There are certain people I know who are what I call “Thinking Coaches”. Thinking Coaches are those people I go to for advice or when I need to discuss life matters and get the perspective of someone who has been there, done that. It is a little complicated because there are so many different areas of life that I must categorize each coach by what type of questions I will ask each individual. For example, I may have a category of people that I go to for work related issues, another group of people that I go to for finances, and another for relational, and so on and so forth for however many aspects of living you could think of. It is a complex systematic web of coaches. I have probably learned a lot more from these people simply by trying to manage the web than I have from asking pointed questions.
My thinking coach web has not always been what we would consider a “web”. There was a time when my “thinking coaches” was in fact only a “thinking coach”. I felt the need from a very young age to find one person I could trust and one only. As I grew, circumstances would change, and so would my one person. If I decided there was someone I could trust more than the one I was currently loyal to, I had to abandon and disregard the current coach. I could not give my dedication to more than one person at a time. I would give total loyalty to one person, and always went to that person for any and all questions or advice. That did not work because one person does not provide the kind of community a person needs in order to flourish. The person would let me down in one area and I suddenly lost all faith in him/her, and had to find a new person I could trust. It was an endless and exhausting cycle.
After a few years, I started to loosen up. First, I started developing a small circle of people to be my thinking coaches. One of my favorite things to do would be to ask two people via emails about a certain issue. When they sent their replies, I checked to see if they disagreed. If so, I used each other’s arguments as my replies to each one. They were practically debating each other but had no idea there was a third party involved in the conversation. This helped me to develop cognitive problem solving skills as well as to see different perspectives on different issues. I learned that just because two people disagree on something does not mean that I have to give up on one and devote to the other. My group of thinking coaches did not have to include only people who agreed entirely with each other and I came to accept that my coaches were messed up people just like me.
Over time, a bit of a ranking system came to be. This was mostly due to certain individuals who, by proving their own character and never putting me down or refusing to discuss difficult things, earned my respect to a degree I did not know was possible. Although countless people have been added to the thinking coach list, to this day I can count on less than one hand the number of people whose word I accept as truth and whose guidance I follow even when I cannot fathom doing such a thing.
The ranking system was good. It evolved into a set of categories where a few were at the top and all the thinking coaches underneath for that category were ranked in regards to credibility and the intensity of what I could discuss. This allowed me a more organized way of knowing who to discuss which issues with. If I had a question about how to handle an emotional hurt, I would go to someone in that category. But if I had a question for advice on school decisions, I would ask someone in that category. I started categorizing everything, and I mean everything! This was also good. Recently there was a conflict at work. It was pretty serious and I was at my wit’s end. I knew exactly who to go to. He advised me, helped me, supported me, and encouraged me. But this was not someone I would ever go to for advice in anything non-work or school related. There has to be some kind of categorization and ranking system for thinking coaches, especially as the number of coaches increases.
There was one huge flaw in my system though. I built walls of protection around each category to prevent the thinking coaches in one group from ever crossing over to another. The problem with this is that life is not so strictly divided. One area of life will always have an influence on the other parts. I forgot to take that into account. Eventually, forces from one side of my walls seeped into the other side and the thinking coaches on the other side had to deal with what had seeped into their jurisdiction. Those thinking coaches had no idea what they were looking at since they didn’t know there was anything on the other side to begin with. Because of how strict I had been about keeping everything separate, this was a terrifying situation. I now had to reconstruct my whole thinking coach web to accommodate for such a misfortune. It felt so unnatural to allow a thinking coach authority over something that I had not distinctly given to him, but I wasn’t about to fight it—and I’m glad I didn’t. The result was a whole new interaction between my different thinking coaches and myself that was centered around authentic community rather than questions and answers.
Previously, I viewed the whole thing as a means to an end, usually the answer to a question, rather than a vital nutrient for growth. When the walls between each category failed and different thinking coaches were all dragged into the “wrong” places all against my will, I was forced to interact with people in ways I had not planned and see them respond in ways that I had never imagined would happen. Instead of having professors who could give me an academic answer, I now had a support group who would be there for me no matter what. They were all the same people, but now I discovered positive attributes about them that I previously did not know were there.
Sometimes you just need to trust people. Sometimes an answer isn’t enough. Maybe in addition to a web of “thinking coaches”, we should participate in a web of authenticity. When you authentically trust the right people, you develop a deep sense of gratitude. I have never known someone to be grumpy and grateful at the same time. One of the greatest pleasures resulting from the latest reconstruction of my web has been gratitude to and for those involved. It makes me feel happy and safe. I know they got my back. When I have nothing to hide from my thinking coaches, I have nothing to lose. That produces a sense of loyalty that is significantly more rewarding and authentic.