In my executive coaching practice, my clients often recount past work experiences where they have deep regret regarding their behavior, their spoken or written word or more broadly how they were “showing up” as professionals. Their vulnerability in these moments allows our coaching to reach new levels of depth and meaning.
I have a firm belief that to realize our potential and be our authentic selves, we need to accept all elements of our character into our being. We need to be “OK” with the parts of ourselves that we do not admire, what Jung called the “shadow” side of ourselves. This belief of mine invariably leads me to ask my clients “What do you need to forgive yourself for?” as self-forgiveness is the foundation of acceptance of all elements of one’s character.
During a coaching session with one of my private equity clients, a Managing Director with a multi-billion NY-based PE firm, my client responded with a question of his own. “How can I forgive myself for my behavior earlier in my career and still hold myself accountable for my actions? These seem to be two opposing concepts.”
We discussed this for a brief period and then I asked him to close his eyes, relax and find where he held forgiveness within his body. After several moments of silence, he breathed a deep sigh. “It’s in my heart”, he reported with certainty. “And where does accountability reside within you?” I asked in response. A moment went by and then he noted that he held himself accountable in his mind. “I get it!” he exclaimed. “I can forgive myself in my heart AND simultaneously hold myself accountable for my actions in my mind. I always thought that if I let myself off the hook for the past, that I was making it OK to repeat mistakes in the future.” I then noted that self-forgiveness relates to the past, whereas accountability relates to the present moment and is a commitment for the future.
Ask yourself “For what do I need to forgive myself?” Whatever comes up, know you can forgive yourself for your past missteps, accepting all elements of your character, including the “shadow”, while still holding yourself accountable today and going forward.