Yes, I’m a coach. I help people think and feel their way out of stuck places. I help people do their work on creative projects, work projects, self-expression projects. I help people find the rough edges in their lives and figure out how to smooth them out. Or how to live with them. Coaching is hard, and I am grateful I went through an excellent training program. And then followed it up with another training and certification program in creativity coaching.
If you read that paragraph carefully, you’ll see that I don’t do the work for my clients. They do the work themselves. I am a witness, a support, a deep listener, an occasional nudger, a frequent reminder of accountability. Being coached is not a fun afternoon activity, it’s real work toward a real goal.
Here’s what I am not: your mom (who gave advice), your best friend (who has needs, too), a healer (although I help you heal yourself or seek a therapist), or a shaman.
Most of all, I am not a shaman. A shaman is a holy person who has been trained in the ways of the culture that surrounds the tribe. Being a shaman demands training, initiation, and having a tribe of similar culturally-related people to work and celebrate with.
While I have been trained in coaching, I have never thought of myself as holy. Spiritual, yes; holy, no. And I am a member of the outsider tribe. When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be one of the cool kids. But I was unwilling to follow the leader’s dictates in clothing, shoes, hair styles, music and the proper snubbing of kids not cool enough. And I was smart. It was not a benefit; it was a problem. I was accused of thinking I was better than everyone. It’s hard to think of yourself as “better” if you are the only member of your group. I discovered that being asked to do everyone’s homework was not a sign of popularity, it was a sign of necessity and exclusion.
Being an outcast (which fosters independent thinking) meant I would not follow without questioning. And that, in large part, became the reason for being an outsider. Oh sure, I was the child of immigrants and spoke funny for a while, even though I was born in the United States. And my grade-school lunches were different. It was easy to shun me in a small community. Still, it made me keenly aware of how even grade school children separate “them” from “us.” And I was a “them.”
Learning came from every side. From my parent’s cultural roots, from the town where I grew up, from the kids (and later, adults) with whom I went to school. I learned songs and chants and prayers. Which plants could be used for food and which were to be avoided. When to plant a garden, when to let it rest.
I learned from birds and fish and coyotes and raccoons, from running water and still ponds, from trees and grasses. From wind and pollen and rocks. I learned from pets and wild animals and those who didn’t want to be either. It was independent study, largely because there is a freedom in not being in a group with set behavior and schedules.
There were lessons from the people I rode public transportation with, from supervisors and peers at work, from listening in public and private. From movies. And from books. Many books. Always books. But learning and degrees did not make me a shaman. But it did make me ready to be a coach.
There are many coaches who call themselves a “shaman.” If that is what you need, approach them. I hold no judgment of people who claim heritage from angels or Egyptian royalty, or have studied with indigenous peoples. I am a coach. I will walk with you over rough ground and help you approach yourself where you are right now. I do not have your answers, but I will help you look for them and honor them when you find them and bring them into your life.
—Quinn McDonald is a coach, and a writer who teaches writing in groups and individually.