*Cliff’s face had turned grim with his revelation. Realizing the origination of the increasing stress as a work-from-home CPA and business owner operated was obviously both a relief and a burden.
“What was it like losing your first client?” I asked.
“It was a really great account, a small mom and pop company that expanded into a franchise. I got to know the owners well and knew their business plan. I thought it was a solid account, you know? Out of the blue they contacted me saying that a business acquaintance had referred them to a corporate CPA that knew all the intricacies of up and coming franchises. I must have sounded so desperate. I tried to explain that I had done, and continued, the research needed to stay ahead of their expansion. Honestly, I was pretty impressed with the business plan we had developed. Over a couple of years we met quarterly to make sure they were meeting their goals, keeping their records cleaned up.”
“Sounds like you were really invested in that client,” I affirmed. As Cliff paused, I wondered out loud, “How many similar accounts did you have back then?”
He looked down at his shoes and fidgeted with the tasseled loafer. “Only a few. They were a cornerstone account. I worked so hard for them and yet somehow I managed to screw it up,” his voice cracked, and Cliff stopped to take a drink of water. “I failed and I didn’t even know how – I still don’t know what I did wrong. That’s the worst part. How do I stop it from happening again? Every day is a new day of trying not to lose a client. I never told Sarah. I mean, she noticed our income took a major hit. I just skimmed over why. I couldn’t bring myself to look her in the eye and tell her I failed at keeping a solid client. Even worse, how would I explain to her that at any moment it could happen again?”
Over the course of several weekly sessions with Cliff, he trudged hard into uncharted territory, at times frustrated that this process was taking so long. As he objectively looked at his fears he found he could connect his current modes of operation with his past experiences. He was doing the good work of rewiring his brain. The work created new connections or wires in his brain that replaced those created during the original trauma of losing that important client. He did not like the time it took to heal and that is a common struggle. We tend to want our brains to be healed now, ignoring the length of time it originally took our brains to arrive at the place of perpetual anxiety. In working with the complexities of the human brain, the intricacies are many times intertwined in emotions, perception and the physical impact those have on our bodies.
“There are times when I sit and stare at the information on my computer screen for an hour or more. My thoughts are going through a litany of scenarios. How can I secure this client for the long haul? What steps can I take that won’t cost me this client? I need this client to maintain my base income. I don’t tell Sarah any of this because I am the primary breadwinner. It is my responsibility to keep the roof over our heads. It is my burden to bear. What kind of a guy would I be if I whined about how much stress I’m under?”
“Sharing your concerns with Sarah would address several of those automatic negative thoughts you are having, ” I offered. “Does your financial plan include Sarah’s input?”
“Of course. If she didn’t work, we wouldn’t have a cushion. Her
job affords us a bigger allotment for food each week, some spending money, extra in the savings account. She knows that I respect her contribution.” Cliff ran his fingers through his hair as his brow furrowed with his defensive reply.
“Yes, I am sure she does,” I affirmed the positive acknowledgment. Grabbing an outdated columnar accounting pad I found at a thrift shop that had quite a bit of negative dollar amounts, I handed it to Cliff as a visual and asked, “If you had a client whose books looked like they were headed toward insolvency, would you address it with them?”
He looked at the antiquated accounting tool, chuckled and said, “If these were their means of bookkeeping, I’d first tell them to invest in a computer.” We both laughed. As he continued, he scanned the debt column on the page. “Of course, I would have to tell them. It’s right there in the numbers.”
“Okay. I’m curious, then, if you know why you didn’t tell Sarah?”
Cliff frowned, “I never thought of it that way.”
“You do know her best. Can you picture yourself having that conversation?” I took back the ledger sheet and filed it away. “This exercise isn’t just about sharing facts. This is about the connection between you and your wife, too. You have said sharing your feelings with Sarah about your job stressors is an area that makes you uncomfortable. What would it look like for you to comfortably talk to Sarah about these things?” I scribbled two words on a Post-It and handed it to him. “The written word is very powerful.”
He read aloud with complete confusion written on his face. “Assignment: Feel?”
“Yes. If I were to just say to you that you need to allow yourself to feel this week, it could easily fall into the many words we have spoken today and get lost. You might prioritize other points I made rather than embrace the task I believe could be most beneficial to you. I would like you to allow yourself to feel your feelings while also focusing on your responsibilities. Do you think you can do that this week?”
“Sure,” he shrugged as he tucked the note into his paperwork. “I’m not opposed to it.”
Cliff arrived right on time at what turned out to be his final weekly session. His eyes looked well-rested and he began speaking before we even sat down. “So. Confession time. I dreaded the homework. It seemed ridiculous. But I took the note and stuck it to my bathroom mirror that same night. When Sarah spotted it, she stopped dead in her tracks and gave me a hug!” He laughed, “I was right in the middle of shaving!” and scratched at his afternoon shadow.
“That’s great!” I laughed, too. “Oh, that is so good to hear. It is the perfect example of positive reinforcement. Do you realize that simple hug just rewired a path in your brain?”
Before I could continue, Cliff pulled out his dog-eared Clear Thinking Method workbook. “I went through a checklist in here,” and flapped the book around. “I realized that even though I lost a client, which could and likely will happen again, I didn’t lose my business or my family. When I sat down with Sarah and told her about that first big loss, I realized I wasn’t holding my breath any longer. I felt like I was just explaining our own long-term business plan.”
Cliff checks in quarterly with updates and areas of struggle. He admitted he took down the yellow sticky off the bathroom mirror but replaced it with a regular question he poses to Sarah: “How are we feeling today?”
I have shared this story as a glimpse of a coaching relationship. This story is based on multiple clients’ personal stories. *Names and details have been changed for privacy.