How Becoming a Life Coach Transformed Everything
- POSTED ON MARCH 08, 2023
Before becoming a life coach, I lived mostly out of fear. I made many decisions based on what I did not want to happen (disappointing or hurting others), and thus I had a hard time fully trusting myself and the relationships I was in. Life coaching has taught me two main things: (1) to trust myself and (2) to trust the wisdom in relationships.
Before I Found Life Coaching, I Navigated My Life as a Solo Pilot
When I was 25, on the eve of my first wedding, instead of confessing my misgivings to my husband to be, I cried on the shoulder of a girlfriend. I felt alone with my sinking intuition and paralyzed by the fear of the impact that following it would create. I stuffed my feelings inside my white dress the next day and proceeded to override my knowing.
I did this again when I entered graduate school. My body physically revolted against the program. I quickly developed a case of IBS whereby I lost 30 pounds in 6 months. I couldn’t digest anything but white rice. I lived every day in survival mode and severe intestinal pain. My system was literally telling me to stop. But due to an overwhelming feeling of internalized pressure to perform, I ignored the signals and soldiered on, keeping my thoughts to myself for fear of being seen as a failure. I was too afraid to follow my intuition.
There are certain moments in life that change everything. You know, those points you look back on and realize that from that minute onward, everything was different. These magical times have great influence, shifting the way we see life and the roles we play, changing forever the trajectory of our life.
One of these pivotal times for me was over 20 years ago, when I stepped into Fundamentals, the first coaching course in the Co-Active coach training pathway offered by the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI). I can honestly say that becoming a life coach transformed every aspect of my life: career, relationships, place, family, and my relationship with creativity.
Becoming a Life Coach Changed My Entire Life, but Not in the Ways I Expected
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was one of those brilliant early Californian spring days in 1999, an impossibly blue sky and dazzling sun. My girlfriend Sarah picked me up in her zippy new convertible in Santa Cruz, where I was living with my first husband. We spent the scenic drive up to San Rafael (CTI headquarters) trying to make sense of what we were doing.
As a young therapist, I had completed my graduate degree only a few years before and was still paying off my student loan. I was finally in a “real job” in the field of bereavement counseling. I was helping people, making good money, and being of service. So why was I still so unsatisfied?
I had heard about coaching from Sarah, who suggested I work with a coach to find out how to live a more fulfilled life. I was reticent, but my desperation not to burn out before the age of 30 finally won out, and I began to coach with a woman named Suzy. After 3 months, I was so impressed by the confidence I felt growing in myself and the aliveness I felt during our coaching collaborations, I decided to find out for myself what coaching was all about.
My stomach fluttered with excitement as I walked into the bright training room. A knowing pulsed through my body. Something big was coming. My head, on the other hand, offered a barrage of skepticism on the topic of attending a training for “coaching” — a new profession that no one seemed to have heard of — and looked on the surface like a watered-down version of therapy.
The coach training was unlike anything I had experienced. For starters, it was co-led. I had never seen a dance of two leaders working as one. Trust, intuition, and connection were illustrated by these two facilitators in everything that transpired. That modeling, in itself, was worth the price of admission. It showed me what is possible when two people dedicate themselves to revealing wisdom together through the commitment of a learning relationship.
The course was small — fewer than 25 participants — and very hands-on. We were there to experience the being and doing of coaching, and that also meant we were being coached by each other. The unexpected insights I received in the client chair showed me the power of the work.
As I learned the skills of coaching, on the surface they didn’t seem to be vastly different from the skills of therapy. What was very different, however, was the full permission that a coach gives themself to be in an empowering relationship with their client. At the core of this was a combination of following intuition and leaning in. I learned about the skill of designing an intentional alliance and shifting of context from “me” to “we.” I walked into the training thinking that I knew best, and I walked out knowing that together, we know best.
We are here to learn together.
This Subtle but Powerful Shift Would Eventually Change Every Aspect of My Life
The following months found me building new skills and competencies as I took the rest of the courses. I threw myself into the Co-Active Leadership program and got certified as a life coach in 2001. I began to surround myself with a new community who shared values of growth and change. I started seeing through the eyes of a coach: connection with others would lead to learning. The possibilities for empowered relationships were everywhere!
