Reckoning with myself

Last autumn a coaching client talked about a ‘reckoning’ with herself. I was taken with the phrase and, from what she went on to describe, I took it to mean an examination of her approach to life and work so she could take restorative action.

Later, I checked my dictionary. The entry for reckoning includes words such as appraisal, evaluation and judgement. To reckon with is to settle an account with. And so, in reckoning with myself, I have a sense of settling an account with a part of self that represents wholeness and integrity.    

Recently I’ve been in such a period of reckoning, aided by a week at walking pace in the Scottish Highlands. Beyond a soundscape of wild winds, thunderous rivers and the susurration of leaves was a background quiet, a deep tranquility in the turbulence of nature.

As I walked, I reflected.

Work-wise, the last twelve months (2019) have been more difficult than any other time in my twenty years of working independently as an executive coach, coach supervisor and specialist in embodying dialogue practices. My sense of struggle is substantiated by the complexity and challenge of the issues I’ve raised in professional supervision.

The way I’ve used supervision has varied. Sometimes I’ve needed to tease out the interdependencies that often arise in assignments in a small country, trying to understand and articulate differing duties of care. At other times, I was seeking the resources to remain graceful in testing and unrewarding circumstances. And on the rare occasions that a client found our work difficult to accept or digest, I reflected on what had occurred to surface any learning.

Learning from adversity is a delicate thing – it requires forensic clarity about both my part in what unfolded and any contextual factors outside my influence. Untangling an appropriate balance of responsibilities between me and another (such as a client or colleague) also requires dispassion and compassion. What is mine, to attend to and learn from? What belongs to others?

It’s almost impossible to get this kind of perspective from within a situation, which is where supervision is worth its weight in gold. When a trusted and experienced colleague supports me and challenges my perceptions, it helps me explore how I contributed to events, allowing me to settle my account with myself as a practitioner.   

My personal reckoning mirrored this professional process, with the landscape providing different perspectives. I saw my tough year in a broader context of both a feeling that the world seems increasingly bonkers (to me, at least) and a realization that my approaching 60th birthday marks a threshold: I’m now in the back-end of my working life.          

Grasping the reality that I’m entering a new phase of life invites a re-appraisal of my identity and work. If I’m no longer establishing myself as a practitioner, and striving to build a credible business, who am I? What am I transitioning towards? How do I embrace this life-stage with grace and integrity?

Pondering, I found inspiration in the autumn season. I read somewhere that trees produce fruit to store sugar for food in the winter months. In addition, they drop their leaves to conserve energy. And so, the autumn of a life invites me to consider the fruits of my labours. What have I created that will provide nourishment in the coming years? What will I shed to use my energy well?

And nature is abundant: a tree generates more fruit than it needs, providing food for others. And so, in my fruiting years I will transition towards doing more writing and supervision, activities that sustain me and also (I hope) feed others.


    • How might you take stock of your life and work? What do you notice about events that are unfolding around you and how they’re inviting you to reckon with yourself?

    • What restorative action might you take?
Written in October 2019