What actually IS coaching?
Full disclosure, when I started this whole coaching ‘journey’ I was too embarrassed to tell anybody about it. I started out not training to be a coach, but receiving coaching. Honestly, I was embarrassed I had a coach. I was embarrassed I needed one. I was definitely embarrassed to even think about, let alone say the words ‘coaching journey’ out loud (I still find that a little cringe, even though I get it now). I was embarrassed and, frankly, ashamed to admit that I needed help. Or that I was choosing to get it from something ‘new agey’ like life coaching. If I was ‘that bad’ why wasn’t I getting something ‘legit’ like a counsellor? Weren’t coaches just charlatans in an unregulated industry who might do lasting psychological damage to you because of their lack of training? Believe me, I thought all of this and more. And I thought my friends and family thought it too. They maybe did, to some degree. But I was broke and desperate for a change when I saw that a woman in a network I was involved with was offering a free trial session. So I thought, why not try it?
Turned out, I loved it! Despite being broke, I scraped together enough money for a series of sessions with her, trusting that it was an investment worth making because I knew that, come hell or high water, I absolutely had to make a change. Long story short – within a few months I’d negotiated a 20% increase to my salary and increased my confidence exponentially. I loved the experience so much I started volunteering as a coach and eventually, several years later, got certified and started Many Measures.
As much as I love coaching and believe wholeheartedly in the process, I would be lying if I told you that I’m completely comfortable now with the word ‘coach’ to describe what I (/we as a profession) do. I actually really don’t like it. I think it’s clunky and not specific enough and implies a power dynamic I don’t believe in. It feels better suited to the football field than life. Probably because my vision of a coach comes from childhood soccer practice – someone who shouts instructions at you from the sidelines while sweating and looking anxious. Besides, who needs coaching on how to do life? Don’t we all just get on with it?
Well, sort of. Because sure, we all do get on with it. We muddle through, to greater or lesser effect. And we certainly don’t need someone to shout instructions at us from the sidelines of our lives while sweating and looking anxious (many of us have an inner critic and some of us have parents/family who do that, no matter how old we get). When I talk about coaching, it’s not a coach in the sense of knowing how to ‘do your life’ better than you do. You are the only person who knows who, how, and what it is to be you. You are the expert on being you. I don’t live your life, I haven’t lived your history, and I don’t know all of the myriad thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, and other ’stuff’ swirling around your head every day.
What we as coaches DO do, is help you untangle your thoughts and feelings, let go of what’s holding you back, and choose the way forward that feels best for you. We create a safe zone for you, as someone who’s only agenda for the relationship is your development. We listen to you so deeply, you’ll start listening to yourself. We support you unconditionally and hold you accountable to your commitments in a way that facilitates your growth, not your guilt or self-flagellation.
In more practical terms, I ask you lots of questions. I reflect your words and thinking back to you, and offer some different points of view to consider. If my observations don’t ‘feel right’, you don’t have to agree with them. If nothing else, the fact that they don’t feel right might move you in a different direction of thinking – kind of like when you aren’t sure what to order in a restaurant so you ask the waiter to help you decide and as soon as they give their recommendation you realise you want the other thing, not the thing they suggested. Their suggestion still helped you figure out what you wanted by recognising what you didn’t want. It’s something for you to consider to help you choose the way forward that works for you.
So going back to my questions above – who needs coaching on how to do life? I’d say all of us probably do at some point. We all sometimes feel stuck, heartbroken, ashamed, failures, frauds, like we’re falling behind our peers, unloved or unloveable, out of place, unsure what to do next. Just like sometimes we all feel amazing, like we’re flying through life with the grace and poise of a swan. Life is always changing and always evolving. For me, the aim is to evolve well with it, to be able to step back from whatever’s going on and find a more useful perspective that moves us in the direction we want to go, instead of getting mired in the bog of ’stuff’ that prevents us moving forward.
As I found through my own ‘coaching journey,’ there’s actually nothing embarrassing about that.