In 2001, my beloved coach Damian challenged me to answer the call of my Future Self and take a 2-month vision quest in England and Scotland. I was terrified to launch into the unknown by myself in a foreign country. My vigilant mind offered a series of rational fears:
- I couldn’t afford it.
- My husband, family, friends, and co-workers would think I was being irresponsible and selfish.
- I wouldn’t be able to get the time off work.
- I wouldn’t be safe. (Remember, this was before cell phones were ubiquitous!)
- Going to a different country alone to do what? Learn how to listen to myself? It sounded crazy.
- What would people think?
But Once I Heard This Adventurous Voice of My Future Self, I Couldn’t Unhear It
I finally stepped into the courage of “YES.”
Two entire months of FOLLOWING MY INTUITION! It was through the consistent synchronicities that occurred when I took action on my inner knowing that I learned how to trust myself from moment to moment. Having had this extraordinary experience of learning how to give myself permission for self-trust, I committed to navigating the rest of my life this way, no matter what.
Ironically, I Wouldn’t Have Developed This Inner Trust without the Support of My Coach
I returned home filled with dedication to create more empowering relationships to learn inside of. I could see that a lot needed to shift for my life to be congruent — and that it wasn’t all going to be easy.
My career was the first thing to outwardly transform. I slowly stepped away from my role as a therapist and began identifying as a coach. For me, this meant that instead of working with resistant patients who were assigned to work with me, I worked with coachable clients as their “sacred learning partner.” The power granted to the relationship by both the client and me created a safe and radically honest place to explore and to take action from. For the first time in my working life, I felt excited, curious, and fully alive.
As a coach, you have to walk your talk. Clients hire you only because you inspire them by who you are and what you do. To be accountable on this level is an ongoing gift and challenge, an unexpected perk of being a life coach. For me to be successful in this career, it became clear very quickly that I must live a compelling life not only in my work but also in my marriage.
Transforming requires completing what no longer serves. In my case, this meant my marriage to my childhood sweetheart. Through our separation, we remained honest and kind (we remain friends to this day, and our respective children are besties). And while the divorce wasn’t easy, I gleaned my courage from a vision of a different kind of relationship — a union of authenticity, playfulness, spiritual evolution, and creativity. I dreamed of a partnership that called me forth into my most visionary self, and whose purpose was to awaken magic in others, together.
So when I met my current husband, Clive, at an all Co-Active Leadership reunion, I recognized him immediately as the partner that I could learn and grow in love with for the rest of my life.
Our courtship began the first night we met, when I took a risk and shared with Clive a glimpse of what I saw was possible for us. Five years later, that vision came to life as we watched our two tow-headed children holding hands, walking across a bridge in a co-housing village that we had founded and built together.
Clive and I joked with each other from the beginning that “we know better than me,” so when the opportunity came to move back to the tiny island where I grew up, I managed my resistance to moving back home and agreed. I trusted that we knew what was best for our family when we chose to raise our two children here — a place where they could run free on the same beaches and play in the same old-growth forests as I had as a kid.
We vowed to raise our children with a “coach approach,” engaging with curiosity and enthusiasm, and to practice recovering to our relationships when things get hard. Now, in the teenage parenting years, we use all the coaching skills we can (our daughter is now almost 16 and our transgender son is 13)! Together we lean into our “yes, and” training as coaches to support our children to live into their own agendas (and sometimes it even works!).
My creativity has also been transformed by trusting both my vision and the power of we. In March 2020, Clive and I were co-leading a coaching course in Vancouver, B.C. I accepted a coaching challenge from one of the participants to write a poem a day for a month and share it with the class. A week later, COVID hit. For the next 12 months, I kept up the daily practice, slowly building a body of work that eventually won the Homebound Poetry Prize. My first book, Walk Deep, was published last October, launching a new identity for me as author and inspiring more creative writing courses to come.
None of This Would Have Happened if I Hadn’t Walked into That Coach Training Room 24 Years Ago
Becoming a life coach has held me accountable to creating the most fulfilling life I can imagine. It has taught me about trusting both myself and the power of relationships. It has taught me to dream big and live into big dreams with others.
Every life coach has their own journey and their own story about how becoming a life coach transformed their life. I hope one day to hear the unique brilliance of yours.