Introducing Asking Not Asking
with Coach Tina Essmaker
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I was at a party standing next to my friend as he talked about what was next for his career: "I recently started working with a coach. It's been helpful, but he doesn't quite understand the creative landscape." That was an "Aha!" moment that had been slowly culminating for me. In early 2017, I wrote Look into life coaching certification programs on my to-do list, but I was unsure about where to start, and 6 months later I had done nothing.
I now joke with friends that in the beginning of 2017 my life began to fall together, even though at the time it felt like it was falling apart. The catalyst for that was the end of my marriage to my life and business partner. We co-founded the digital magazine The Great Discontent in 2011 and went on to make print issues, launch an online shop, host a live interview series in Brooklyn, and record a podcast. When our marriage ended, I decided to begin a new chapter for myself and transition out of the business we created together.
I was unsure about the work I would transition into or what my contribution as an individual would be. I'd only worked a handful of jobs in 35 years. When I was in high school in Michigan, I was a pizza maker at Hungry Howie's and a retail associate at The Buckle in the mall. At age 18, I began working for a nonprofit that provided emergency shelter to runaway and homeless youth. That's when I decided to earn my Bachelor's of Social Work. After college, I worked at the nonprofit's Transitional Living Program where I helped young people between the ages of 16 and 21 learn the skills they needed to be independent and move into the next chapter of their lives.
That's what I was doing in January 2017: learning to be independent again and moving into the next chapter of my life. I had no insight about what might be next, but I knew it was an opportunity to transition my career. I took a year to wrap up my responsibilities with The Great Discontent and did freelance work while exploring my options. I even turned down a full-time job that promised a steady salary, health insurance, and a sense of security. Shortly after I declined that job, I connected the dots when my friend mentioned his life coach at that party.
Looking back, it seems as if this was the plan all along. My decade-long background in social work provided a foundation of skills that taught me to be an engaging interviewer when I was Editor in Chief of The Great Discontent, for which I interviewed more than 250 creators over 6 years. Without realizing it, I had been researching the creative community, and I knew that landscape well. I decided to use my experience and skills to help the community I love move past inspiration and take action. I decided to become a coach.
A week after that decision, I researched coaching certification programs, signed up for an accelerated, in-person course from Coach U, and booked a plane ticket. A month later I flew to Atlanta for the week-long training. Our facilitator, Pamela, had been coaching for several decades and was brimming with wisdom. That week she said something that struck me: "When you make space in your life, the universe will fill it." I had resisted what I viewed as loss. I hadn't welcomed space in my life. And prior to my life-changing transition, I had filled every waking moment with work, tasks around the apartment, and other obligations.
The job of every coach is to work on themselves continually. That's where I started. I began creating a life that looked much different. I worked more reasonable hours. I joined a gym. I went to therapy. I journaled and reflected. I invested in myself and my relationships. I said yes to opportunities that scared me. I figured out what I valued and what I needed to be fulfilled in my work and life. And I did all of this while building my coaching practice, which has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
When I work one-on-one with clients and lead workshops, one of the questions I ask is, What would you do with one hour? Think about that. Look at your calendar right now and find one hour in the next week that you can block off for yourself. How will you fill that hour? Think about what brings you joy, fulfills you, or grounds you. If you can do that with one hour, what about two? What about a week or a month or a lifetime? The gift is that we get to create our lives—and there are many ways to create a life.
Coaching is about partnering with clients to help them take action and create the lives they want. It's about where they are, where they want to go, and building a bridge to get there. I provide support, accountability, and tools and resources, and they build that bridge through action. At the end of each session, I ask clients to assign themselves homework.
Today I'd like to give you homework. If you are ready to move past inspiration and into action, I'd like to hear from you because I'm teaming up with Working Not Working to answer your questions! Each month, I'll choose letters from the community to respond to in this column, Asking Not Asking. I won't tell you what to do, but I will share insights and tools, and pose questions for reflection. And I'll likely assign you homework.
To be considered for the column, email me at email@example.com with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
- What you want more of in your work and/or life.
- Your biggest challenges to having more of what you want.
- What opportunities exist for you right now.
- What you've learned about yourself in the past year.