Life coaching and the ick factor

My partner and I were recently interviewing applicants for an executive assistant. One of them impressed me greatly with his courage and honesty: during the interview, he expressed concerns about our work as coaches.  “I don’t know,” he said, “it just seems that you might be peddling snake oil; there’s a little ick factor, and to be honest, I am not sure that I want to work somewhere unless I absolutely believe in what the business is selling,”

I told him that i couldn’t agree more.

Coaching is an unregulated profession. As an industry, there are growing attempts to self regulate–for example I am a member of the International Coach Federation, and, now that I have attained CTI certification, am applying for ICF certification.  Many, probably the majority, of professional coaches approach their work with the same diligence that other professionals do–perhaps even with more diligence, precisely because we are a self regulated profession.

But–and this is where the “ick factor” comes in–people can call themselves a coach and hang out a shingle any time, with no particular schooling or supervision. You can be a coach after graduating from a one weekend online course, or with no training at all. So in coaching, as in so many things, buyer beware.

For years, I actually made fun of the concept of life coaching. It struck me as a bunch of new-age nonsense. Someone who is no more enlightened than I was, I thought, sat in a room with incense and bells and such, and gave people nebulous advice designed to sound profound and keep the marks (clients) coming back. Coaches were not too far removed, thought I, from a boardwalk psychic or three-card-monte scam artist.

Then I learned about what good coaching actually is. I learned about designing a unique alliance with each client, working with them to explore their desires, find their life purpose, and find the ways that they could make the courageous choices that transform their lives from a place of being stuck into a place of growth. I learned that good coaching is so powerful, and so common-sense based, that I was converted.

So, if you are looking for a coach, I urge you, shop around. Talk to more than one coach. Ask if they can give you recommendations. Check out their site, if they have one, and do a sample session. (I never charge for a sample session, neither do many of my colleagues.) During that sample session, ask yourself if you are really being heard, or are you being sold a cookie-cutter program? Ask yourself what you intuitively feel about this person–do you feel safe? challenged? intrigued? Or perhaps patronized or less-than? Then decide.  Once you hire a coach, if your gut tells you you made a mistake–If a coach strikes you as a little flaky, or coercive, or shallow–you’re the boss. You get to hire, you get to fire. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve come to know that there are a lot of good, in fact great, coaches working in the field. But the ones that give the profession a bad rep, while perhaps dwindling in number, are still out there. So…proceed with caution.

But proceed. You’re worth it.

Dog, bone, foot, saboteur

A cousin of mine recently shared a video on Facebook that has been going around for years. In the video a dog is apparently convinced that its own foot is trying to steal its bone. The dog alternates between gnawing at the bone, growling a warning towards its leg, and snapping at its own foot.

The video is either funny or appalling, depending on what one brings to it. As the years have gone on since its appearance on the web, many threads have sprung up discussing whether it is funny or cruel, whether the dog is just dumb or being manipulated or neurologically impaired or needs immediate treatment or…Many opinions, passionately stated on multiple threads. The internet is a place of many passions.

This post does not attempt to solve the controversy. Rather, I’m most interested in the excellent metaphor for an inner saboteur that the video presents. I imagine myself as the dog. Here I am, curled up with a nice big bone to gnaw on, and something…is…in my peripheral vision…threatening my safety, enjoyment, and relaxation. Obviously it is an enemy! I growl: the enemy doesn’t retreat. I snap: ouch! Now I have proof that the enemy has bad intent! My foot hurts! The enemy has bitten me!

A bone is only enjoyable if I feel really safe to gnaw at it in peace. If I essentially do not feel safe, my enjoyment of the bone is impossible. Even my own foot becomes a threat. In case you are wondering what the term saboteur means in coaching, this is classic saboteur!

As a coach, I have been taught that coaching the saboteur is impossible. Saboteurs are seductive. They want to draw both coach and client into dialogue and debate, because that’s their strongest place. They rewrite the rules of reality so effectively (that’s not my foot! It’s an enemy!) it is not possoble to reason with them. It is only possible to name and recognize the saboteur, and choose to ignore, rather than argue, with it. By doing this, we strip the saboteur of its power.

It’s important to recognize the actual saboteur. It may seem obvious, but needs to be noted: in this case, the saboteur isn’t the foot. A kiss is just a kiss, and a foot is just a foot. The dog is safe, warm, comfortable, and has a treat. Absolutely nothing is wrong except the perception that something is wrong. But that saboteur-created perception completely destroys the enjoyment of the moment. No, not the foot, but a voice in the head.

One of many things a good coach can do is to help sort out saboteur voices from feet, so to speak, and help the client learn to turn down the volume on the saboteur.When this happens, clients get to enjoy the gifts of life, really do the things they want to do, really soar, without wasting all sorts of energy attacking their own feet.

Interested in coaching? I still offer free sample sessions, and I still charge on a sliding scale. send me a message or set up an appointment using the green form on this page, and I’ll get back to you right away!