What are your rules for a successful life? And how did you develop the rules you follow?
I frequently ask myself that question as most of my life; I followed a set of rules that I seemed to have absorbed from the air around me. It is only within the last seven years that I began designing the life I want to live. The rules I follow change as I gather experience and self-awareness.
I’ve recently developed a new life rule: I will only work on Collaborative Divorce files that utilize a divorce coach.
What is a Collaborative Divorce (it does sound like an oxymoron!)? A Collaborative Divorce is a process that guides its participants towards a new and happier life. Participants of the Collaborative Process agree to stay out of court to transition to their new lives living in two homes. The Collaborative Process’s critical component is an interdisciplinary team that supports the separating parties through the separation process. What is not an essential component for the Collaborative Process? Two spouses that already know how to collaborate. The Collaborative Process supports parties in conflict. If the couple has hired lawyers, it usually means that they have not figured out how to resolve the dispute independently.
The Collaborative Divorce team consists of: a lawyer to advise each spouse about the intricacies of family law, a divorce coach to provide emotional and parenting support (sometimes two coaches), and a financial neutral to gather and clarify the couple’s financial information. Other team members can also include a child specialist or chartered business valuator. The Collaborative Process encourages couples to hire the professional that best suits the needs of their unique separation process. We all know the platitudes, no two people are the same, and no two separation processes are the same.
I happen to work as a Financial Neutral in the Collaborative Divorce Process. My journey to becoming a Financial Neutral has led me directly to my new rule. I will only work on Collaborative Divorce files that utilize a divorce coach.
What was my journey? Well, I ended up going through my own Collaborative Process with my husband (now co-parent). Of course, separating from my husband was never part of my life plan: separation and divorce are not typical life aspirations. Yet, I am incredibly grateful for my divorce as it was the kick in the pants I needed to live my life according to my own rules.
I was fortunate to be born lucky and grew up in a firmly middle-class Canadian household. My father’s career took us overseas in my early elementary school years. I experienced different cultures and excellent private schools. By the time we returned home to Vancouver, I was firmly established as a good student. I thrived on the positive feedback I received as a good student. I had entered our current society’s positive feedback loop. After graduating from high school, I went to University, where I obtained a Bachelors’s Degree in Genetics. I landed a job in a Biotechnology Laboratory for a year while I contemplated what to do next. I had no idea what to do: nothing about science was offensive, but nothing inspired me to continue in science. So, I let my peers at the lab tell me what to do, and they all told me to “GET OUT OF SCIENCE!” Most of them were in their final years of their Master’s and PhDs and were jaded about their experience. Their unhappiness convinced me I should consider a different career. Yes, I have a long history of letting others unduly influence me.
Just because I got out of science didn’t mean I knew where to go next. As I had no specific interests, I would become an accountant as the general world consensus was that accountants can always find work. What a way to choose a career! I wasn’t enthusiastic about doing another undergrad degree. So, I decided to get my MBA and pick up the accounting courses I needed to take the next step into an accounting articling position.
My fellow MBA peers’ keenness kept me in the MBA program, along with the fact that I could take accounting prerequisites for free (I do have some strong accounting traits). After finishing my accounting requirements and MBA, I got a job at a local accounting firm. I spent the next three years discovering that I was not too fond of public practice accounting. After getting my Chartered Professional Accountant designation, I jumped ship. I took a job at a financial institution (because someone asked me if I wanted the job there).
Are you sensing a pattern?
I spent the next five years at my job, and my salary and unhappiness increased at about the same pace.
I was in a relationship at the time with someone I had met when I worked in the lab. As we were both established in our careers, we decided the next step was building a family. So we got married.
Then we had children. Two boys.
And as we sat there with our perfect jobs and perfect children, we both realized that we were not happy.
And neither of us knew how to turn that unhappiness around. Oh, we tried. We tried very hard. My husband looked for better career opportunities, and we were off to Australia. That…was…a…lot…of…work. Moving yourself and everything you own to Australia with your three-year-old and 5-month old baby.
