Coach: “So what do you think you can start doing?”
Me: “Observe what’s going on in the room…”
Coach: “What else?”
Me: “Taking notes…”
Coach: “What else?”
Staring down at my cup of tea, I went through the question in my mind. Occasionally, I would look up across the table to meet the eyes of my peer coach (a colleague).
My first 1–1 peer coaching was unforgettable. I felt uneasy; not because of the questions, but because it had been a long time since someone sat down with me to listen and help me understand myself better.
The Invisible Box
I have struggled with career progression in the past, regardless of the degree of freedom I was given to shape my own career path. Many performance reviews focus on the individual’s contributions to the company. It often feels like there is an invisible box defined by the company, and every team member is supposed to grow within that box. The size and shape of the invisible box changes over time depending on business goals. Interpretations of the box also vary depending on each individual as well as their manager who is responsible for their performance review. Oftentimes, I could not justify my growth within the box, which in turn meant I could not justify my contributions to the company. Again and again, I came out of performance reviews feeling completely lost and disappointed.
I moved from one company to another, looking for an environment where I could break free from that invisible box. That's when I met ustwo.
ustwo’s Coaching Culture
Back in the cafe, sitting across from my peer coach, our conversation continues. I have two coaches at ustwo — one is my peer coach and one is my manager. Every two weeks, I have check-ins with them both separately. We talk about all kinds of things: how I feel about working from home, how I feel about the project, or how my pottery lessons are going. Our conversations are not always work-related because I’m free to discuss whatever is on my mind. Based on the topics, they help me paint a vision of how I want things to be, and we brainstorm actions I can take to make improvements.
It sounds simple, but coaching is not an easy job to do well. Neither my peer coach nor my manager brings their personal opinions or bias into the conversations. It’s not about them projecting what kind of person I should be, or how I should behave, or what they think success should look like for me. They guide me with questions so I can look at a situation from different perspectives, become aware of my blindspots and come to my own conclusions.
My peer coach once asked me where I see myself in a year. I started to list all the things I could potentially contribute to the team. He listened and asked, , “why is it important for you to do those things?” I froze. His question hit me — my first thought had always been what the company wants from me, not what I want for myself. I’d gotten so used to trying to show my colleagues or my managers that I can contribute, in order to gain recognition inside the company.
Breaking Free of The Invisible Box
Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if that invisible box is really created by the company, or if it’s created by myself, or perhaps both. All the times I felt there was an invisible box, I was afraid of being judged, being rejected and not being valued. I was afraid of saying what I really wanted to say, saying “no” to things, or admitting what I can or cannot do. All those fears have prevented me from putting myself first in my career, and making the right choices for my own needs.
I have finally realized that in order to break free from the invisible box, I need to first confront those fears so I can embrace my own identity – I need to give myself permission to be who I am.
When I joined ustwo, I was looking for a place where I could grow as a designer. To my surprise, ustwo has helped me grow as a person by guiding me to learn about myself and build on my strengths. This is the power of a strong coaching culture: it recognizes every person for who they are and supports them to become who they want to be.