How to Right Your Life

Stuck in a rut? What you might need is a life coach or how to think like one

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Leanne De­lap

Be your own life coach and 13 strate­gies from the pros

SU­SAN LOOKS BACK fondly at her own ca­reer peak “but with a kind of queasy de­tach­ment, like it hap­pened to some­one else.” She was un­used to fail­ure: school and awards and in­tern­ships came eas­ily to her, and she rose like a shot up the ranks of the fash­ion mar­ket­ing field. Scor­ing a top gig as a fresh-faced 30-year-old, she em­braced the ad­vice of the work coach her boss signed her up for. For a decade or so, things were golden. Then life in­evitably hap­pened, “and the ap­plause stopped,” she says. A se­ries of ba­bies and mar­riages and step-kids, nag­ging chronic ill­nesses, ag­ing par­ents and a tum­ble of jobs down a jagged tra­jec­tory in a dis­rupted in­dus­try found Su­san at 53 in her words “liv­ing out Ground­hog Day, swamped by an iden­tity cri­sis, jumpy and tense, tired and dis­en­gaged. Just plain stuck.”

She yearned for some­thing deeper: “I know I’m a walk­ing cliché, echo­ing mil­lions of other stalled baby boomers and gen-Xers, but dammit I want to make a dif­fer­ence with my life.” To do that, she had to tap back into a pas­sion that hadn’t seen the light of day for years. Her “eu­reka” mo­ment came one day over too many cock­tails with her (cus­tom­ar­ily) equally em­bit­tered girl­friends. One day, in­stead of bitch­ing, the other women were sud­denly talk­ing about their life coaches and their work coaches. Had this coach­ing thing reached a crit­i­cal mass and every­one was do­ing some­thing about how mired they felt ex­cept her? Su­san rem­i­nisced with them about how much her work coach had helped her ne­go­ti­ate tak­ing over a staff and bud­gets and the chal­lenges of manag­ing up­wards and down­wards si­mul­ta­ne­ously. An idea and a re­solve was born. “It was time to get off my ass,” she says. “I started in­ter­view­ing coaches to find a fit.”

The rise of pop­u­lar­ity of coach­ing has been at­trib­uted to some­thing known in hap­pi­ness the­ory as a search for flow. Flow is the ti­tle of a sem­i­nal 2008 book by psy­chol­o­gist Mi­haly Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi, a study of what he calls “op­ti­mal ex­pe­ri­ence.” The book posits that when you find your “flow,” a state of ab­sorp­tion in an ac­tiv­ity where time passes and you don’t no­tice it, you find en­joy­ment, cre­ativ­ity and con­nec­tion with your best life. He says that this state can be con­trolled, and you can get a sat­is­fy­ing reg­u­lar dose of flow, if you choose to do some­thing you love.

Find­ing that some­thing is the nee­dle in the haystack. Coach­ing is dif­fer­ent from ther­apy, in that it is ac­tion-based: you set goals with your coach and then set about pur­su­ing them in pri­or­i­tized, man­age­able chunks, with ac­count­abil­ity. Su­san’s cho­sen coach handed her a copy of Emo­tional In­tel­li­gence, the 1995 clas­sic of the self-help genre by Daniel Gole­man, a Har­vard PhD and be­havioural sci­ence writer for the New York Times. Gole­man has pub­lished many best­sellers, but this one pop­u­lar­ized the work of Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, who wrote in 1990 that emo­tional in­tel­li­gence (some­times called EI, some­times EQ) “is the abil­ity to mon­i­tor one’s own and other’s emo­tions, to dis­crim­i­nate among them, and to use the in­for­ma­tion to guide one’s think­ing and ac­tions.”

As Su­san says, “I hate self-help books. Or at least I did. Frankly, that book and my coach helped me re­al­ize it is not you, it is me. I had got­ten in the rut of be­ing mad at my bosses, mad at the bor­ing work, mad at be­ing broke and sad, mad at my hus­band, even my kids, for pre­vent­ing me from hav­ing a life. I just had to stand up and say I want the feel­ing of liv­ing a suc­cess­ful life back, and it is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to make that hap­pen.”

So what do coaches ac­tu­ally do? First of all, they are preter­nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous about you and know

the power of re­ally lis­ten­ing. Take Toronto’s John MacKay. He is a poster child for the cu­ri­ous and quest­ing na­ture of boomers: he has been a mag­a­zine ed­i­tor and writer, he owns his own PR com­pany, he earned his MA in clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy, he has been an ac­tor and he is now a life coach. Trained as a Co-Ac­tive Coach – one of the old­est and most re­spected des­ig­na­tions of life-coach­ing, and rec­og­nized by the In­ter­na­tional Coach­ing Fed­er­a­tion – he works on the life tran­si­tion shift from am­bi­tion to mean­ing. He has a spe­cial affin­ity for his co­hort, fo­cus­ing on rein­ven­tion, and he loves later life tran­si­tion work.

