I was speaking with a fellow life coach a few days ago. He was giving me pointers on my LinkedIn profile. And he said something that struck me. Two years ago, when I decided to become a life coach, I struggled to tell people what a life coach is. I wrote the profile when I was first starting my practice. This new friend said the profile made me sound like a dad. which is funny because I remember as I wrote it, thinking a life coach is like a professional dad. I don’t think that’s a terrible comparison
Many of us don’t know what a life coach is. Why wouldn’t I hire a medical professional like a psychiatrist? Is a life coach a counselor? Are life coaches only for the wealthy or the elite? Are coaches for people with too much money and too much time on their hands?
Analogies are some of the best tools for learning. But, no analogy is perfect. When we can’t describe what something is, we relate it to something familiar. Thus, the cliche’ “Tastes like chicken”, because we all know what chicken tastes like.
A Coach Compared to a Dad
So, let’s start with how a life coach is like a professional dad. Like a dad, a life coach should have a wealth of experience to draw on. Like a dad, a life coach should have your best interests at heart. Like a dad, a life coach should be able to help you navigate several life circumstances. The ideal dad can talk to you about finances, marriage, career choices, etc.
Of course, there are differences between a life coach and a dad. A life coach, while wishing the best for you, should maintain a professional distance. A life coach isn’t about trying to get you to do what they want you to do. A life coach will help you assess your alternatives, your motivations, your goals and allow you to choose the path that is best for you- not their favorite path. A life coach is trained and has experience, not from having a few children, but with dozens or hundreds of clients.
A Best Friend?
A life coach is like a best friend. A life coach will have your back. A life coach will be there to listen to you. A life coach should build your confidence as well as helping you to build your skills. They will point out where you need to improve and where you are already crushing it. I find one of the most important things I do for my clients is help them see how truly great they already are.
Unlike a best friend, you don’t have to listen to your life coach’s problems. A session with a life coach is all about you. You can feel free to share your pain and not be obligated to listen to their problems. You can be fully “self-indulgent” when in session with a coach. This is your time and your time only.
A life coach is like a psychologist in that it’s about your mental health. A life coach will allow you to speak, and reflect back to you what you are saying. This helps you gain a larger perspective. After seeing a life coach, you should feel better and come away with coping mechanisms and a plan.
Unlike a psychologist, a life coach will not dig deep into your past searching for a mental condition diagnosis. A life coach is forward-looking. A life coach will only look to the past to understand where you are today. A life coach’s goal is to help you figure out where you are, what’s blocking you from where you want to be, how to overcome those blocks, and to walk with you as you overcome them. A life coach will focus on specific goals. Relationships with life coaches are typically not long-term, although they can be. Frankly, if you’re not making progress with a life coach, a good life coach will bid you farewell as the relationship is not working for either of you. Seeing a life coach is about moving forward. A good life coach will refer you to professional mental help if and when you need it. Many of my clients are seeing mental health professionals as well as seeing me for what I provide that they cannot.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say a life coach is like a pastor or a priest, at least I am. In my practice, I’m there about the whole you, mind, body, and spirit. Until you truly understand who you are as a spiritual being having a human spirit, I believe that chasing all of the trappings of success, money, career, love interests, etc., will leave you unsatisfied. This not not a religious belief. I have come to this conclusion based on years of study of philosophy, science, religion and personal observation.
A life coach who sees the whole of you will help you see the total of you. A butterfly cannot see its own wings so it cannot behold how magnificent it is. I find this to be true for my clients. They do not recognize how powerful, how resilient, how wonderful they are. Part of my job is to hold a mirror up to them to see what they cannot see in themselves.
A life coach is not about choosing your religion or spirituality for you though. A good life coach will not impose any beliefs on you that you don’t want.
As I look through the comparisons I made above this strikes me. I’ve been told by many people that I have a “ministerial” quality to me. My grandfather and both his parents were ministers. It’s not surprising some of that was passed down. I felt a calling to the ministry. But, I’m not a traditional Christian and could not pretend to be to make a living. When my girls were young, I felt I was finally complete, being a dad, at last. My most important role as a dad was to teach them and make them into strong, independent adults. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and considered that as a career for a while. I subscribed to Psychology Today for years.
While some joke about life coaching thinking it’s frivolous, I can say after having answered the calling two years ago, I know that I provide a valuable service to my clients. I know because they tell me. It’s the most fulfilling work I have ever done.