I’ll admit it: I scorned coaching for many years. An avid and lifelong believer in the power of psychotherapy, I viewed coaching and the quick fixes it promoted with great skepticism. Achieving stability, equilibrium, and a stronger sense of self required years, if not decades, of long sessions with a therapist. It involved a thorough excavation of one’s past, profound reflection, grit, and tears. In short, I thought authentic, long-lasting change could only be accomplished through a protracted—and often painful—process. Coaching, on the other hand, was too brief, too expedient, too unorthodox, and too unregulated of a field to trust.
Then, on the verge of becoming an empty-nester, I panicked. I knew I would be bewildered and unmoored in my daughter’s absence. I was resigning from my role as a full-time mother—unwillingly, in many ways—and needed to carve out a new path for myself fast. Despite the many years I had spent in therapy, which eased my self-doubt, I couldn’t get a handle on how to leverage my strengths to determine my next steps.
A friend of mine suggested I see a life coach, who, she assured me, would help me see my future with purpose and clarity. I balked at first. In my view, enlisting a life coach was akin to hiring a massage therapist to treat osteoporosis. I was desperate to find a reason to get out bed after my daughter left, however, and so I put my suspicions aside for an hour and went.
Sixty minutes later, I emerged with a greater sense of purpose—a feeling that just about floored me, given my staunch prejudices. The questions the life coach asked me were shrewd, powerful, and succinct. We talked about living with intention. We discussed what was holding me back from deciding on my next move in life. We examined my values and aims—not the why behind them, as a therapist would, but how to use them as lanterns to light my way. Our conversation focused not on the unhealed wounds of my past but on the present and my future goals. I was dazzled.
And I wanted to help other people feel the same.
Over the next several days, I reviewed our discussion and those life goals that were, suddenly, not quite as elusive as they once seemed. I wanted to show people, particularly women, that they possessed innate strengths to see themselves through challenging life transitions. I wanted to provide others with a compassionate ear, and give them courage and motivation. Friends and family members often came to me for guidance, support, and a place to cry—couldn’t I very well do the same for strangers? Given my background in sales and its emphasis on results, my education in Women’s Studies and Transpersonal Psychology, and my inquisitive, extroverted nature, coaching seemed like the perfect—if not inevitable—vocation for me.
First, though, I had to coach myself. The certification program was intense and thorough. We reviewed different psychological approaches. We embarked on the Neurological Language Program, which addresses how language shapes our thoughts, actions, and feelings. Terms like “ontological approach” and “super conscious” became a part of my vocabulary. I spent months coaching my colleagues. Still, I wasn’t convinced I had what it took to steer others in the right direction. It was one thing to provide counsel and encouragement to loved ones, and yet another to do the same for complete strangers. I resisted it for a good, long time, placing my official certification to the side and directing my energies on getting my daughter settled into college life.
Then two clients fell into my lap.
One was interested in finding a more meaningful career. The other wanted advice on having a fulfilling relationship without losing sight of herself. Our initial meetings were defined by sweaty palms and anxious, racing thoughts that kept me an arm’s length away from fully engaging. Did they like me? Would they return for another session? Was I asking the proper questions, and offering the choicest answers? Should I delve deeper into their pasts? Was I showing them the best way to move forward? Or was I, as I feared, a complete fraud?
When I relaxed long enough to review whether or not my actions were aligned with my intentions, it became clear that I—and, more importantly, my clients—were on the right track. My script was evolving from a place of intuition. I knew how to adjust my approach to make my clients feel safe and nurtured. I discerned which questions to ask based on their inflection and body language. I searched and found solutions for them based on a combination of hard-won insight, observation, and a whole lifetime of quietly coaching myself through arduous times. And the more confidence I brought to our sessions, the more confidence I was able to instill in my clients.
During the fourth week, something beautiful emerged. The shift was subtle but clear: There was little I could do to address the traumas I’d endured in the span of a month, just as there was little I could do to attack the deep-seated issues I intuited my clients had. I could, however, concentrate on the present and future and the strategies I and my clients could employ to realize the vision we had for ourselves. I could take accountability for my actions and negative patterns of thinking, and assist them in doing the same. True, those internal blocks that restricted growth and happiness had bone-deep roots that might require a lifetime of analysis to unearth and recover from, but right here, right now, there were actions we could take to move toward the person we wanted to be, the careers we wanted to embrace, the relationships we wanted to have. By taking charge today, we could control tomorrow.