March 12, 2021

Grabbing the steering wheel

Grabbing the steering wheel

Have you ever let somebody else push you in a certain direction just because it was the easiest thing to do? Johanna, Coach & Coach Engagement Officer at The Roll, definitely has. Below you can read about how she found the courage to grab the steering wheel and take control of her life.

“When I was growing up, I wanted to be Mother Theresa. Or possibly Ingrid Bergman. Not an actor in general, Ingrid Bergman specifically. I imagined myself in black and white and dreamt about the days I would be just as important as them. But those were only fantasies. The fact is, that I actually never made a strategic choice about my future. I sat in the back seat of the car and if it stopped somewhere, I stepped out and did my best with the circumstances at hand before the car engine began roaring again and I had to hurry inside to not get left behind.

Now, I can finally see the bigger picture and I realize that my work has always included components from the lives I dreamt of when I was younger. Just like Mother Theresa and Ingrid Bergman, I’ve enjoyed helping others, being at the center of attention, and meeting many new people while traveling around the world. I’ve worked at a school, with elderly care, I’ve helped substance abuse victims, and solved personnel issues at an international company. Eventually, I became a manager too and I use the word "became" because that wasn’t a strategic choice either. It was more about doing what was expected. Doing what seemed appropriate right then and there.

Sometimes it felt like I had actually been dropped off in the right place: I had great people around me and I also had the opportunity to travel. As a manager, you’re often in the limelight as well, whether you want to be or not. Everything seemed perfect, but looking back at those years, I understand that I often had to swim against the current instead of with it. It was a constant struggle to move forward, to stay afloat. I had to deliver things I didn’t believe in or could even stand for. I had to live someone else’s life.

Sitting in the backseat definitely has its benefits, though. You don't have to take responsibility - you can't make the wrong decision because the car stops right where it does. It’s also easier to blame someone else if things don't go as planned. After all, I know exactly how comfortable it can be since I sat there for many years.

So what changed? If we still use the same metaphor as before, you can describe it as the car ran out of gas. I no longer had the possibility to just sit back and let myself be driven around anymore. Nothing in my life felt good at that point, neither privately or workwise. I asked myself if I really wanted to continue on as I had before. To let somebody else make all the decisions for me. To not be in charge of my own destiny.

But it takes courage to climb into the front seat and grab the steering wheel. To put your foot on the gas pedal and press down. Suddenly, you’re the one who decides where the car is going and how fast. And you only have yourself to blame if things go wrong.

When I worked as a manager, I noticed that I felt best when I actually sat down and talked with my employees or when the whole team gathered and focused on planning ahead. To see them develop with their tasks and to support them in their goals was just incredible.

As a manager, I had the privilege to meet a coach myself, and it was then that it suddenly occurred to me: "Hey, I want your job!". If I hadn't run out of gas at that time as well I might never have thought more about it but now I was forced to at least consider the idea and ask myself the following question: I have half of my professional life left, do I want to have a role in which I get to help people and also feel good about what I do?

It sounds a bit cliché, but it really was "now or never", and once I decided that I would stop swimming upstream, relief came over me. Relief that has never disappeared since then. It was almost as if there was no way back once I had grabbed the steering wheel. Besides, you can always find comfort in the notion that if something suddenly feels wrong, you can always make a U-turn and try something else. Sure, sometimes the road goes uphill, and sometimes it can be a bit bumpy, but I know that I can handle all of it - I'm the one who’s in control.

I never became Mother Theresa or Ingrid Bergman - those roles were already taken. But in my role as a coach, I get to both meet people and help them. Being in the spotlight and hearing the crowd cheer, as Ingrid did, is of course not part of the job description but that’s fine. When it comes to coaching, the coachee should be at the center of attention and not the coach. Being able to give someone the tools they need to get to where they want to go is the best reward anyway.”

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