“We out­grow our­selves,” he says. “The life we have lived be­gins to feel con­strict­ing. I have this im­age of the Hulk and his body bust­ing be­yond the chains. I think that out­grow­ing of the self is the nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of age. The chal­lenge is to em­brace it – and trust it.” Who we are and what we want gets shrouded over time. “The raw edges and raw sen­sa­tions, the alive­ness of our youth is dulled.” Coach­ing, he says, comes from a per­spec­tive that we are all ca­pa­ble of liv­ing a ful­fill­ing life. That we’re ca­pa­ble of fig­ur­ing it out and mak­ing it hap­pen. A coach helps un­cover the pearls of wis­dom in­side us all.

“Ithinkpeo­ple­feelir­rel­e­vantwhen they’re not build­ing some­thing. That’s why I tend to worry about the peo­ple who are set­tling into the 3 Gs (golf, gar­den­ing, grand­chil­dren). Don’t get me wrong – those are lovely things – they’re full of love and na­ture and a com­pet­i­tive game that de­mands you work on your skills. But is it go­ing to be enough for boomers … who have built their lives on their pro­fes­sional iden­ti­ties?”

MacKay cites Carl Jung as use­ful for un­der­stand­ing the po­ten­tial for growth with age. “Jung called this the af­ter­noon of life, just as full of mean­ing as the morn­ing and even­ing. Jung be­lieved cul­ti­vat­ing a spir­i­tual out­look is key – yoga, pray- er, na­ture – what­ever awak­ens those parts of your­self that you have not de­vel­oped while build­ing a ca­reer and con­struct­ing your so­cial per­sona.” In­ner work, MacKay says, is where we de­velop com­pas­sion and wis­dom. “For most peo­ple, the new pur­pose and new sources of en­ergy are not go­ing to come from the outer world. The anec­dote to fear is move­ment, and that is why coach­ing, with its em­pha­sis on for­ward ac­tion, is great.”

Ca­reer coach Ann Sut­ton of Cat­a­lyst High Per­for­mance Coach­ing takes the ac­tion part of her mis­sion lit­er­ally. “Of­ten, my goal is to get my clients do­ing some­thing spe­cial for them­selves right away,” says the Toronto-based coach. “Lit­tle changes are as im­por­tant as big changes. It’s sur­pris­ing the dif­fer­ence a hair­cut, a new suit, up­dated make-up, even a new bra can make to a per­son’s con­fi­dence. And con­fi­dence walk­ing into an in­ter­view is key.”

Sut­ton un­der­stands how ca­reers can evolve. Hav­ing started fresh out of jour­nal­ism school as a tele­vi­sion re­porter, she went on to get her MBA and en­joyed suc­cess­ful po­si­tions in mar­ket­ing and the dig­i­tal arena be­fore start­ing her own business in project and change man­age­ment. “Help­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions re­struc­ture or shift pri­or­i­ties sharp­ened my un­der­stand­ing of how change im­pacts peo­ple,” she says. “And my in­ter­est in sup­port­ing peo­ple as they adapt to changes is what brought me to coach­ing.”

It is the Rob­bins-Madanes frame­work, known as Strate­gic In­ter­ven­tion, that most in­trigued Sut­ton. “I’m a prac­ti­cal per­son. This meets my de­sire to have peo­ple take ac­tion in smart, strate­gic ways that move them for­ward.” It’s based on a va­ri­ety of dis­ci­plines: Erick­so­nian ther­apy, strate­gic fam­ily ther­apy, hu­man needs psy­chol­ogy, or­ga­ni­za­tional psy­chol­ogy, neu­rolin­guis­tics, psy­chol­ogy of in­flu­ence, strate­gic stud­ies and tra­di­tions of diplo­macy and ne­go­ti­a­tion. Sut­ton first meets clients to dis­cuss their needs and as­sess fit. Then her work is struc­tured around six or nine ses­sion pack­ages based on the client’s goals. Like Su­san in our anec­dote above, Sut­ton says, “What all my clients have in com­mon is the de­sire to make a dif­fer­ence. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, as peo­ple get older, that de­sire be­comes more im­por­tant.”

