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Vancouver Life Coach
Steve Mitten MCC
Get a Life ... Coach
Why should the Tiger Woods and Anna Kournikovas of the world be the only ones to get a little coaching? Just because there's no field or net doesn't mean the rest of us can't benefit from a little whistle-blowing help from the sidelines.
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, August 26, 2000
Just four months ago, Torontonian Marianne Moore felt like her life was swallowing her whole. She was working long, frustrating hours at a job she had outgrown while volunteering her dwindling spare time away. Her apartment was a shambles and her finances threatened to spiral out of control. Her eating habits were dismal. She felt frazzled and drained, despite appearing, for all intents and purposes, like a strong, high-achieving young woman.
"Under the fašade, I always felt like I wasn't accomplishing enough," recalls the chic, blonde 33-year-old. "I was overwhelmed and frantic. Days were blurring into weeks and weeks were blurring into months."
Like many busy professionals today, Moore set aside the 20-plus women's magazines she bought monthly, with their flimsy self-help articles, and found herself a life coach to wrestle her world into shape.
Today, Moore has started a new job as an implementation manager for a dot-com company. She negotiated a two-week paid vacation in-between her old and new jobs. She bounces out of bed in the morning, is on time for appointments and says she is now "evangelical" about what is shaping up to be the hottest trend in the assisted self-help or personal-growth movement. "It's the best thing I've ever done for myself."
It's also crossing over into mainstream pop culture.
On alternating Mondays, Oprah has turned over a portion of her trend-anointing TV show to the latest life-coach guru, Cheryl Richardson. Richardson's book, Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's 7-step Program for Creating the Life You Want has since rocketed up bestseller lists for the do-it-at-home crowd, on the heels of such guidebooks as Jennifer White's Work Less Make More and the like.
Professional life coaching has been around since the early nineties, marrying the principles of sports coaching, business consulting and psychotherapy with the simplify-your-life movement. But these days it's taken on a life of its own. At one of the biggest coach-producing institutions, Colorado-based CoachU, 500 life coaches are churned out every year. Graduates go on to ply their trade in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia, with some 300 registered coaches operating in Canada alone. The Washington-based International Coach Federation counts 3,200 members, more than double the 1,500 that existed in October, 1999.
It's a sign of the times in our multitasking, performance-minded world. After all, why should the Tiger Woods and the Anna Kournikovas of the world be the only ones to get a little attention? Just because there's no field or net doesn't mean the equivalent of a whistle-blowing advocate barking directions from the sidelines isn't the boost some of us need to achieve.
"So much change is going on in our lives -- it's so rapid and enormous we almost lose a grip on who we are. Coaching is really an advanced form of relating. The coach has specialized skills like relating, listening and communicating, which can help the client figure out 'Who am I?', 'What do I really want?', 'What's important to me?' and then develop strategies to achieve those things," says Shelburne, Ont., life coach Marm Goldstein.
A good look at life coaching has to start with what it's not. "It's not therapy and it's not neutral," says Goldstein, who has a background in education and founded the pioneering Horizon alternative school. Life coaches aren't there to explore the events in your childhood that have made you a messy, perpetually late and stressed-out heap of rubble. Their job is to give you the skills to get your act together.
For this muscular approach to well-being, coaches charge about $200-$350 a month for a weekly phone call or visit, totalling about three and a half hours a month. And in keeping with the very 21st-century vibe, e-mailing here and there is also usually included. But don't expect a life coach to organize your files for you. That's your job. "They're only there to prod you along. And figure out what works best for you. You have to be honest and say if something doesn't work so that we can try something else," says Goldstein.
Vancouver life coach Barb Richards, who coaches from seven to 10 clients per month, or 15 to 35 when working with groups, says utter deadbeats aren't the types to sign up for coaching. "I see a number of people who are already living successful lives. They come for coaching because they have a sense that there may be something else. Or perhaps they know what direction they want to go in their life, but it isn't happening."
One of Richards's clients, Barb, a 46-year-old investment banker in Vancouver, says she never enjoyed the benefits of having a mentor in her field and looked to coaching for answers. "In the three months since I've seen her, I've set goals every week and every month. It's good to have somebody to answer to. A coach keeps you on track."
Barb started her own investment company seven years ago, yet found she was getting more satisfaction from her myriad volunteer commitments. She wondered if she should eye a job as an executive director of a charity. But under her coach's supervision, Barb actually quelled her desire to switch. Richards helped her figure out that her warm volunteer style was actually what gave her an edge in her business -- clients didn't see her as a cutthroat stockbroker. Once she realized this and played it up, her profits tripled.
Much of coaching has to do with holding up a mirror to people for them to examine their lives up close. "I ask them what they are tolerating in their lives that drain them and then I encourage them to eliminate low-grade toxic irritations. For women especially, I try to get them beyond the Lone Ranger mentality," says Richards.
"There's an agenda: You getting what you want out of life. I don't want to use the word cheerleader, because that sounds pejorative. But you are getting support and encouragement," adds Goldstein.
For life-coachee Moore, part of her ongoing disorganization was due to adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and getting a personal coach was part of a three-pronged approach to her recent diagnosis. In addition to seeing a psychiatrist to explore the medical and pharmaceutical possibilities in treating the disorder, and a therapist to discuss the effects it has had in the past, Moore took her doctor's advice and set up an appointment with Barbara Durst, a Toronto coach who specializes in ADD and business clients. This, despite the fact that adding a new person to her treatment roster seemed excessive. "I wasn't convinced of the value of coaching," she recalls. "I thought, 'How many people with initials do I need in my life?' "
Many people would have stopped right there. Carrie, 32, who lives in Toronto and works in publishing, blanches at the thought that her life might be reduced to a pie chart comprised of a work/exercise/family/romance ratio.
"I've seen the way consultants have infiltrated our business. Please let's not let the consultants get ahold of our private lives!" she says. "Give me dirty dishes, love handles, dark circles, arguments, short tempers, laughter, weekend-long sleep-ins, overgrown gardens, soggy vegetable drawers, bacon and eggs with yolks, and even a substance-abuse problem before this. Oh my God. This makes me want to take up smoking."
Life-coach believers see it differently, of course. "She told me I needed real strategies that work for the way my ADD brain works. It was a light-bulb moment," says Moore. Now Moore lugs around a work binder, a notebook of to-do lists and a workbook for coaching homework.
Like the Tiger Woods of the world, chances are the people who respond the best to coaching are the ones with a yearning for structure and success. For Moore, the first steps were in the realm of what the life coaches call "extreme self-care." Durst began her sessions with Moore by asking her to write a detailed, hour-by-hour breakdown of her idealized "perfect day."
"She asked me where this day breaks down in real life," recalls Moore. The answer was somewhere between putting her feet on the floor and not making breakfast. "She made me start by planning breakfast -- shopping, menus and preparing." As banal as it sounds, the next step was drinking more water and sticking to exercise, but the sense of order and accomplishment set off a domino effect, including that exciting new job and holiday.
Which, of course, led to a session about how she was going to cope with getting away -- a recurring stumbling block for the perpetual procrastinator. "I'm the kind of person who stays up until 3 a.m. the night before I leave. I race around to all-night drug stores and get to my destination with bags of wet laundry." With the help of a "planned procrastination plan" Durst had her write, Moore was only up to 1 a.m. the night before and needed no emergency late-night trips.
Oh, and she arrived at her destination sans mouldy laundry.
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