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The Importance of Telling the Truth (Even to Yourself) About the Hard Stuff

I recently returned from another weekend retreat with my coaching team. This one was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and once again, the activities included group exercise, training on improving our coaching skills, and also lots of time for us to just be social and get to know one another.

Our businesses are built and run online, so I can understand how one might wonder... why do we need to get together in person for retreats? If coaching takes place online, why can't team building also take place online?

Well, we do plenty of team bonding and training online... We see each other's posts every day, and there are some weeks where I'm online with different groups nearly every evening for a training session or check-in session of one type or another. The Internet, social media, and Skype (and other similar services) make things possible in this business that would have been completely out of the question 20 years ago!

I've been to this type of retreat twice now, and there really is no substitute for meeting one another in person and just spending downtime together... eating meals, going for walks, chatting on car rides (and yes, making s'mores!). This is the stuff friendship is made of.

So are these just vacations, then? How is this different from going away for a weekend with my husband or a group of friends?

I think it's different for a couple of reasons. First, the training sessions just go a bit deeper. For instance, we have an exercise in which we define our "ideal customer," right down to her name, her occupation, her family situation, what she eats and drinks, where she shops, and of course what she struggles with when it comes to health and fitness. This helps us understand who we are trying to connect with in our businesses, because if we try to be everything to everyone, we end up not appealing to anyone! Anyhow, I had done this exercise several times before, but I never was able to come up with a clear picture of my customer and a name for her. Sure, I had a list of attributes... but that was just a list of qualities on a page. This time around, she really came alive for me, and now I have a picture of her hanging on my office wall. Now she's real to me. And for some reason, that connection didn't happen until I did the activity surrounded by a group of fellow coaches working on the same thing.

But second, and more importantly, we learn about all the stuff people don't reveal online, and we get a chance to reveal those things about ourselves as well.

Now, don't get me wrong... it isn't that any of us are hiding a ton of stuff and putting up a façade... especially not on this team. Most of us pride ourselves on being real and sharing openly with our followers, so they can know that we aren't perfect either. That's how we connect with other people and that's how we learn from one another—by sharing our struggles.

Still, there are certain things we keep private, or at least go into less detail about, for good reason. For example, some stories involve other people and so it really isn't fair to tell them in a public venue; other times, we've told the story before but we don't go into full detail about it every single day when we post because it's in the past and it just isn't top-of-mind for us anymore.

As I wrote in my post about our retreat in Utah back in May, hearing everyone else's stories made me realize just how much adversity each of us had overcome in our own way, and that even people whom I'd somehow thought of as perfect (even though rationally I know that isn't possible)—even those people had stories. Major stories, even if they don't share about them every day on social media.

But in addition to hearing others' stories, I think there is power in telling your own story. Yes, it's a prerequisite for this line of work; you need to be able to tell your story in a compelling way so your followers will connect with you, trust you, and be inspired by you. But I'm not talking about the power of my story to draw people to me. I'm talking about the effect it has on me—not on others—when I tell my story.

My story includes some stuff about my family, my childhood, and past relationships, as well as more recent stuff that if you follow me you probably are aware of, such as my eating disorder and history of food issues, my struggles with depression, my fertility issues, and my recovery from a serious illness.

Each time I tell it, it changes a little, and that's normal. We elaborate on certain things that are fresher in our minds or that we're currently working through. We change how we tell it based on how it went last time and what we wish we'd done differently.

But every time I dig into my story this way, it shakes me up emotionally for a few days afterwards. There are parts of my story that still hurt to think about—that I'm still ashamed of.

Yes, my past is just a story, and dredging up the past doesn't mean I need to fixate on it and get stuck. But I think the fact that emotions are still tender over some of these events—sometimes it surprises me how tender—means I have some work yet to do in order to fully move on.

It's too easy to turn away from things that are painful for us. I believe we only fully heal when we bring these things into the light and accept all parts of ourself. At each of these retreats now, I have been astounded that people were so kind and accepting after some of the things I shared. This is a safe and supportive community, and we are always our own harshest critics—but still, my subconscious expectation that they would reject and shun me made me realize just how much shame I was holding on to.

I believe that as coaches, we need to do this deep work so we can guide our clients through similar work. Habits that contribute to poor health are almost never a simple, surface-level affair—there is almost always some emotional undertone. For example, we might avoid exercise because we feel depressed, or neglect to prepare healthy food for ourselves because we don't feel we deserve it.

"Acting as if" and changing our behavior goes a long way. If you act like you love yourself, and treat your body kindly with healthy food and regular exercise, something in you will begin to understand that you deserve to be taken care of, and it will become esier to act accordingly. In this way, healthy habits build more healthy habits.

But if we never address those emotional undertones, "acting as if" may fall short. When the going gets rough, we may start to engage in self-sabotaging, destructive behavior as those old, buried emotions start to work their way toward the surface. Unraveling this pattern requires digging deep—asking ourselves what's really going on and how we really feel. Our team retreats have provided a space for doing just this, and for me, this has been the best kind of experiential learning that I will pass along to those I work with.

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