Sarah, a Cape resident, found herself overwhelmed after a period of personal transformation. She’d recently become a new mother, had moved here from overseas, and no longer knew what she wanted. “I’d become a new person, but hadn’t come to grips with who I was,” she says now. She needed help adjusting to her new life.
Today Sarah feels more confident in herself, more in tune with her desires, and more certain about her priorities. How did this happen? She hired a life coach.
What is life coaching? It is a relationship through which clients can reach their goals in life, or discover goals they never knew they had, both in their careers and in their personal lives. As life coach Morgaine Mary Beck tells me, “It taps into a client’s inner wisdom, so it’s not about me telling them what to do.” It is a collaborative process, she says. “The big word is ‘co-create’.” Often the process involves identifying the underlying thought patterns that govern our behavior – those nagging doubts or fears, for instance – and overcoming them.
Coaching may sound like therapy or even consulting, but it is an entirely separate process. As Ken Mossman, another coach, says, “A coach is not an expert like a consultant; a coach is just someone who asks really good questions. . . . Most of it is really client-driven.” And therapy, he says, is largely geared toward healing a past wound, whereas coaching is very much focused on the present and future.
Therapy can also assume that the client is broken somehow, and must be fixed or corrected; coaching assumes instead that the client is naturally resourceful, creative, and whole. Clients play a big role in identifying and achieving their own goals. Coaches will give suggestions or challenges in service of a client’s goals, but the client always makes the final decision on how to proceed. As Kathleen Clancy, a coach for four years, says, “The client has the answers.” She doesn’t tell her clients what to do; she only makes suggestions, requests, or challenges. As Soriya, who has worked with a coach since January, says, “It’s extremely supportive, and it teaches me how to support myself.”
Soriya has been working with a life coach since the beginning of the year. When she started, she says, “I didn’t know what specific issues I wanted to deal with. I was starting a new business, and I’d had some business issues in the past.” Not sure coaching was right for her, she agreed to sign up for six months of sessions. For a while, she says, it didn’t seem to be working, but eventually she started to see more and more progress in the weekly phone calls. Over the course of the sessions, she and her coach found old issues, attachments, and thought patterns making themselves apparent that she hadn’t been aware of in herself.
Today, she says, she has a more positive approach to life, and more confidence. “I understand how I work best, and what my pitfalls are,” she says, “…and I know how to work through my issues, whereas before I might have given up.” She feels that coaching has helped her to reach her full potential, both in her life and in her business.
Geoff, another client I spoke to, has had similar success. A client for about two years now, he initially came to his coach with issues about procrastinating and being disorganized. As is common in coaching, he and his coach eventually realized those problems were part of a larger issue: Geoff was filling his life with things he didn’t want or care about. This led to what he tells me was a “very life-altering shift in perception” – a “recognition that the things I enjoy doing are the things I’m supposed to be doing.”
To get a better feel for the coaching process, I tried a free sample session with Beck; most coaches offer this service. Before the session, she asked me to consider several questions about goals, professional or personal, that I wanted to pursue but hadn’t.
What are three such goals? What would your life be like if you achieved them? What is preventing you from pursuing them? During the telephone session – about 80% of all coaching sessions are over the phone, often making it easier for clients to open up – we talked about my answers to these questions. At no point did Beck announce a diagnosis or a solution; instead she challenged me to discover things on my own by getting me to focus on myself. I found that our conversation quickly opened into a broader discussion of my self and my personality. Together we discovered the way these specific issues related to the way I deal with the world. Several coaches I later spoke with tell me this is often the case in coaching: a client comes in with one set of issues, only to discover those aren’t the areas of their lives they really want to address.
“I went in with organizational issues,” Sarah says of her first few sessions with a coach. She was concerned about being a good mother, and about how to run her life. Slowly, though, it became clear that there were larger issues at work. She and her coach realized, for instance, that an issue with a family member was a much larger part of her life than she’d known, and was influencing her attitude toward her new life.
They also realized she hadn’t adjusted to her new life yet – “I found that I was kind of scared to show myself,” she says. “It wasn’t about having healthy food in the fridge, it was all about becoming comfortable with myself.” Eventually it became clear that motherhood was profoundly important to her; it had been, she says, something she’d never thought she wanted. One story Sarah told me about her sessions stood out. As a youth, she said, she’d been very confident, but gradually she started to lose faith in herself. Recently, when decorating a new house, she’d wanted to paint the kitchen red, but her husband disagreed. Sarah gave in to his color choice, perpetuating a pattern of deferring to others that had been developing over time. During a session, she mentioned this in passing to her coach, who picked up on the comment and challenged her to go get a paint sample of the color she’d liked and put it up on the kitchen wall.
Without giving herself time to think about it, Sarah rushed to a store, got the sample, and slapped it up on the wall in enormous brush strokes. “I felt it was a huge coming out, a return to being more vibrant,” she tells me. Over time, she’s become more in touch with her impulses, and more resistant of what she calls the “self-editing process” that had led her to doubt her convictions. And now, of course, the kitchen is red.
“It’s all stuff you could do on your own,” Beck tells me, “but with coaching, you get to grow so much faster; you have help seeing your blind spots.” And overcoming those blind spots, those patterns of self-destructive behavior, can lead to wonderful transformations in your personal and professional life.
By John Gendreau, Fall 2003
John Gendreau joins the staff of Cape Healing Arts with this issue as a writer and designer.