Images from Sarah Hannigan
Paula has gone above and beyond what I expected, and my life is better because of her help.
-- Kara G., Duluth, MN
I grew up in a small Minnesota town with parents who lived their lives steeped in rhythms and rituals, something I would only come to appreciate much later in life. My dad was off to work at 7 o'clock every morning and my mom had dinner on the table at 5 o'clock every night. Along with my parents, my four older siblings and I attended church every week, went to confession once a month and received the other sacraments of the Catholic Church right on schedule. Every summer we had a huge vegetable garden and there was seemingly endless food to preserve for the winter. Each holiday the same decorations were pulled out of boxes and put up in the exact same spots. Our lives were not only confined to a fairly small view of the world, but also to a fairly small part of the world. Going to Minneapolis, only a 45 minute drive from home, seemed as big of a trip as going to the moon.
At the time I couldn't wait to break free. I wanted to see more and experience more. So that's exactly what I did. After graduating from Chaska High School in 1987, I attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, one of the biggest universities in the nation and graduated with a B.A. in International Relations. During my college years I took the proverbial backpack trip through Europe, spent a year in Cameroon, West Africa, and took a trip to Central America. I was hungry to see different parts of the world and to experience how other people lived. After graduation in 1992, I continued my quest to see and experience more in places as diverse as Seattle and New York City. While there, I worked with the young and the old, as well as with first and second generation immigrants. During these years my love affair with food also blossomed while leading a team of cooks at a retreat center in the Cascade Mountains. There, we made wholesome food every day for up to 500 people and all from scratch.
In 1998 I returned to Minnesota to live with a community in Duluth who opens their homes to those without one. My time in Duluth connected me to activists and artists, farmers and foodies, musicians and mothers, all interested in stepping beyond conventional ways of looking at life. One such connection led me to "the farm" in Barnum Minnesota, the place I have called home since the fall of 2000. Once I found my place in the world, my external home, it became very apparent that I would need to find "home" inside me as well. After many years on this inner journey, I can now say I understand the truth that nothing outside of myself will ever be enough. It's not the circumstances of my life that determine whether I am happy or not, but rather my perspective of those circumstances. Ultimately, it's an inside job.
That said, I have been extremely lucky to live where I do and to have the opportunity and privilege to do the kinds of things I have done on this farm. I started a flower business, growing and selling wedding flowers as well as weekly bouquets to members of my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I've also been able to grow and preserve a good amount of my family's food for the year, choosing to bring that huge part of my childhood into my adult life, and for years now we've had our own laying hens as well. Additionally, my partner and I have hosted concerts in the hayloft of the farm's classic old dairy barn, and with the help of a group of others we created a labyrinth down by our pond. Without question though, the greatest addition to our farm and to my life occurred in 2008 when our son was born. He is an absolute delight and has brought a tremendous amount of laughter and love to our home.
Even so, becoming a mother was by far the biggest transition of my life. This experience, from conception to pregnancy to birth and continuing through the first five years of being at home full-time with our son, has been master level training for my work as a coach. It has brought out the best and the worst in me. Whatever challenges I thought that I might encounter were quickly replaced by ones I never would have dreamed of, and they had me questioning if I was up to meeting them. Whatever stories I had been believing about myself were soon held up to the mirror of truth. Whatever beliefs I have had about what was right and what was wrong were quickly put to the test. Whatever emotions I had tried to keep in check were completely laid bare. Despite how painful it has been at times to let go and let go (and continue to let go), these experiences have created in me a deeper sense of vulnerability, humility, and empathy. Without a doubt, these qualities have made me a better coach, and I am always looking forward to what my son will teach me in the years to come.
I came to be a coach the way most people come to be coached. During the early part of my life on the farm, I found myself at a crossroads, and I knew something needed to change. Things I thought would always be solid began to fall apart, and I had some serious choices to make. It was during this tumultuous time that I stumbled onto coaching and knew that I had found the perfect work for myself. I now see that through all of my experiences of the previous decade, I had honed some of the most essential skills of coaching: listening intently, questioning deeply, staying curious, and envisioning possibilities.
In 2005, I entered a year-long Integral Coach training and certification program with New Ventures West (www.newventureswest.com) which is recognized as an Accredited Coach Training Program by the International Coach Federation. As a coach, I challenge my clients to value their dreams and aspirations enough to give them whatever time, attention, and money necessary to make them a reality. Making a commitment to complete the Professional Coaching Course was exactly that for me. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with James Flaherty, author of Evoking Excellence In Others and founder of New Ventures West.
Here's what New Ventures West has to say about Integral Coaching: "Rather than helping clients solve problems, Integral Coaches work with them to develop a new way of being that has them live in ways that are more effective and useful across all areas of their life. Some coaching deals primarily with horizontal development: working with a client on the problem or situation they've presented. This may help resolve an issue or achieve a goal, but doesn't necessarily lead toward greater meaning or fulfillment. It can also leave the client dependent on the coach as they haven't developed a new or deeper capacity to address the specific problem and others like it. Integral Coaching invites vertical development: accessing a way of being that has us live in an entirely new way. It requires us to pay attention to something about ourselves that has always been available but that we haven't yet seen. It's opening up new territory for us. The coach's job is to bring the client's awareness to this new possible way of being, invite him/her into it with language (a new narrative), and have him/her take on a practice so that it becomes embodied.”
This rigorous and adaptable coaching methodology was exactly what I needed to bolster my confidence and give me the useful and practical skills necessary to be of greatest benefit to my clients.