Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach

Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach

 YNPN National is currently working on broader strategies to address the issues of coaching access and affordability.  As part of that strategy, the following post is part of an ongoing series aimed at raising awareness about the importance of coaching and tools for accessing this critical support - both amongst our members and the sector at large.

Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach

By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward

Last year, I sought out a colleague for a heart-to-heart: Alongside my demanding nonprofit job, I yearned to move my career forward. My coworker seemed to have endless energy and inspiration for his own professional development. He urged me to hire a coach, and referred me to Cathy Wasserman, owner of Self-Leadership Strategies, which provides depth, career, and executive coaching.

I became a client of Cathy’s – and a passionate believer in the transformative power of coaching. I recently spoke with Cathy about her work:

Why work with a coach? What’s in it for social change leaders?

CW: Coaching enables people to dig deep around their unique strengths, growing edges, and values. Ultimately, when people maximize what they can share of themselves, social change efforts maximize as well. Social change requires as many people as possible to articulate their ideas, problem solve, and bring their best self to their work.

Coaching lends itself well to the challenges and complexities of addressing social problems. It helps people navigate contradictions within organizations: the gaps between mission and what is actually happening.

Coaching can exponentialize someone’s work for social change – both within larger society, and within themselves as a healthy, effective change agent. Coaching allows people to learn from all that is happening, and sustain themselves for the long haul.

What mental barriers do you see in people struggling to reach career goals?

CW: There’s a real challenge in allowing ourselves to be fulfilled, to go for what we want, to stop doing what isn’t working. Human beings have trouble embracing our greatness and possibility; we tend to undervalue our skill, value, and intrinsic worth. We over-identify with our inner critic, and work within environments that feed that back to us.

Ironically, those barriers are often catalysts for growth – levers for unleashing more of ourselves – but in the moment, they can be confusing and frustrating. Coaches help people to realize their mental barriers as opportunities for growth and discovery.

Are there particular challenges nonprofit leaders face?

CW: Intrinsically, there’s a sense of “fighting the good fight”, of coming from behind. Nonprofit leaders, more than the average person, have a sense of scarcity, of more limitations they’re working against. There are also logistical realities of working for nonprofits: For example, because there is less money than in the corporate sector, there is also less leadership development training available.

What’s one exercise someone can engage in to move forward in their career?

CW: Start by getting clear on your mission, values, and priorities – personally or professionally. I consider that the foundation of the house of leadership. We need that to help direct our energy and stay on track. It’s difficult to move forward strategically and sustainably without that “north star”.

How did you get into coaching?

CW: I’ve coached informally throughout my career, for example as a community organizer in the feminist and youth movements. There wasn’t much language of coaching at the time – it was just something I did. Eventually, I studied social work and was trained as a therapist, a discipline closely related to coaching.

I decided to work at both micro and macro levels: Besides coaching individuals, I worked as a management consultant for the Support Center for Nonprofit Management. Through one of my trainings I met folks from Idealist, and was invited to write a career coaching column, “Ask Cathy”. There was a tremendous response from readers seeking coaching, so I developed a coaching business. As with many coaches, my road was long and winding – but really, I’ve been coaching all along.

Would you recommend coaching as a career path for others?

CW: Coaching requires an ability to really witness and be present to someone. It demands skill and mastery of one’s relationship to the self. As that muscle is built, you can be more and more available to others, and support them in a powerful way, helping them unlock themselves and explore what’s going on within them.

Coaching isn’t for faint of heart. You need to be able to go into crevices of someone else’s humanity. People will resist and limit their own growth and get frustrated by it, which can make the coaching process difficult. A coach has to be energized by that challenge.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a coach?

CW: It’s a real privilege to witness someone’s growth process, as they tackle the truth of who they are, who they’ve been, and who they’re becoming. Sometimes it’s about bravely looking at your own “shadow” side, and dealing with it. The role of coach and client is to take risks and move forward, even with the fear and anxiety and doubt that come up. That people allow this process to happen is a source of great gratitude and joy for me.

The past several years of surveying and talking with our members have made it clear that Individual Coaching & Support is often identified as one of the most important pillars for professional development, but also the form of support that emerging leaders have the least access to - both in terms of how to find these resources and in terms of affordability. 

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