Where I'm from
Just the facts: I was born in Seoul, Korea, then immigrated to the U.S. when I was six. I grew up in South Carolina and Maryland, and have lived/worked in Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., New York again, Beijing, and California (in that order!). I now live in Los Angeles with my husband and kids.
Just as true: As an immigrant, home has always been a question of heart as much as place. Even as a kid, I understood the limits of geography to express identity. As an adult, I've continued to be a traveler. Now I think of home as the memories and connections that bring me back to a sense of belonging: the memory of sitting with my grandmother as she braided my hair, the smell and taste of my mother's cooking, every book I've read that has magnified my soul, the warmth of my children's bodies as they press against me in sleep. These days my work as a coach is also a part of what feels like home.
Why I coach
Other kids dreamed of being a doctor, scientist, lawyer. My fantasy was to be a Jesuit Priest. Lots of barriers of course -- not being a man or even Catholic being the two biggest ones. But what drew me was the stance of radical love, the idea of a life committed to seeing and loving people in their full humanity. Three decades and some odd years later, this is still what moves me.
Some people think coaching is about performance (as in peak performance). Yes, it's a byproduct. But at its core, coaching is about living your life with meaning and courage, and claiming the full beauty and power of what you have to bring to the world. Seeing the unique magnificence of each client emerge and brilliantly shine -- these are the moments when I feel truly alive.
My path to coaching
I grew up thinking that choosing a profession was about being practical and safe. The question of whether you loved your work -- that was a luxury we couldn't afford.
Law was a logical and practical choice. I liked working with people and with words, which law would enable me to do. And, by focusing on civil rights and other issues of inequality, I could even be true to my social justice values.
It was a worthwhile and noble path, just not mine. Law as a lens for engaging with the world never resonated with me, and I lived with a constant feeling of being in disguise.
Meanwhile, I felt a tug toward something very different. In 2002, I was in a legal dream job, and miserable. A friend referred me to someone who helped unhappy lawyers find their path. Sitting in his office during our first and only session, I felt more alive than I had in years. Hearing him describe his work of engaging deeply with each client to unearth their purpose and find fulfillment in their lives, some core part of me woke up. When he asked if I could imagine myself doing something other than my then job, I surprised myself by saying, "I could imagine myself doing what you're doing right now." As soon as I said it, I both knew it was true and was completely terrified.
I then spent the next 12 years yearning for this truth, and successfully convincing myself that it was unrealistic. Meanwhile, I tried to move toward it in ways that felt safe. I left litigation and took on leadership positions within social justice non-profits. This enabled me to focus more on people and to support them in their growth. In the end, though, it still wasn't a fully authentic expression of what was in my heart. I was still focusing on systems and policy change, when what really moved me was connecting deeply at the human, individual level.
Fast forward to 2014. Looking at my life from the outside, I was doing great. Positions of real responsibility and impact, a wonderful marriage and beautiful kids. Inside, I was paying the price of living someone else's life. A lot of the time, I felt blank, disconnected from myself and the people around me, exhausted yet unable to stop striving.
Ultimately, it was my leadership positions that broke me down enough to be brave. The thing about leadership -- it calls us to courage and integrity, to our full hearts, and to our authentic selves. Being in those positions and being disconnected from myself, was one of hardest emotional experiences of my life.
When I left my last director job in 2014, I was finally too exhausted to be scared. Fortunately dreams don't go away, and it's never really too late. Soul-searching, work with a coach of my own, and the encouragement of friends got me into a coach training class. The feeling at the end of the first day was incredible -- I made sense. The parts of me I had suppressed because they felt irrelevant or like weaknesses in my prior work, had a place. I can only describe it as the feeling of coming home.
That was March 2015, and I haven't looked back. The result of living in alignment with your true self and purpose is nothing short of transformation. The resentment, anger, and deep sadness that was a constant undercurrent for many years has lifted. I know the joy of making my own unique expression in the world. The connections I make with family, friends, even the occasional stranger are deeply nourishing because I am bringing myself as I really am. I am rediscovering my gifts of writing and public speaking, both of which had felt mechanical in prior jobs because the words were not mine. And, it continues to evolve. One of the great gifts of living from our true selves is that fear, about the future and the unknown, can finally take a back seat. Whatever happens (even and especially the hard stuff), we know we're on the right road.
My training as a coach
My training is through The Coaches Training Institute, the first and largest coach training organization in the world. The coaching model I am trained in is Co-Active Coaching, in which the coaching relationship is designed as an active and equal partnership between coach and client. Read more about the approach here.
My first name, Hyeon-Ju, can be intimidating. As you might imagine, it was the bane of my existence as a kid (think roll call on the first day of school each year). I even went rogue in sixth grade and changed it on my own to "Jennifer," the most "normal" name I could think of. With college came enough self-respect and confidence to go back to my beautiful given name.
I will never judge you for asking me how to pronounce it, no matter how many times you ask. In fact, I will love you for it.
For those of you who want advance practice, my first name phonetically is "Hyun-Joo." The first syllable is "yun" (rhymes with "run") with an "h" sound added in front. The second syllable rhymes with "moo." My last name, Rho, is easy. Just think of "row your boat."