Presence, Absence and Acquaintance: How I Found What I Thought I Lost

by | Jun 22, 2020 | Coaching

When I would go to a coffee shop and order coffee, I didn’t just order coffee. By the end of the encounter, I knew the cashier’s name, what kind of day the person was having, that they have two dogs and this is their second job. Before COVID, quarantine and social distancing, my days were filled with many of these interactions, and I loved it. I was getting up, dressing up, and spending my days working with clients all over the NY metro area. I kept a busy schedule, full of personal enrichment and time with loved ones and friends.  I was having a blast.

Those days seem like such a long time ago. As a person with a very strong extroversion preference, I get my energy from being around and interacting with others. I’m always up for happy hour, a phone call, or an outing with a friend. I’m the one who eats at the bar to chat with others, rather than cooking dinner in my apartment alone, although I’m rather capable of doing so.  To me, nothing is as enjoyable without someone to share in the experience.

All of these things were part of my world, and parts of my identity which were so valuable to me.

As I reflect on this and other thoughts, my coaching training keeps coming back to me. In my Gestalt training, we learned about polarities. Think of it as two sides of the coin or two ends of a stick: shy versus bold.  Sad versus happy.  Excited versus calm. For many clients there is a draw to one polarity and an aversion to the other.  There is an inclination to think of one as “good” and the other as “bad.” Rather than judging the goodness, badness, rightness or wrongness of each, the goal of a Gestalt trained coach is to help the client see the possibility in the other side.

I started thinking about two polarities that were showing up for me: present and absent. With what is present, I still have a place to live, food to eat, people to talk to on the phone or Zoom. I’m blessed, right? Yet for me, the absence was still stronger than what was present. I felt like I needed to live in absence for a while and acknowledge what I had lost in the midst of all this.  Yet, well-intended people kept pushing me toward what was present; implying that I shouldn’t be throwing myself a pity party about what was absent. Whether they knew it or not, they were assigning value to each end of the polarity.  Focus on present = goodness.  Focus on absence = bad and wrong. I really was grieving what the loss of what made me the person I am.  The way I liked to live my life.  The interactions in which I found meaning.  What was still present wasn’t enough for me.

When Zooming with a group of colleagues. Someone mentioned the word “acquaintance” rang true for her during this time. Getting to know what was in this time.  Getting adjusted to the new normal.  With what was I getting acquainted? For starters, I was getting reacquainted with cooking.  I enjoyed preparing three meals each day (the cleaning up, not so much.) To stoke my extraversion, I started posting photos of meals I had prepared. While I enjoyed putting on a dress and running around the five boroughs of NYC each day, it was a gift to spend more time developing my business, to eat breakfast at a leisurely pace and at a sane hour, and afternoon walks in the park (with my mask, of course).  

I started thinking about the other things I became “acquainted” with during this time: networking with new people, catching up with family, having an early virtual happy hour with friends if we were all done working for the day. So many new, good things–things that were absent in my old world, but present now. I also became aware that I still had what I thought was absent, it was just showing up in a different dress…

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Nancy Jacoby,

Nancy is a registered nurse, recovering hospital administrator and ICF certified coach and consultant. She leads individuals, teams and organizations in growth, development and process improvement to yield sustained change and desired outcomes. 

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Nancy Jacoby, RN, MBA, MHSA, FACHE, ACC  |  212.779.2049  |  Connect on LinkedIn

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