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Almost one year ago, I got an unexpected phone call.
I was walking up to my local shops to pick up a pizza, in track pants and a hoodie, when a call came in from Anna, a human resources manager at a large Sydney-based law firm.
“Do you offer any life coaching or mentoring for law students?” she asked.
It was an avenue of work I hadn’t previously considered. But, one of my primary motivations for writing my first book was to help new law students and young lawyers coming through the ranks avoid the experiences I had, or at least manage them with more success than me.
Since my book launched 18 months ago, I’ve found great joy that comes from being able to reach students and practitioners on a personal level, whether it be via a lecture I deliver or in a one-on-one conversation. Practical, tangible differences can be made with individuals through such engagement and sharing of learned wisdom. Advocacy about mental health issues is a meaningful and worthy endeavour, through which I have – hopefully – been able to effect some change, even if only minimal.
What I have also discovered, however, is the power of listening.
As I juggled my phone in one hand and a takeaway pizza in the other, I listened to Anna tell me about her daughter, Sophia: a first year law student who was struggling with the transition into university, which was bringing up issues reminiscent to her struggles with anorexia nervosa as a teenager. I was determined to find a way to help, largely due to the immeasurable benefit I have gleaned from engaging with a coach, or mentor, to help navigate personal, emotional, educational and professional issues and concerns.
Since my health struggles in 2011, I have had the luxury of access to a number of professionals who have been able to guide me through a range of scenarios, from finding a job to managing personal crises. At present, I engage an executive coach who is helping me expand my business offerings and grow my consulting business. Such coaching and mentoring is invaluable to me, because I get access to insight, perspective and experience that I otherwise would not have, and can learn from those who have been there, done that. As sources of knowledge and guidance, coaches have made immense difference in keeping me on course.
But engaging a coach has also been important for me as it offers an objective outlet through which I can simply talk to someone. Having the opportunity to discuss problems, or even just vent, can be hugely beneficial in helping make sense of, or wade through, problems we are facing on a day-to-day basis. Such communication offers both catharsis and reflection.
In short: having someone listen to me is a purposeful, productive undertaking.
It was in this vein that I tried to approach my initial meeting and subsequent sessions with Sophia. I wanted to determine, firstly, that she and I were compatible socially and emotionally for such work, and I then wanted to understand the specific issues she faced so that I might be better able to tailor my approach to both her needs and goals. Ultimately, I wanted her to get the same benefits I have gotten from coaching.
So I listened.
Effective listening, in this context and across the board, helps us connect with another human being and better understand where they are coming from. By truly listening to what someone else has to say, we can recognise and appreciate their values, gifts and passions and therefore be better placed to know them, and consequently help them.
Having worked with her for almost one year now, she recently had this to say:
“Having Jerome as my mentor has without a doubt changed my life and how I live it. His guidance and support is the most important part of my mental health journey. He has always provided me with the best advice and always makes me feel like we can solve any problem that arises. He doesn’t just hear, he listens. And I will always be grateful for that. I feel lighter when I see Jerome. I go home and I feel like there’s been a force or great weight lifted off me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
I’m both thrilled and proud at how far Sophia has come in the time since we first met. But her progress is not because I’m able to wave a magic wand – it’s because I take the time to listen to her, and then guide her in a direction she already wants to go, rather than dictating a pre-determined path. I do this because, at the end of the day, coaching should be about self-directed learning and development. Otherwise, you may as well sit in a classroom and take notes from a teacher.
Young legal professionals, students and practitioners alike, can gain a lot from such coaching and mentoring. The nature of our study and practice requires us to take a more holistic approach to not only our health and wellbeing, but also our vocational development. Taking the time to extrapolate our values, gifts and passions and then effectively utilise them in a manner that befits our goals gives us an exponentially increased chance of achieving personal and professional success.
Coaching – both as a client and now as a coach – has made me a better legal professional. It can do the same for you too.
Jerome has completed extensive neurological-based coach training with US-based firm Ama La Vida, covering foundational coaching principles, underlying structure of coaching engagements, theory and application of neuroscience and positive psychology in coaching, evidence-based process for goal-setting and accomplishment, creating and maintaining a safe and supportive coaching environment, effective communication principles and techniques, and skills to effectively generate insights and empower solutions.
If you are interested in undertaking a tailored coaching course with Jerome, either in-person or via Skype, please email [email protected].