This is the second in a series on some of the learning experiences I’ve been drawn to this past year. The impetus to do this is coming from some inner sense of growth and transformation, some to release parts of who I have been and move into who I am becoming.  What I’m gaining is having a powerful personal and professional impact. The previous post, Learning and Growth: Powerful Personal and Professional Impact, is available here.

First in this series, I wrote about Soul Collage™. It’s a quiet, contemplative and informal experience for exploring where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. This week I’m writing about another kind of learning experience, one that is more traditional, and more cognitive in it’s format. 

Learning about Growth Edge Coaching is more cognitive than participating in Soul Collage™, though there is most certainly an intuitive and emotional aspect to it, too. The learning happens through a more standard  and formal route, one involving reading and professional training.

I just happened to get invited to Soul Collage, and decided I’d like to try it. Similarly, I started on this adult development learning path by chance, after finding a reference to Jennifer Garvey Berger’s book, Changing on the Job, in a coaching textbook that I was re-reading. I ordered it, read it and was immediately fascinated by Garvey Berger’s clear and compelling discussion of current needs for leadership in a complex world, and the developmental supports that could help cultivate such leaders. One thing led to another, and  earlier this month I found myself in a 3-day workshop being introduced to the application of adult developmental theory to coaching.

A Different Theory of Adult Development

Earlier adult development theories    the very theories I learned in grad school    describe adult development in terms of life stages that are tied to a particular age or key task. 

 Constructivist-developmental theories focus on each person’s way of making sense of what is happening within and around them.  

They are constructive because they are concerned with the way each person creates her world by living it….They are developmental because they are concerned with the way that construction changes over time to become more complex and multi-faceted.” 

~ Jennifer Garvey Berger, Changing On The Job

Despite what I was taught, and had thought was true, Garvey Berger asserts that the number of years one has lived or the life stages completed do not necessarily correspond to developmental growth or change. 

What It’s Like to Be Taken Beyond What You Already Know

I noticed some discomfort, a sense of dis-orientation, in being asked to let go of something I’d learned and had thought of as true. At the same time, there was, and still is, an exciting sense of discovery as I seek to better understand and use this way of supporting adult development.

What I Did

Interested in learning more, I found Growth Edge Coaching, Garvey-Berger’s web site, and took a look at the training opportunities offered. A couple of months later, I spent 6 weeks in an online training, Conversations at the Growing Edge. 

There was so much information! So many people on the calls! So many resources provided! I was a little overwhelmed, and still intrigued. I don’t know how much during that workshop. It felt like I had been showered with information,and that I had maybe absorbed some of it. But I needed more. More time to think.  More time to return to the class’s video recordings and readings. More time time for my brain, and my heart to grow and make room for this theory and its applications.  

As part of the “more” that needed joined a Psychologically Spacious Coaching workshop. These are held regularly at various locations around the world, so discovering that this spring’s workshop was at a retreat center just a 20 minute drive from my home seemed almost like magic!  How could I not go for it?  

A New Learning Journey

Guided by two welcoming, personable and highly expert facilitators, Carolyn Coughlin and Patrice Laslett, Psychologically Spacious Coaching, took me on a journey unlike any other training I’ve been to.  If I could plot it on a map, the route would move forward, then wind back, then loop around and move forward again.  It would look something like this:


Day One: I entered into this three day workshop believing myself to be a competent, highly skilled coach and facilitator.  We spent the day alternating between presentations and experiential practice sessions. I began meeting the other participants throughout the day, impressed with their diverse perspectives, their intelligence, their warmth and their commitment to doing their best for themselves and their clients.

Day Two: Mid-way through the workshop , my view of myself as a professional was shaken.  We took turns role playing, in groups of three, practicing using developmental questions in coaching role plays.  I was uncomfortably aware of having a very hard time with this. I was thinking things like: 

 —“What made me come to this workshop?”  

–“I’m not going to be able to do this!”

–“I’ve just wasted my time and money!”

Day Three: In new groups of three, we took did more coaching role plays,  this time, coaching as we usually do, but incorporating the use of developmental questions into our approach.  It wasn’t easy, but it felt more natural and do-able.  I realized that I am still very much a beginner with this work, and that I do have the resources I need – the skills, attitudes,  and experience to continue integrating this still new knowledge and abilities into m work. 

By the end of that third day, I was unreservedly  happy that I’d joined the workshop.  Listening to my peers’ reflections as we ended our time together, I realized we’d all been on a similar journey.  We all had found our confidence shaken on the workshop’s second day, and then restored on the third day.

It dawned on me  that the workshop was structured to do exactly that. It took us to our own growth edge, the place where transformation and growth can happen. 

What I Learned

Being up against the growing edge of your sense-making, and of your skills and knowledge can be a damned uncomfortable place!  You go through a  shifting sense of your own identity. There is a process of releasing what no longer serves. You feel pretty wobbly about yourself as you do so. They you gradually begin to sense yourself as having started to grow and change in important ways. 

The  discomfort of that experience is part of a transformation that bridges the gap between who you are now, and who you are becoming.  It’s not easy, but then think of other life transitions. For the most part, they’re  not easy, either.

There were things that made learning possible despite the discomfort: My own motivation; the setting creating by our facilitators’ responsive leadership; the participants’ open and heartfelt interactions; and the beauty of our surroundings were all important contributors.

What’s Next

 I’m thinking about how I’ll continue learning, and about how I’ll start applying what I’m learning in my life and work. I’ve already experimented with  this, trying out using questions to help me and my clients recognize the structure of their own sense-making. 

As next steps, I’m revisiting the self-assessment exercise in Garvey Berger’s book, which guides the reader in posing developmental questions to themselves and then responding to them. I’ll continue reviewing the materials from the online course, and the in-person workshop’s participant manual. I’ll stay in touch with the others who attended.  And maybe I’ll attend the Growth Edge Network’s annual meeting in the fall. I’m thinking about it! There’s so much more to learn!

Photo of mountains by Vikas Anand Dev on Unsplash

Photo of sketch by NL Seibel

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