Apr 14, 2022 - Economy

Find your tough-love life coach

Illustration of a coffee mug with the Axios logo with steam forming a thought bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In 2006, I was ready to back out of creating Politico, after Washington Post legends Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Don Graham lobbied us to stay and help build things at the Post, Jim writes.

  • Everything changed when my wife, Autumn, saw me and John Harris, my eventual co-founder and then-Post boss, buckling.
  • She hopped on her computer, banged out a letter quoting Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, and told us to stop being wimps — and to suck it up.

Why it matters: Autumn knew me well enough to know I need a swift kick to do the risky but right thing.

We all need an Autumn: a family member, friend or mentor whom we trust to give us wise — and often tough — advice.

  • She knew the risks. We had two young kids and I was giving up a $140,000 salary and a prime perch as political writer at the Post for a startup most thought would fail.
  • I hadn’t managed anything in my life, other than the night shift at Little Caesars Pizza in my late teens. But she often knows me better than I do. She made me start Politico — and even came up with the name.

A few tricks for finding — and taking full advantage of — your Autumn:

  1. Absolute trust. Your coach needs to be someone you trust unequivocally. You trust their motivation, their morals, their instincts and their track record.
  2. Expose yourself. This only works if the person knows your worst flaws and deepest doubts. Most of your bad instincts and patterns flow from insecurity and fear, so stop trying to hide them. To anyone who really knows you, they are plain to see.
  3. Listen. It is so easy to talk yourself out of taking risks, or to talk yourself into justifying the wrong thing for the wrong reason. We all need a gut check.
  4. Hard truths are, well, true. Early in Politico, my instinct, born of my own insecurities, was to punch back hard against every critic.

Mike Allen once pulled me aside, cautioning: "We'll be in this town a long time. Make sure when you look back a few years from now, you'll be glad you did what you think you want to do."

  • It was his polite way of saying: Put a sock in it, hothead.

The big picture: We all have coaches like this in our lives. Be more explicit in asking them for unvarnished feedback about being a better friend, teammate, sibling, child or colleague. Then, take the advice.

🏁 Editor's note: This article appeared in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package. Sign up here for free.

Go deeper