Happiness continued to elude us.
We moved back to Vancouver to be near family, exhausted after traversing the world to find that elusive happiness.
We tried to get help. We saw counsellors; we read books on building a happy marriage and life; we tried going on dates to rebuild the romance, and nothing worked.
There was nowhere left to go but divorce.
I hadn’t learned how to course-correct, only to follow the pre-established rules of society, so of course, the next step in my journey was the lawyer’s office.
Luck shone down on me again as I walked into the office of a Collaborative Family Law Lawyer.
My lawyer advised me to talk to a coach, so I did (remember the pattern?). I saw my coach for the requisite amount of time, and my husband saw his coach for the requisite amount of time to build a parenting plan to parent our two perfect boys. You know, we still didn’t understand the concept of the Collaborative Process. I believed that divorce results in two parties who are both worse off and more damaged than before. I never bought into what we told our children: we set up two households to be a happier family in the future.
Then we had the necessary number of meetings to negotiate our financial separation. A year later, we divorced: our Collaborative Process was completed.
And it turns out that the divorce did not solve our unhappiness problem, far from it. I was miserable. I’m not sure how my ex-husband felt as he refused to talk to me. Even though we had hired divorce coaches to help us co-parent our children, we weren’t. We were parenting in parallel as we had done when we lived together under one roof.
I was so depressed; it was only my children who saved me. I had to get up out of bed every day to take care of them. I did this for a few months until a day I dropped them off at their dad’s home, came home, and said to myself, “I cannot do this anymore.”
I had reacted my way through life. I had done what I had been told to do. Get good grades, get a good job, get married, have children… now what? I had never made a conscious decision based on who I was to determine the direction to take in life. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted, and I could no longer delude myself that I would find my way out of depression by reacting again.
Luck played a role in my life again, and I met a life/business coach through a career transition program that I had enrolled in. Of course, I hadn’t found the program. My friend had told me about it.
The coach: she listened to me ramble on about my pain, and when she managed to get a word in, she helped me redirect my thoughts to what it was I wanted in my life. She challenged me to question the rules that I had blindly followed all my life. Where had I learned the rules? Ironically, I had created most of them in my head from observing the world around me.
The rules I had created and followed thus far had gotten me to a place of pain. It was time to create new rules that applied to me and who I am. It was back to the drawing board for my real separation. I wanted an actual departure from my old life and a way forward to work for my family and me.
After finishing my four free sessions with my coach, I was cast adrift to find a job. I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I tried, but I did not get one interview. I spent my days alternating between bemoaning my fate and writing cover letters for jobs I did not want.
I decided to continue with the life coach as she had been the only person who made sense. Continuing with Joss, my coach, was the first departure from my previous life rules. Spending money on myself was not something I usually did (especially as I didn’t have any to spare at that point, or so I thought). So I asked a friend what to do, and she advised me to pay the life coach (I had always put other people’s opinions ahead of mine – but at least this time, it worked out for me).
And now, seven years since that time, I am almost cured of reacting my way through life. And today marks a big step in that direction. As I mentioned earlier, the Collaborative Process involves two lawyers, a coach (or two), and a financial neutral, but it is rare when that occurs. I have worked on too many files where the lack of a coach resulted in a complicated separation process for the parties involved and an inferior separation agreement. Yet, I didn’t listen to what I knew to be right and continued to say yes to Collaborative Files that didn’t utilize a coach.
Again and again, I work on files that do not use a coach. I see the parties obtain their separation agreement and remain stuck. I see them slide into depression as they realize that the separation agreement did not solve their pain.
And one of the things that I learned on my journey is that I want to do my best while I live in this world, and doing my best means I use my life experience to support my family, friends, and clients the best way I can. And that means I will only work in a Collaborative Process that utilizes a divorce coach.