Last November I went to the big coaching convention run by the ICF, which is the largest coaching membership organization. It was called the International Coaching Conference, and the "international" label was not entirely false, since by my guess around 15% of the attendees were from overseas, including places like Kuwait and Denmark. There were around 1,200 coaches of various ages, areas of focus, and personality type.
In the eight years I had been coaching, this was the first convention I attended. I should say at this point that I am not the best attendee at group gatherings. I like group energy, but I have far too many opinions about how things should be done and what the meaning is of whatever experience I am having to really chill out and enjoy, most of the time. My experience doing workshops and presentations in the past decade has actually made this worse, since, having spent a lot time thinking about how group events can be structured for maximum benefit, I am even less tolerant of poorly constructed group exercises and inadequate masters of ceremony. I try to be accepting and open-minded but I rarely succeed.
So imagine my surprise at how much I enjoyed my four days in Orlando. I liked the speakers, I liked some of the break-out sessions, I liked the group singing, I liked chatting up people from around the U.S. and overseas, I liked hanging out with my coaching buddies from Next Step Partners and the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, and I liked telling coaches from lands near and far about my book, The Creative Lawyer (which, sadly, most had never heard of but, happily, were excited to learn about).
More crucially, the parts I didn't like didn't really bother me. It didn't bother me that some of the break-out sessions were sort of lame, it didn't bother me that some people over-branded themselves (by which I mean, "I work with C-level executives") or said things that I didn't find 100% credible ("my coaching is based on the body, because where real change occurs"). My two basic inner responses were variants of "cool!" or "whatev--."
I realized, "hmm, the people who annoy me in coaching annoy me less than people who annoyed me in my other jobs." And "my moments of feeling I'm a misfit in this profession are less common and less significant than my moments of feeling I'm a misfit in my other professions."
I also felt, "I can contribute a lot to this field, and people are interested in my contribution."
The reason this was an Herminia Ibarra moment for me is that I did not predict these feelings. In her great book, Working Identity, Ibarra talks about how career development is a process of experimentation rather than analysis. We are too complex and the world is too complex to ascertain ahead of time what the meaning of any experience will be. So the way you figure out your career evolution is by designing and deepening experiments.
Indeed, I would imagine that the reason I didn't come to this convention for the prior seven years is that I feared I would not like it. There are lots of coaches out there who never go to events like this for exactly that reason. They feel they might feel like they don't belong, or worse, belong to a big group of losers, so they avoid going. Maybe their predictions would prove to be right, but it's more likely that they are missing out on something.
In my case, I loved the experience. It strengthened me, rather than weakened me, and inspired me, rather than filled me with doubts. But even if I'd had the opposite experience, it would have been useful information.