time” is while we were all stuck in place. The glorification of business came to feel silly and hollow; time with family and friends and time to do nothing became precious. 

When we consider all of this through the lens of coaching, it makes sense that when given the opportunity people feel a deep sense of fulfillment from taking action that is aligned with personal values and supportive of cherished relationships. Positive psychology tells us that the combination of positive, value driven relationships is the magic formula for happiness and contentment in life. 

The thing that was missing before the pandemic was permission to try to live in this way. We have been conditioned to buy into the guile of toxic individualism. That’s the idea that in order to achieve happiness, we must also achieve financial success at the expense of our lives. If we are not able to do this on our own, there is something wrong with us. 

The pandemic laid bare the scaffolding that privilege provides, and wiped away the illusion that dying on the hill of productivity will save us. It won’t. 

What needs to shift to meet these changes?

Noelle: The shifts in cultural perception that we are witnessing are seismic. It reminds me of the shifting of tectonic plates. These ruptures in consciousness are creating a new landscape; mountains and chasms are being created. It is chaotic. It feels chaotic.

In coaching and in life it is important to honor chaos. Coaching tells us that the only thing that we can count on in life is constant adaptation in the face of new information. Nature confirms that change, chaos, destruction and pain are natural cycles, often leading to renewal. 

Coaching also teaches us that there are two ways to approach chaos and change. One is to set a defined goal state and methodically work our way backwards with small adjustments and action steps along the way. The other is to center on how we would like to feel and build our way forward with intention, noticing what’s working along the way and making adjustments and plans for action accordingly. 

The importance of honoring chaos lies in the fact that nothing is permanent. The suffering of this time need not be permanent. Any anguish and discomfort we feel at this moment will not stay forever. We always have the ability to dream of a better future and take action. We always have the capacity to build our way forward. 

What can we do as individuals to make an impact?

Noelle: Our capacity for impact lies in our choice to take action or do nothing. This matters because while doing nothing might feel safe, inaction punts your will to survive and your right to happiness into the hands of others and of fate. In these times, that doesn’t sound like an enviable or tenable position. 

When I talk about action, remember that we are talking about micro moments of awareness and forward movement. All of it is centered around honoring your values and curating a life that you want to live. 

Taking action is playing with your kids. 

Taking action is learning a new skill. 

Taking action is holding the door for a stranger, speaking up when you feel scared, joining a new group, finding beauty in the reflection of the sky on your window and taking the time to savor it. 

Taking action is admitting your vulnerability and values to yourself and beginning to show both. 

Taking action is exercising your body, exercising your mind, daring to live in the moment and to live in a way that acknowledges how fleeting our existence is.

As coaches, what’s our unique role in all of this?

Noelle: We need coaches now more than ever because everyone needs help with this work: the work of our lifetime, the work of our lives. 

I remember watching Lord of the Rings with my family over holidays past. ​​J.R.R. Tolkien’s eloquent words from The Fellowship of The Ring have stayed with me: 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Wishing you and yours a very beautiful time of hope and renewal this holiday season - from the JRNI Family to yours - Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year! 

To hear JRNI Coaching cofounder John Kim’s take on where we’ve been and what’s ahead, check out Coaches Are Good For the World: John Kim’s Reflections on 2021

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