"Imagine you are walking down the office hallway, how far can you see?" Dr. Tim asks me. Dr. Tim is a mystical professional coach who you can learn more about in my previous lesson.
I shut my eyes. "I see the offices to the left and the right. I see you at the end of the hall waiting for me to come inside."
"I see downtown Oakland."
"Look down - who’s down there?" He asks.
"I see people on the street. They look busy. They look preoccupied. They look...sad. Wait - No it’s not sad it’s something else."
I scrunch my eyes tight trying to explain what I'm visualizing.
"You’re suffering right?" He asks.
I open my eyes and blink a few times to get adjusted to the conference room lights. "Yes? I don't know, that sounds like such a strong word. But yeah, sort of."
"Well, I wake up in this job I hate that doesn’t care about me and the people who should be accountable for fixing what’s rotting at our organization won’t or can’t do it. And I wake up and I roll out of bed and I come straight here and I need more time to write and to read and to just get ready for the day ahead. And I am not creating the life I want and I feel like I should be happier but I’m not and I feel like i take too many things for granted and I’m sick of hearing myself complain."
"Mm. There’s a way to solve this," he says.
"Wait really?" This non-therapy life coaching thing is pretty good, I start to think. My therps never just gives me some solution like that - I'm kind of hoping he's going to give me some type of pill, to be honest.
He chuckles and then says very nonchalantly, "You need to, right here and now, answer the question for yourself: Do I want to mitigate my suffering? Or do I want to continue to suffer?"
"Wait what? That's not a solution." I feel betrayed.
"Sit with the question and tell me your answer. Are you committed to mitigating your suffering? Or do you want to continue to suffer?"
"I’m annoyed by the question. What kind of question is this to ask someone? How does this help me AT ALL? Who doesn't want to minimize their suffering?"
"In getting upset by my question I don’t actually hear you...answering it."
"I mean of course I want to be less miserable."
"Are you making a commitment to mitigate your suffering?" He asks without missing a beat.
I don’t answer.
He asks again and I still don't answer. So he asks -
"Why are you hesitating?"
Gulp. I think I actually gulped. Like an audible gulp because what I'm about to say feels so terrible and sad that I can't believe I'm about to say it out loud. To a man I only know as "Dr. Tim."
"I’m comfortable being miserable. I’m scared to change my life for the better because I don’t want to take big risks."
I slump deep into the conference room chair.
"Well there you are. Today you have a chance to make the commitment and decide that there’s a better life worth living. You don’t like not having time to mentally prepare for the workday? Go to work later in the day and get up earlier. Give yourself three hours to just do whatever you want in the morning. You hate that you’re getting dragged into meetings where nothing is getting resolved? Stop going to them and set limits on how things are going to work. You don’t like where you live? Think about moving. Write out the life you want to curate. Figure out what that life looks like. Tell yourself you deserve better."
"Exhale," he finishes. "I haven’t heard you take a breath in 30 seconds."
I exhale. I inhale.
"I’ve decided I don’t want to keep suffering." I tell him.
"Great, because our hour is up." He smiles.
The next day, I started getting up four hours before I needed to be at the office. Sometimes I watched TV. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I went to the gym. I stopped checking my email until I was in the office.
A month later, I started making plans to leave my job.
Two months later, I quit.
I remember a lot of the little things Tim said to me in our bimonthly sessions together over the course of six months. “Look for a man who will cook the fish he catches.” “Sometimes you go to the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.” “Mother’s milk cannot flow the other way.”
Little riddles that I continue to meditate on some mornings - because although I’m at a different job, I still wake up hours before I need to be at the office.
Sometimes in the morning when I brush my teeth, I ask myself the question. Do I want to mitigate my suffering today or do I want to keep suffering? Sometimes I answer. Sometimes I don’t. The answer is always my truth. Sometimes I try looking out onto the horizon and sending my spirit ahead of myself. How do I do that, I’d asked Tim. “You know when you’re sinking into a warm bath, even before you enter the bath you know exactly how it’s going to feel to have that warm water surround you? It’s like that.”
I think my spirit knows he means. I think my mind thinks he’s nuts.
It’s hard to explain Tim to other people. Was he a professional coach? You’ve read this post, you tell me. Was he a therapist? Absolutely not. Not mine anyways. He was a life therps though - he showed up at the right time and pushed me in a space where I yearned for guidance.
Sometimes I think about calling Tim up to see how he's doing. "But we speak frequently already" I think he'd say.