Reframe a ‘Setback’ Into A ‘Stepping Forward’ With Advice From An Executive Coach

Jill Perrin, an executive coach and a 4word mentor from Dallas, Texas, dives into the professional shift almost all women are facing in the post-pandemic workplace, and encourages all of us to go through the process of adjusting our mindsets about the current workforce into a “stepping forward” instead of seeing everything COVID upended as a “setback.”

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As a coach, have you seen a shift in professional issues women are dealing with, post-pandemic?

There is renewed focus on what work-life balance can and should look like. Two parts of the COVID equation are driving this renewed focus. The first part is born of hope: COVID gave all of us a chance to take a deep dive into acknowledging our core values. For many, this was the first truly rigorous look at what those values are.

The second part of the equation is born of despair. Burnout has been amplified. Some of my coaching clients speak about ‘being tapped out from carrying an even bigger load keeping things running at home (on top of their careers).’ Moses knew this all too well. In Numbers 11:14 he said to God, ‘I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.’ To top this off, there is a building resentment not only about the inequality of pay but also about the dynamic that it is growing; the facts are front and center in the news daily.

These two elements drive several key questions:

We’ve all seen the articles and stories about how badly women have been set back because of the effects of the pandemic. In your opinion, how do women start moving forward again?

By reframing the situation away from ‘a setback’ and toward a ‘stepping forward.’ COVID happened to all of us, but what we do coming out of this extraordinary isolation, stress, and sorrow has an element of choice. (Note: I do recognize there are some situations where a woman does not have much choice in the near term. I do not want to be insensitive to this dynamic). You can choose your destination. You can choose how you will prepare for it. You can choose avenues to pursue. You can choose resources to tap into along the way. You can choose the parameters you will accept: commute, pay, culture, ability to work remotely. 

You must frame what you want. The learnings you gained during COVID for what you don’t want are a key element in this framing. Chip away at the frame: set goals with deadlines. Ask someone to be your accountability partner. If you wait for ‘moving forward’ to simply happen, you’ll be stuck. You need to invest thinking, energy, wisdom, and courage to accelerate ‘moving forward.’ It’s not easy, but it is doable. The goal must be ‘running to’ something, in lieu of ‘running away’ from something, for your actions to give you energy.

After going through a big shift or change, should a woman’s definition of growth change to accommodate some grace? 

Yes! We can be our own worst critics and can sabotage our happiness by not being kind to ourselves. I am very excited about a coaching model called Positive Intelligence. It is a framework based on Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology which asserts we have these insidious Saboteurs in our heads that constantly tell us we are not good enough. These are the tapes that automatically turn on without us even being aware of them. Here are some of the popular limiting beliefs we start to hear:

How do you block their impact, and allow some space for self-forgiveness and grace? 

  1. Notice when they start their chatter.
  2. Block the chatter. How? Launch a quick 30-second neutralizing physical sensation (curl your toes, stare at a ceiling fan, rub two fingers together and feel the ridges on your fingertips, say a quick heartfelt prayer). While this sounds odd, you are in fact calming your central nervous system and guiding it away from a ‘fight or flight’ response. The end result? 
  3. Allow yourself to respond to the situation, not react. You have quieted the negative chatter, and allowed space for kinder and more supportive thoughts to rule. 

You have given yourself the gift of grace.

What are three things you would want to say to any woman who feels like she’s got a giant uphill walk in front of her, professionally?

‘If you don’t try, you’ll never get there.’ When my kids were applying to college and were scared to apply to a stretch college, I would say, ‘We know one thing for sure – you will not get in if you don’t even apply.’

‘Every situation is a gift or an opportunity.’ This is a fundamental tenet of the aforementioned Positive Intelligence. This is not a ‘pollyanna’ / disingenuous comment. Let me give you an example from my professional past. I had a very high-prestige job at a Fortune100 company, running a P/L. (Can you hear the ego from my youth oozing out in that description?) Well, I was miserable. I was a huge culture misfit. It was awful, horrible, demeaning, defeating, depressing…get the picture? I still have nightmares about it. What in the world is ‘the gift and opportunity” out of this? 1) I know how I will never treat a person professionally; 2) I understand on a visceral level the power of corporate culture; and 3) as an Executive Coach, I can truly empathize with the painful struggles leaders are facing.

‘One core piece of resilience is building community.’ Think through communities you may have underinvested in during COVID (civic organizations, friends from church, professional groups). Imagine new ones you can build. Is it FINALLY time to learn how to leverage LinkedIn? Can you launch casual, come-as-you-are ‘lunch and learns?’ Through these communities you can tap into wisdom and support—and know you are not facing this trek alone. Many have gone before you and can help you with perspective. 

Jill Perrin is an International Coach Federation (ICF) accredited Coach who brings unparalleled leadership and talent management experience from Fortune 100 companies (GE and American Express) and entrepreneurial businesses (Business Talent Group and Unlocked Leadership). She works with a broad array of Clients ranging from Millennials building their executive presence, to Leaders driving innovation, and Executives expanding their leadership capabilities. She has coached individuals at Toyota, CNN, Slack, SalesForce, Harvard Business Publications, Delta Airlines, Medtronic, 4word to name a few.

Jill brings real-world Senior Executive experience, compassion and perspective to Client engagements. Her style is warm, engaging and friendly. She describes her role as follows: “Be an actively engaged partner and guide for you as you identify, explore and step into new activities, perspectives, approaches, habits and behaviors that will bring you increased self-awareness, growth, success and happiness. My end game is to help you envision the future you want to create and help you make it happen!”

Jill has an undergraduate Economics degree from Stanford University, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and Certificate in Executive Coaching from Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership. She was recently named by Influence Digest as one of the Top 20 Executive Coaches in Dallas.