by Kim Childs, CPPC
Athletic coaching may be as old as the Olympics, but life and career coaching is barely 30 years old as a proper profession. It began in the late 80s with American financial planner Thomas Leonard, who realized that many of his clients wanted and needed more than investment tips to meet their life goals.
The techniques Leonard developed to help his clients complemented, but differed from, those practiced by therapists, mentors and consultants, and this is still largely true for life and career coaching. Leonard went on to create Coach University in the early 90s and train others in his methods, thus establishing a career option that flourishes today.
Fundamentally, life and career coaching is a supportive relationship between the coach and “coachee,” in which the coach does not give advice but helps the client to call forth and cultivate his or her own wisdom, strengths, clarity, courage, motivation, self-confidence and ideas to meet goals of many kinds. Coaches listen objectively to clients’ concerns and desires, ask powerful questions, hold clients accountable to the actions they commit to, and celebrate their forward movement.
In this way, life and career coaching is similar to athletic coaching, in which the athlete must do the work necessary to improve, achieve, and excel, while the coach offers support, strategy ideas, accountability, encouragement, and the tracking of progress.
There are as many coaching styles as there are coaches. My own approach encompasses the research-based practices of Positive Psychology for more fulfilling and empowered living, the techniques of The Artist’s Way for more authentic and creative living, and my training as a Kripalu yoga teacher for more spiritual and holistic living.
During our sessions, I invite clients to set the goals and agendas, and I pull from my appropriate tool kits as needed. I send follow-up notes with reflections, further resources and co-created action steps. I cheer when I receive enthusiastic updates from clients, and extend compassion when they share their struggles.
I have great affection for my clients, and I’m always rooting for them.
What does the process feel and look like on the client’s end? I asked my own clients to chime in and they said things like:
–“Coaching offered non-judgmental acceptance, mirroring to help me see myself, great listening, and quality questions that helped me dig deeper into what I thought I knew. I left with my head held high and with more energy and aliveness.”
–“Coaching helps me bring my game to the next level through the presence of a witness to my process and help in challenging my negative assumptions.”
–“I knocked off projects that had been hanging over my head for years.”
–“My mind is constantly going and over-analyzing, so I needed someone who was structured and looking out for me. Coaching helps me focus on a specific thing, even when I have many ideas, and that helps me move forward.”
–“I went in hoping for career guidance and never expected to learn so much about myself or develop so many valuable interpersonal skills.”
–“Career coaching is a great way to jump-start a career change. The coach probes your ideas, provides feedback, and helps you define ‘homework’ to speed the process. You get more organized and begin flying over the obstacles in your path.”
–“I’ve gained clarity of how I want to live in this world…I feel less owned by my commitments…and more capable of setting and keeping boundaries.”
–“Coaching helped me identify the things that light me up, verbalize how to make them part of my professional life, and develop a plan to make that happen. It can be hard to do all that alone and without a ‘thought partner’ who helps you explore things you might otherwise dismiss.”
–“Coaching gives a broader, bigger picture than therapy. It allowed me to explore who I am, take that broader picture, shift my perceptions, and open up to further discovery. Therapy gets to some of the deepest emotions, and it’s important to acknowledge that coaching and therapy are related.”
Having benefited from both therapy and coaching in my own life, I sometimes refer clients to therapists if that feels like a precursor, or complement, to our work. A wise colleague of mine writes this about the difference between the two: “A therapist looks into your past to help you understand the present. A coach works in the present to help you to create the future. Therapists delve deeply into emotions. A coach recognizes the importance of emotions but does not focus on them.”
A mentor of mine posits that coaches fill the wisdom gaps in this modern society of isolation and virtual connectivity, in which people may not have the same access to elders and role models in such places as religious communities, extended family living situations and other institutions.
Compared to counselors and mentors who are paid for their advice, however, coaches refrain from giving it. While we may suggest tailored resources, in coaching we assume that our clients are wise, resourceful and creative enough to identify their own answers and action steps through our work together. As a client of mine remarked, “You are the only person I know who doesn’t have an agenda for me and is completely on my side to help me identify and pursue what’s right for me.”
Nonetheless, I do help my clients to brainstorm, strategize, and stretch their comfort zones, based on their stated goals. In this way, I can feel a bit like an athletic coach. One client made me laugh recently when she said, “You’re my personal trainer of mental exercises!”
We all need support for the game of life, and coaches are often wonderful companions and guides on the journey.
Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and spiritual development. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.