What is a Personal Coach?
In Homer's epic Greek poem The Odyssey , Odysseus (Ulysses to the Romans) is returning to his home in Ithaca having spent more than ten years away fighting in the Trojan War. Before Odysseus embarked on this arduous journey he left his beloved son, Telemachus, in the care of his loyal friend and advisor, Mentor, knowing that this gentle man would serve as guardian, guide, and counselor.
Today, we think of a mentor in much the same ways Homer described. Words like: guide, partner, consultant, advisor, supporter, teacher, trainer, tutor, and coach come to mind. Personal coaching is based on an ongoing relationship between equals that is characterized by trust and mutual respect. It offers focus, structure, and support towards achieving career and life goals. The personal coach relationship is essentially individualistic in its structure and its concentration. You determine what it's about. So much of what we work on and think about in life is how to become better at our roles. Our attention is mostly directed toward becoming a better parent, spouse, Little League coach, or district manager. Personal coaching gives us an opportunity to consider "How can I be true to my own goals and sense of Self so that I am free in my heart to give to and relate to others." In this relationship the coach works directly with an individual to identify and remove obstacles to goals, implement new skills, identify objectives and desires, and support efforts to reach his or her personal vision. Importantly, coaching is action-oriented rather than merely philosophical. As such, the coaching relationship becomes a "container" in which self-growth and change can take place.
It is true that the stately oak lies hidden in the tiny acorn and that the acorn has almost everything it needs to become what it is destined to be. But, even with all its inherent power, the acorn still needs light, water, and soil in which to grow its roots. Personal coaching is to human growth as those natural resources are to the acorn. Coaching relationships provide containment and support for growth.
People work with personal coaches for many reasons and toward many different goals. Even people who are well-supported by loving friends and families are finding that working with a personal coach offers an important vehicle for change. Friends and family have reciprocal relationships with you and cannot be objective in the ways that a personal coach can. In fact, family members and friends may have conflicts - both conscious and unconscious - with the goals and changes that you seek. A personal coach is completely dedicated to your achievement of your own goals and the realization of your own dreams. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of people who benefit from working with a personal coach.
A successful businessman, Bob is in his mid-forties. Over the years he's made lots of money, good investments, and can easily retire with no loss of income or lifestyle. He appears to have everything but says he feels "empty" inside. His one-sided devotion to his work has caused him to neglect every other aspect of his life. He feels emotionally numb and spiritually bankrupt and doesn't know what he wants to do with the second half of his life. Bob works with a personal coach to help him sort out his values, find a new balance between work and play, reconnect with the passion in his work, and help him make specific changes in his life that more accurately reflect his new priorities.
Sara has risen through the ranks at her company. Her intelligence, loyalty, and strong work ethic were recognized by upper management and she has been promoted to a high supervisory level. But she never learned to delegate, to manage people effectively, or organize her time. Now she feels overwhelmed and stressed out by her new responsibilities. She feels like an impostor. Sara works with a personal coach to develop the management and people skills that she lacks. She is also learning to give herself and others the validation needed in a healthy workplace.
Nancy has wanted to write fiction since she was a little girl. In spite of the fact that she has a happy marriage and a good job, the dream of becoming a writer continues to haunt her. She writes in fits and starts but can't seem to sustain her commitment to this life-long goal. Often she shoves her writing output into a desk drawer telling herself she'll get back to it later, "when I retire and have more time," she says. She listens to her friends who reflect negative myths about life: "You can't make a living as a writer." "You're too old to start a new career." Nancy tells herself that "real" writers just sit down and the words flow forth, she knows that her process is nothing like that. "I can't be a writer," she tells herself and then wonders why she feels so creatively blocked. Nancy's life changed when she started working with a personal coach who encouraged her to pursue the demands her heart was making. Together they established daily and weekly writing goals. Nancy learned to make this life-long dream one of her top priorities. She learned about the steps required to find a literary agent, implemented them, and is on her way to publishing her first book.
While the profession of personal life coaching is relatively new, it is a familiar relationship in other venues. To most of us, the word "coach" immediately brings athletics to mind and, in fact, professional athletes - the best in their fields - always work with a coach. This coaching relationship provides feedback, motivation, support, and the development of new skills. We are well acquainted with how coaching works in sports with its emphasis on going for goals, doing our very best, and teamwork. If we want to improve our tennis game, we might work with a tennis coach. He or she would give us specific feedback about our backhand, for example. Often after only a few lessons we begin to hit better strokes, more accurately placed, and with a power we didn't have before. Coaching for sports is well understood and has many similarities to Personal Coaching with the one exception that sports coaching is very much focused on win/lose competitions. Instead, personal coaching looks for win/win outcomes.
Finally, it's important to acknowledge from the outset what personal coaching is not. Coaching is not a substitute for psychotherapy. Coaching is for high-functioning individuals who are striving toward self-actualization in their lives and careers. Unlike most therapists, coaches don't focus on issues of the past, instead the emphasis is on the present and, most importantly, the future. There are many invaluable interventions for clinical depression, substance abuse, and other significant psychological difficulties but personal coaching is not among them. Individuals experiencing these kinds of problems should seek help from qualified, professional psychotherapists. Although I am trained in psychotherapy, I do not engage in the practice of psychotherapy with my coaching clients. I will be happy to make an appropriate referral when necessary.
As a personal coach, I work in partnership with my clients on broadly described issues ("I want more meaning in my life") and very specific ones ("I need to sharpen my organizational skills").
Some areas of emphasis are:
To set and achieve goals in your life and career path.
To balance mind/body/spirit.
To overcome obstacles to goal achievement.
To pursue the path of individuation and self-actualization; to live up to one's potential.
To make conscious decisions about the future you want to create.
To live with passion, meaning, and mastery.
To explore your spiritual Self.
To unleash your natural creativity.
To learn to rely on the power of your higher Self - your own inner warrior.
To face with greater courage, grace, and wisdom the changes (and losses) that life will inevitably serve up.