My brothers are always the first people to send an email to say I misinterpreted research that I’m linking to. (Which I accept as a love note to let me know they read my posts.) So last week when my brother sent me a link he thought I’d like, he also sent me a summary:

There are more men in STEM careers than women, which of course you already know. But the real reason we can’t solve the gender gap in STEM careers is shocking. At the time they enter into college, there are actually many more women who are qualified for STEM careers than men. However the majority of qualified women choose to do non-STEM majors in college. While the majority of men who are qualified for STEM careers choose STEM majors. So, it turns out that the researchers have found that the gap between men and women in STEM careers exists because men who are not qualified for STEM careers simply do not go to college. 

So, women and men are very similar at STEM, but men not in STEM cannot get into college. Which means the reason we can’t solve the gender gap in STEM careers is not anything people could have ever imagined.

What’s striking about this research is we’ve asked the wrong question. We have been asking why aren’t women going into STEM, but the truth is women don’t want to go into STEM. They go into fields they like.

This is a very similar issue to the question of why aren’t there more women leading companies. In both cases, we assume that men and women want the same thing, and some nefarious forces make women not as successful in male-dominated fields. In fact, women are in control of their lives and they are making choices they want.

So the real question should be why do we celebrate choices men typically make and castigate choices typical of women?

Anyway, most of the problems we wrestle with are problems we don’t understand. And this is why I think therapy doesn’t work.

For example, for the last year I have been decorating my new apartment obsessively. I’ve been through three sofas and six colors with Maria Killam because I can’t bear to pick any paint color without her. She is so famous now that I don’t even know if you can talk to her directly any more. But I have known her long enough to send texts like, “Please call me right away. It’s an emergency. I only have one hour to pick a new paint color for my living room or I will literally die.”

My therapist tells me that OCD is not just doing things, it’s also thinking things. I tell my therapist I think I am OCD about decorating. Like I missed an appointment with said therapist because I couldn’t stop looking for a chandelier that would look good against Palladian Blue

We get nowhere in therapy. And the next week I’m onto a different topic because who cares if it’s OCD because I’m still going to use grocery money to buy picture frames. And anyway we have to talk about why I keep forgetting my appointment time. “Is there something that is scaring you about coming here?” he asks.

Why do I need a therapist to ask me the most obvious question in the whole world? I have been to enough therapy that I can ask that question myself. That’s the whole point – the therapist asks you the same types of questions week after week until you internalize the therapist’s voice and ask the questions yourself.

As a person who coaches with no training or certification or whatever, I can ask non-standard questions: Are you gay? Why are you not making more money? What is the point of living there? How much money does your spouse make? When do you think you’ll have time to take care of kids?

I don’t feel limited to getting the answers from the person I’m coaching. I don’t need to say, What is keeping you from getting a promotion? I can just go straight to I can tell your boss hates you.

The result is that at the end of the one-hour session every person says some version of, “I never imagined that this is what we would talk about, but I really appreciate it.”

People don’t know what they need help with. I didn’t realize this until I started coaching people regularly. And recently I realized it’s me, too. I go to therapy every week and have no idea how to prioritize my problems. After all, if I could see them, I could probably deal with them, too. 

Lauren came to visit for three days. She’s my only friend who is a life coach. I used to have a lot of friends who are investors. And when we had lunch I was never sure if I was hanging out with them or pitching them for my next round of funding.  That’s how I feel spending time with Lauren – I never know if we are being friends or if she is being my coach.

But this time I knew: I told her I’m having a really difficult time keeping to a schedule. I wrote our schedules down — each of the boys and mine as well. We have every minute of every single day scheduled and still I mess it up.

I told her things change too much. Or I have dyslexia for numbers. Or I worry too much. Or the boys don’t watch the clock. Everything. Everything is wrong.

I tell Lauren this while we walk to the place where my younger son practices piano. But we are late.

Because I was on the phone with Melissa.

I ask Lauren what’s wrong.

“Each time we’re late it’s because you let your emotions build up until it’s unbearable. You were so upset with Melissa you had to stop everything to call her.”

She’s right. It’s so clear when she says it but I couldn’t see it. I can list a lot of problems I have, but I wouldn’t have listed that there’s no time to be me. 

Part of me hates writing this because it’s so cliched that a working mother of two kids is not making time in the schedule for herself. I hate being so obvious. But what I really hate is not knowing what questions to ask. My life is the STEM gap and the CEO gap and all the other gaps between the questions we ask and the real trouble that we face.

I want to make my learning cycle faster by asking better questions. But I think I’ve hit a wall. And now I see why so many people are in therapy for years and yet they’re getting nothing done: Therapy only works when we know the questions to bring to the therapist. When we bring ancillary issues to the therapist then we spend all our therapy time on ancillary issues. The best coaching comes from someone who sidesteps the issues we present to them and goes after the issues that matter.

So now I know why I’m frustrated with therapy: each week we can only talk about the problems I can see. The help each of us needs is to talk about the things we don’t see.