It had taken some juggling, and an intervention with Bob to get Jane out of the office, but we were finally meeting in the local coffee shop. I arrived five minutes early, and she was already sitting at a table, blowing on her coffee, hands wrapped around her mug. Which was surprising because it was a balmy 8 degrees out.
“Jane! You’re early,” I noticed, putting down my briefcase. “Just let me grab a coffee, and I’ll be right back,” I said. Five minutes later, we were diving deeply into our first coaching session. I’d reminded Jane that our sessions would be confidential, and framed the project for her. There was no holding her back.
“I am so excited about this. It couldn’t have come at a better time!” She took a breath. “I can’t believe Bob is doing this for me,” she exclaimed. She took another sip, watching me over the rim. Her voice got quieter.
“Is he really doing this to support me, or did I do something wrong? I know I talk too much in the office and stuff, but the patients seem to like me. Maybe I mess up the billing occasionally, but the patients are coming back. They weren’t doing that before,” she told me.
“Wow! I can see you’re excited, but a little nervous, too. Don’t worry; our focus is to improve the office overall, not to discipline anyone. I’m just really glad we’ve finally connected!”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. First I was going to meet you for lunch, but my coverage couldn’t make it. Then Tom was supposed to cover the desk for me but…” Jane rolled her eyes and I smiled at her reaction. “Yeah. I couldn’t let that happen.” I sat quietly for a bit. “Well, and I guess I was a little scared. Or maybe I don’t believe Bob’s doing this for me.”
We talked a few minutes, and I heard how much Jane liked her work, and about her struggles as a young mother. She clearly adored her son Blair, and loved that twice a week her sister Debbie looked after him. Blair and his cousin Donovan were close, and it made leaving him at daycare so much easier. And he’d be off to Kindergarten next year. She thought things would get easier. Then I refocused on the work.
“What’s the hardest part of your job?” I asked.
“I love the job. I love the people. Really.” Jane looked down.
“And if you could change one thing, what would it be?” I asked. Jane kept looking at her hands, holding her mug. A minute later she looked right at me.
“I wish I had more confidence. That I knew what I was doing more of the time,” she said. “Bob hired me a couple of years ago, and his practice was small, really. I just answered phones, and booked appointments. Now there’s so much more going on.” Jane looked out the window. “I just wish I was more helpful at the administrative stuff, and that I’d be able to keep my job.” I sat for a minute smiling at Jane, offering reassurance.
“You really want to do a great job, in part to ensure job security?” I asked.
“Yes, but also because Bob is such a great guy. I really like working for him. I want to get better at this,” Jane clarified. “I started working with him after Blair was born, without any training. High school business, and one correspondence course in office admin, but really, I think he hired me out of pity,” Jane said. She picked a little fluff off her dress pants. “I’ve tried to help him.” It was a simple statement of truth.
“So, you came with only a little training, and Bob treats you well. It sounds like the job really works for you and Blair.”
“Yes! Bob even lets me take time if Blair is sick or something,” Jane said.
“And you don’t want to disappoint him. It sounds like sometimes you don’t think you deliver what’s expected. Can you give me a concrete example of a time you felt like you let the office down?” I asked. It didn’t take Jane any time at all.
“Tom lets me know every time I mess up a billing,” she said. “And if I forget to get forms filled out or something,” she added. “I don’t really get insurance, so sometimes I undercharge people, and sometimes I overcharge. It seems to be different for every company.” Jane looked at me, and her eyes were misty. I felt her vulnerability. “I can’t afford to lose my job,” she said.
“Have you thought about what you want to change?” I asked. Jane sighed, looking into her now-empty cup.
“Last year I looked at college courses.” She looked up at me, brightening. “Did you know you can take courses to be a Medical Office Assistant? You can. Online even.” Then she looked crestfallen.
“And?” I asked.
“They’re expensive,” she said. “And I don’t really get how to apply. I think I’d qualify for some of them, but I’m not sure. And I can’t afford to leave my job to go to school. Not right now,” she said. Her shoulders sagged.
“How much do they cost?” I asked.
“I don’t know. A lot,” she said. I took out a book to jot down some notes.
“So,” I continued, “I think you said the current barriers to this plan are the cost, the application process, and maintaining your current job.” I said. “Anything else?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t really know which schools are good.” She paused for a moment. “There’s a lot.”
“So, I’m curious, Jane. What if all the barriers could be removed, and you could do the courses online? What would that mean to you?”
“Oh goodness, Kate. That would be amazing. I can’t imagine it. I’d be able to do this work forever. I’d love that!” Jane’s eyes were sparkling. “Blair could take hip hop classes, and I wouldn’t have to worry all the time about having enough money for next month,” she said. “I always put money away in case I lose my job,” she confessed.
“So, you realise sometimes work is complicated, and you wish you had more training so that you understood more. And you’ve found a solution – there are courses you can take towards a certificate in Medical Office Admin, am I right?” Jane nodded.
“But there are some challenges you’d have to overcome. Any idea who you could approach to help you?” I asked. I suspected Jane had supporters. She thought for a minute.
“Well, Debbie has a friend who works at the career centre downtown, but I think you have to be on welfare,” she said.
“Okay, so you could ask Debbie’s friend, but you aren’t sure that will work. Other ideas?” I asked. Jane was tapping her cheek with her finger.
“I don’t know, but Bob might have some ideas,” she said. “Maybe I could ask him.”
“What would it take to ask him?” Jane laughed, shaking her head.
“Nothing. I can ask him anything!” she declared.
We talked a little longer, and Jane clarified her questions, and built a plan. She was going to ask her sister if she could access the career counsellors. She was going to talk to Bob about which schools she should apply for, and how to tell if she qualified. She decided she was even going to ask him for a loan to help her pay for her tuition, if their conversation was going well. A few minutes later, she’d written down her plan. She looked up at me.
“Do you think this is really possible? I might be able to go to school?” she asked. She reminded me of a young man I’d known who’d asked if it was possible a kitten really liked him. There was a hopefulness, born of years of disappointment.
“I absolutely think this is possible, in fact, I think you are resourceful and bright, and have figured this all out on your own. I think in four months, you’ll be doing courses.” And I believed it.
Jane looked at her watch and gasped.
“I have to get back to the office!” she said, and I chuckled.
“And you wonder why Bob treats you so well,” I said. “From my perspective, you are dedicated, and responsible, and you care about your work and the clinic patients. He’s got a gem, I think,” I said. Jane giggled as she headed to the door.
“Three weeks?” I said, and she nodded. It was so great to be working with someone so enthusiastic, and I noted in my book to send her an encouraging note to follow-up.
Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.