A com­mon el­e­ment in coach­ing prac­tice is to em­brace three words. MacKay’s three words are cre­ative, re­source­ful and whole, and that is at the core of what he be­lieves about his clients. “By do­ing so, you re­mind your­self that they aren’t bro­ken, don’t need to be fixed, that they can fig­ure it out and move their lives for­ward.” Sut­ton says she wants her clients to feel val­ued, seen and suc­cess­ful.

Three words is a po­etic and rhetor­i­cal de­vice, says Sut­ton. “Most of us can re­mem­ber three words eas­ily. More than three gets cum­ber­some. But two doesn’t feel com­plete for most things as com­plex as try­ing

to sum­ma­rize a hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.” And in the coach­ing con­text, there are many ways three is pow­er­ful, she says. “Three goes back to Plato’s de­scrip­tion of the pri­mary values of life be­ing the Good, the True and the Beau­ti­ful. Philoso­pher Ken Wil­ber refers to the ob­jec­tive, sub­jec­tive and col­lec­tive (I, We and You) as the three ways we can un­der­stand the world. Many peo­ple con­cep­tu­al­ize hu­mans as body, mind and spirit – and there seem to be phys­i­o­log­i­cal cen­tres of neu­ral pro­cess­ing in our brains, hearts and guts. Be­havioural sci­en­tist Daniel Pink talks about peo­ple’s mo­ti­va­tions com­ing from needs for au­ton­omy, mas­tery and ser­vice.” Sut­ton con­cludes there is the ul­ti­mate trip­tych in the con­text of change: “Coach­ing starts from the premise that the past is the past, and there is huge power in ac­cept­ing it, find­ing the most pow­er­ful story to tell about it and then choos­ing how to act in the present to cre­ate the fu­ture we want.”

A life coach with a slightly dif­fer­ent bent is Kate Arms of Sig­nal Fire Coach­ing, who cites MacKay’s three words and who uses a move­ment­based prac­tice called In­terPlay as well as tra­di­tional coach­ing tech­niques, such as clar­i­fy­ing values, shift­ing per­spec­tives, chal­leng­ing lim­it­ing be­liefs, goal-set­ting, good habit for­ma­tion and ac­count­abil­ity.

Arms works mostly with pro­fes­sion­als who want to move to the next level, of­ten “men who need to de­velop prac­ti­cal skills around emo­tional in­tel­li­gence and women who need to ac­cept the power that they have and choose how to wield it ef­fec­tively.” This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant with older clients. “The world in which they were raised shaped men and women very dif­fer­ently from one an­other. Gen­der norms have shifted, par­tic­u­larly in terms of roles women play in pub­lic and cor­po­rate life. Ex­pec­ta­tions around who men and women should be have changed dra­mat­i­cally and are still in tran­si­tion.”

She has some clients who want to fo­cus solely on work, some on per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and some who want to in­te­grate all their con­cerns. “Typ­i­cally, to get trac­tion on a big prob­lem, I work with peo­ple for three to six months.” With older clients, there is a con­cern with legacy as de­scribed by all three coaches. “Boomers have more in­ter­nal­ized senses of what roles they were raised to fill,” says Arms, “and how they have filled them, and now they have be­gun to stretch into who they want to be­come now.”

A mom of four (in­clud­ing triplets), Arms came to coach­ing when she left a lu­cra­tive le­gal ca­reer with de­tours study­ing to be a Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist min­is­ter and then life as an ac­tor-di­rec­tor. She warns that there is no easy way out. “The clas­sic midlife cri­sis — af­fair, fancy car, run off to live some­where else. But your prob­lems fol­low you.” How­ever, she says, you don’t have to make a gi­ant change to get un­stuck.

“How can I have more ful­fill­ment in my life without ac­tu­ally chang­ing the things I’m do­ing?” she says is the rel­e­vant ques­tion for older clients. “Some­times to­tal rein­ven­tion isn’t go­ing to serve you in the long term. What if you could man­age to feel ful­filled without rip­ping your life apart and putting it to­gether again?” Coach­ing can be about small, sub­tle shifts in the way clients look at them­selves, she says, “the way they en­gage in re­la­tion­ships. Mi­cro-ad­just­ments can ac­tu­ally have a huge im­pact.”

As for Su­san, she is still a work in progress. “But I’m do­ing some­thing, any­thing, to change my view of the world. I have a new ca­reer idea, and I’m keep­ing it to my­self so as not to jinx it. But the sky is bluer to­day than it was yes­ter­day.” Coach­ing is a goals-ori­ented, time­lim­ited part­ner­ship. Some coaches work with pack­ages tailored to a client’s goals; oth­ers are more freeform. But ex­pect to pay be­tween $100 to $300 each ses­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.