by Pratt Bennet, Life Coach
When did it start, my slow-but-seemingly-unstoppable decline? Was it when the love went out of my 20-year marriage? When we separated? Divorced? When the job I had loved for 19 years started turning into a micro-managed corporate nightmare? When my loving father’s decades of poor health and loneliness led to a fall, then open-heart surgery, several operations and rehabs, and a tragic 5-year struggle with dementia?
I don’t know. None of it made any sense to me. Each blow hit me unprepared and incapable of rebounding. As a coach and professor, I was a great success at helping others not only survive, but thrive. I helped them get new degrees, promotions, start businesses, change careers and countries, even build new relationships. As a husband, father, and son, however, I was a total failure. I couldn’t keep my marriage going. I couldn’t spare my incredible daughters the unbearable pain of their parents’ estrangement, separation, and divorce. I couldn’t help my father get better, or feel at home in any of a string of assisted living facilities he had to move into and out of as his mobility and coherence declined.
Paralyzed and confused, I shut myself down. I stopped playing sports or exercising- it was too ridiculous to really care where the ball went or who had it. I cut off contact with most of my friends –what must they think of such a total failure? I stopped making any real plans for the future- I clearly wasn’t capable of building anything lasting. I just plain stopped, and stayed stopped for years. I put all my energy, focus, and attention to helping the people I was coaching and teaching to move forward. After all, they had a lot better chance to succeed than I did!
Several years into my paralysis, however, it was a client who showed me the way out of it. “What are you doing here?” she asked me one day. I had just helped her transform her small-focus, part-time job into a position as a global spokeswoman for a multi-national corporation. “Why aren’t you out there, doing this on a bigger scale?” I told her the truth: I loved helping people like her create incredible, exciting new careers. “Yeah, but you could do this for yourself, just like you did it for me, one small step at a time!” she said, smiling and shaking her head at how thick I seemed to her.
At the time, I laughed and told her she didn’t understand. And she didn’t. I was convinced that I had had my chance- several, in fact, and had blown them all. I’d be lucky if I could just hold onto this job. That’s why, even when the company started passing policies that were bad for our clients, that put profit above progress, and that literally tried to control what I did each minute of the hour, I stayed there, telling myself it couldn’t get any worse, and I couldn’t do any better, anyway.
Some time later, though, I started really thinking about what my client had said about my taking small steps. I didn’t believe anything she had said about my being able to have a great career or do great things, but maybe I could just make things a little better, one small step at a time.
So, I started working out a little. At first, it was just once or twice a week, and sometimes for only 20 minutes before I just gave up- after all, who cared what I looked like anymore? Slowly, though, I realized that the embarrassing beach ball poking out from my stomach was slowly beginning to deflate, reinflating my self-confidence in the process. I began to wonder how far down I could get it. 10 pounds? Done. Wow. 20? Done! When the beach ball had finally vanished, I realized how great it felt to look better, breathe better, run more easily, and to get outside my head for at least a few hours a week.
I started spending less my time in the evening with my daughters trying to hide my depression and guilt and more trying to be present to what was happening at school, with their friends, and what they were interested in exploring.
It took me two years, but as I put up more of the girls’ artwork, report cards, and posters on the walls, I slowly succeeded in turning our home from a constant reflection of the old life that had been shattered to a growing expression of the new lives we were currently all building together.
I started reconnecting with the dear friends I had cut myself off from. At first, I felt I had to explain so much about what had gone wrong and to try and understand why everything I had worked so hard on for years had fallen apart. Slowly and patiently, they guided me back to the present, to being grateful for all that I still had.
And once they had helped me get out of that deep, dark past, great friends that they were, they helped me focus on the brighter, better future they were sure awaited me.
With their support, I started talking less about how my relationship with my ex-wife had broken down and more about what kind of relationship I’d like to build in the future.
Talk led to notes, notes to a profile for an online dating service, which led to several very cautious, unsuccessful dates with very nice women I had little in common with. It was painful and anxiety-producing, and I often felt I was crazy to believe that any woman would want such a damaged man with two daughters and a lot of baggage, but my friends kept me going. An unexpected “wink” led to a message, the message to an email and a phone call, then to a date, then another, and several more, until before long, I found myself in a new relationship with an incredible, beautiful, talented, loving woman that my daughters met and adored. Six years later, and I still can’t believe my luck in saying this, that woman is my wife, a second mother to our children, my partner on everything, and my best, most trusted friend.
With her support and my rising self-confidence, I finally got the courage to leave the company I’d been working at for 19 years to open my own coaching business.
Though I’d been telling myself I couldn’t do any better for years, within weeks, I was feeling healthier, happier, more excited, and inspired.
To the steps I had taken to rebuild my health, family, and love life, I started to add new ones to grow my business and expertise.
Miraculously, I started making money immediately. I was still doing what I had always loved, but at a smarter, deeper, more fulfilling level. Since I took that first step away from paralysis and toward a different future, my business has grown into something that advances my career as much as it does my clients’.
My former client laughs and tells me “See? I was right!” And she was.
I can now encourage my daughters to work hard to pursue their dreams with the knowledge that I am demonstrating how I do that every day.
I can now turn with pride to my late father and show him what he had always dreamed of seeing: me as a thriving small-business owner.
I can enjoy talking with my ex-wife now that we have taken so many steps away from the pain of our past and so many more toward the joys of our new relationship of mutual respect and partnership, and to the growth of our daughters.
I’m not sure when it started, but I know when it stopped, when everything started getting a lot better. It was when I made that first, small step, and when I kept taking more.
Pratt has been helping clients make small-to-giant steps for over 20 years. He graduated with honors from Yale University and studied sculpture at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. His training from RCS, world leader in the neuroscience of coaching, allows him to help clients identify the thought patterns that have been holding them back and replace them with ones that lead to more fulfilling and personally-meaningful work, more time with friends and family, more mindfulness, and much less frustration, autopilot, and stress.
Pratt lives in a beautiful home in Boston with his vivacious wife, two incredibly-different, ever-changing teen daughters, and 3 crazy cats who dream of catching the many birds that visit their back porch. He spends his MUCH more balanced days now teaching critical thinking to college students at the Berklee College of Music, coaching professionals, running along the Charles River, cooking French food, watching great old movies with his family, sharing what’s happening with his friends, working on his YA novel, and keeping in touch with his amazing 65-member clan in New Hampshire. Life is so much better.
If you are ready to start taking new steps toward an increasingly brighter, better future of your own, check out the free webinar for Pratt’s upcoming coaching program, “Your Field of Dreams” at www.prattbennet.com/sfyfd.