Bad situations following you around? 

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Notice how you tend to repeat things that you like; AND situations that you don’t like also seem to repeat again, again and again in your life.

Concrete example:

A former female client working for the UN was one of two females on a mostly male team. During her two years on this team, she felt overlooked and sometimes “put down” by her colleagues and supervisor.  Her overall feeling was that she was somehow cast in a smaller role than her work merited.  It seemed to her that the other team members got more positive feedback for their work, more interesting assignments, and were treated with more respect. 

Then she was able to take a break between her UN contracts and work for a few months on a project with an international NGO.  The work excited her. The opportunity to experience a different organizational culture and be a part of another team was something that she wanted. And guess what?  It happened again.  This time, she was a part of a two person female team with a male supervisor and the same feelings arose.  She felt “put down” by her female colleague and that her supervisor was giving her responsibilities that she did not want. She felt small again.

So what happened next?  During our coaching session, when she spoke about it, I asked:

How interesting that you find yourself in the same situation:  What do you need to explore here?

She said:

Why is this happening to me again? 

I said:

Imagine that we are in a helicopter looking down at your situation right now.  What can you can see more clearly now by working on this new team that you couldn’t see when you were on your former team?

She said:

That I am doing something that allows this situation to happen!

This repeat experience allowed an important shift to happen – she went from viewing things as happening to her to recognizing that she was helping create this situation.  This was the “ah-ha” moment when she was able to access a meta-view of the situation.  The meta-view gave her the big picture and opened up a different perspective on her situation. 

What was happening?

First, what was happening was true.  She was getting “put down”, she was "small", and she was assigned projects that were beneath her skill set.   The point is that she was allowing and co-creating this scenario by her own behavior and self-limiting beliefs.

Through this experience she realized that during her 5 years at the UN, she had been beaten down by experiences - allowing the circumstances to erode her self-confidence.  Compared to five years ago, she was now less likely to ask for what she wanted, to tell people her thoughts, or to challenge professional views.  Behind all this were her beliefs that it is not OK to be a “show-off”, not OK to be “demanding”, and not OK to be “selfish”. 

On paper, she is right.  It is better to be humble than a show-off, better not to be too demanding, and better to be a team player than selfish.  However, her strict adherence to these beliefs were making her small in her own career and life.  In coaching, this is a called an “obsessive expression” of a value when a person takes a value to an extreme allowing it to mutate into something not so positive. 

The next few coaching sessions focused on the concept of self-investing.   Self-investing is the opposite of self-abandoning; a metaphor for self-abandoning is when you throw yourself out of the boat without a life-jacket.  Self-investing is when your behavior and beliefs support your main asset, yourself.  For this woman self-investing meant doing exactly the opposite of what she had trained herself to do during her life and career.  It meant:

  • Learning how to “show off” by skillfully highlighting herself and her skills;
  • Being “demanding” by clearly making requests.  Requesting a scope of work that she has both the skills and track record to achieve, and that she finds interesting and challenging;
  •  Becoming more skillfully “selfish” in her work and life so that her own needs and preferences do not mysteriously always end up as the bottom priority.

In our final session, she told me a story that epitomizes the changes that she had made.  She was in the process of accepting a new position with another international NGO.  During the contract negotiations, she was offered the second highest pay grade salary.  After reviewing the pay grade criteria, she strongly felt that she deserved the highest pay-grade based on her skills and years of experience.  So she initiated a conversation with the hiring HR manager and she got it!  For her, this success is more than about money , the success is about her standing behind herself and advocating for what she wants and deserves. 

So I will finish where I started:

Are bad situations following you around? 


Make a list of the three bad professional and/or personal situations that follow you around.  Then, put them in order of importance – which situation stops now? 

Two final questions:

  • How bad do things need to become in order for you to do something about it?
  • What kind of support do you need to change this story?


You CAN do meaningful work AND not lose yourself along the way;

Focus on yourself and get started!

Inside & Outside coaching make it possible for you to take charge and move forward with your personal and professional life.

DPPD coaches are certified/accredited coaches with also over 35 years experience in humanitarian and development operations.