How I Came to Be a Coach

by | Jul 2, 2006

September, 1995. I’m in a workshop with Carol Gilligan and Kristin Linlklater at the University of Washington working with voice in just about every sense of the word. It’s fabulous. I think we’ve just completed a movement and narrative process — a sort of living evocation of significant stepping stones in our lives. I realize that I am done with Mollycoddles.
Mollycoddles was the name of my fiberarts studio and the label for the individually designed and fabricated knit garments (aka art-to-wear, aka wearable art, aka fiber art) I’d been making and selling for eight years. In an instant I saw that I had completed my contract, so to speak. I had started, developed, and hung in with this business far longer than necessary to prove my commitment, my intention to succeed, and my willingness to follow through. Not only was I not making money, I was no longer having fun. Time to stop.
Within a few minutes I was clear that I would close the studio at the end of the year. I’d knit up as much of my yarn inventory as possible, transforming it into clothing I could sell during the holiday season. By the next morning I had hired my assistant to work additional hours. I’d asked her to let go of her perfectionism and summon a warrior spirit so that she would have the focus, clarity, and passion needed to get the job done. We made lots of clothing, and I sold almost all of it.
Meanwhile, it occured to me that I was about to become unemployed. Curiously, I felt no anxiety about this, perhaps because my art venture had been a steady money loser for years. It’s not that I accepted the archetype of the starving artist, at least not consciously. And in all those eight years it never occured me to ask how what I was doing was serving others. Duh. You can read all about it in What’s Wrong with This Picture? and You Can’t Profit from Joy Alone, from my ezine, Authentic Promotion.
Back to the path to coaching. Perhaps it was the lack of pressure that resulted from all those years of losing money, perhaps it was that it had been so long since I had had a real job, but for whatever reason my mind was open with respect to what would come next. The first thing I noticed was that I intended to keep working for myself. Who knew? In fact, I realized that I was proud to be psychologically unemployable.
Then I happened to notice that for three years people had been calling and asking me for business assistance. (Why couldn’t they buy a sweater? I moaned to myself.) What if I were to say “yes” instead of, “Well, I did this workshop a few times and I have a manual, but I don’t really do that kind of thing.”
From that point on I began telling people that I was going to be helping business owners get a grip on their businesses. When people asked what that looked like, I said it looked like helping them zoom in on the details and zoom out to the big picture so that they would know where they were going and also know what their priorities were from day to day. I said that I be a kind a coach (at the time I had no idea that the term was being used to describe an emerging profession), urging them on, cheering them, correcting their form, and letting them know when it was time to push harder or take a break.
The very first time I answered this way when someone asked what I was going to do next, they hired me. The same thing happened the second and third time. By the time I closed my studio on December 31, I had four clients, and I got two more in short order.
Oddly, to my way of thinking, my clients arranged their relationship with me so that they would come by every week to talk about their business. I was terrified — what if they didn’t get their money’s worth for all those visits? I worried that they would become dependent upon me and that they’d place too great a value on my opinions and experience. Consequently, I volunteered to create mailing lists, design posters, draft contracts, and take care of other matters to make sure that they were getting a good deal.
Within a couple of months I was working myself to a frazzle, underbilling everyone, running scared because I was offering to do things that I didn’t know (or want to know) how to do, and teaching my perfectly capable clients to be dependent in precisely the way I feared. I confessed my confusion and distress to one of these clients, who was (and is) a good friend, and she reassured me that I was delivering plenty of value even if I didn’t know how to describe what it was apart from all the things I was doing that I didn’t want to do (and that no one asked me to do).
A few weeks later she mailed me a page from Newsweek about Thomas Leonard, the late founder of Coach U and Coachville. Thomas was traveling the country in his luxury motor home, working with men and women all around the world by phone, and getting paid for the very thing that I did (and that I was trying to justify by doing all sorts of other things.
I jumped online and read everything I could find about professional coaching. I joined the International Coach Federation, . I studied the differences between coaching and consulting, coaching and therapy, and stopped doing things for my clients and started intentionally developing my gift for bringing greatness out in my clients. I got oodles of training, including a certified professional coach program at the Academy for Coach Training, a graduate coaching program in ontological coaching at The Newfield Network, a 7-month program in embodied intelligence with Charlie Badenhop of Seishindo, augmented by several week-long Process Work seminars with Amy and Arnie Mindell, a week-long Integral Consciousness seminar with Fred Kofman and training in Levels 1 and 2 of Focusing. I’ve studied Spiral Dynamics with Don Beck, The Work with Byron Katie, corporate coaching in an intensive hosted by Sherry Lowry, and God knows what else. I also learned to sing classical music, worked out with an Improv troupe, took up cycling with a team, and started paddling around Puget Sound on a paddle board.
Some people might think I’ve over-shot the mark with respect to training. I don’t. While I feel that coaching is something I was born to, I also believe that talent is not enough. Though some people have adopted the label “coach” in keeping with what they see as a trend, I am passionately committed to coaching as a unique, emerging way of working with adults to live up to and grow beyond their current potential. I believe that life is an art form, and I want to support every person with whom I work to exercise the utmost choice and creativity in co-creating a beautiful life.
There’s more to this story and more to coaching, but I think you get the drift. If you want to become a coach, please investigate the various training programs and give yourself the gift of polishing and deepening the skills that bring you to this profession. If you are looking for a coach, please give yourself the benefit of working with an ICF credentialed coach and interview several before you choose the one that is just right.
Life coaching
Business coaching