Why We All Need a Life Coach (and How to Think About Them)

As many of you know, I was a psychotherapist for seven years before changing my practice to one of coaching.

Naturally, lots of people ask me what the difference is between COACHING and THERAPY. My landlords, who are Scandinavian, didn’t get the concept of Life Coaching (they’re in their 70s) and wondered if I’m teaching people how to brush their teeth or make their beds. To be clear, I’m not.

Here’s a little debrief:

I started working with my first coach in 2012, while I was still a therapist. I had considered the idea for a while, but hadn’t actually hired anyone for fear that the investment might be a waste of money. After deep consideration, I decided to give it a try—and hired someone who became beloved to me. She helped me see so many of my blind spots and actually taught me how to accomplish my goals. This was quite different from therapy, where I’d become adept at self-awareness, but lacked follow through or planning.

After working one-on-one briefly with the coach, I joined her women’s group.

While I had the support of my coach and her coaching partner, my business sprouted to the next level. That was when I decided to change my career from therapy to life coaching. I received invaluable information from them, which translated to my own self-confidence. They taught me how to level-up.

Coaching is appropriate for people who feel like they can’t get ahead. They can’t get over the hurdles between where they are now and where they want to be.

So what does a coach do?

A good coach will help you find your blind spots. A great coach will be a mentor and be part of the solution. Mentors are often expected to have all the right answers, but this is not the way many coaches work. Some coaches (myself included) base their coaching on the unique and special relationship between coach and client. We are engaged in an ongoing dialogue about self-development, goals and navigating things that come up.

I had a client who was involved in a family business. Due to various circumstances, my client became President/CEO and ran the business for close to ten years. In years seven and eight, he noticed that he was becoming bitter and didn’t find interest in the business or in running it anymore. Being a responsible son, he kept going. Quite often, he’d have bouts of frustration or depression and he felt lonely. He wasn’t able to reach out to his family for support, as they had a deep stake in the business and wanted him to continue as the leader. Finally, by the middle of the ninth year, he realized a change needed to happen.

This is when he hired me to get to the next level.

Our early sessions consisted of him telling me about what wasn’t working at the office and we made tiny, doable adjustments for him to get along better with his employees, beginning day one. Over time, he came to the realization that he no longer wanted to run the business. He didn’t know if he could resign, if the family would allow him to sell, or if he’d close the company.

The first step would be to get proper accounting of the books, so he hired a firm who specialized in small business audits. They gave him a fair representation of the company’s assets and liabilities, which enabled my client to speak to his family. Half of them wanted my client to keep running the business (my client did not want to do this) and the other half wanted to sell. Nobody wanted the company to close. My role morphed from sounding board to the person who helped him take each next step.

Sometimes people want a coach to tell them what to do. People think a coach gives direction and then punishes you if you don’t do your task at all or a certain way. That’s faulty thinking. A good and great coach won’t do these things. Instead, she will likely help you see the big picture and help you come to a decision when you’re at an impasse.

I didn’t tell my client what to do. He came to the decision on his own, with help from my questions and ability to draw themes out of many aspects of his life.

He decided to step away from his role and sell the company. But how would he do that? Unlike selling a sofa, Craigslist wasn’t a great option. I suggested a business broker. He researched many and interviewed a few, settling on someone with experience in his industry and expertise in small businesses.

The process of selling his business took longer than he expected. During this time, my client also realized he was ready to propose to his long-time girlfriend and we addressed the issue of marriage.

A great professional coach might walk you step by step through the process of what’s happening to really understand. Your coach will likely be a source of unwavering support and fierce love. You will (hopefully) feel cared for and supported by someone who thinks very highly of you.

My client eventually sold his business, for the terms he wanted. He also proposed and planned a wedding. I felt so happy and proud of him! I saw his intelligence and creativity shine through, in ways he didn’t realize existed.

In therapy, the focus is often on gaining awareness of problems, learning how to address the why questions. In coaching, we often focus on the hows. Therapy is excellent when a person desires deeper understanding of a problem.

Coaching is distinct from therapy in that coaches can do different things in the relationship. The coach may be able to text, email or talk outside of regularly scheduled appointments. The boundary line may not be as stiff, and the relationship may look or feel more relaxed.

My clients and I work on things at the micro level — from pulling apart how to ask for changing a work schedule to having a difficult conversation with a family member. In therapy, the focus would likely be why now? Or what does this remind you of?

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when things were generally okay, not great, not horrible? You felt a low-grade depression, perhaps even fatigue from your problems? Others could see you needed to tweak one thing and everything would fall into place. You were stuck and knew something had to give, but all of your resources were tapped.

Additionally, perhaps you knew where wanted to be but could not get there.

This would be a time for you to hire a coach.

This article first appeared on Nina’s blog, afterdefeat.

Photo courtesy of Nina Rubin.