"If it makes you feel good, do more of it. And if it makes you feel hor­ri­ble, maybe you should back off a lit­tle"

Even master life coach Martha Beck can't be­lieve her wis­don is worth mil­lions

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Focus On/The Cloud -

In the con­fer­ence room of an ocean­side ho­tel in Pismo Beach, Calif., Martha Beck stands on stage, near­ing the end of an ef­fu­sive 90-minute key­note speech for the semi­an­nual Meet and Greet of the (mostly) women en­rolled in her life coach train­ing pro­gram, when she stops abruptly. “Integrity check!” she says.

She’d been telling the 80 or so trainees a story about her di­ag­no­sis many years ago of fi­bromyal­gia, a chronic pain con­di­tion. She’d been an avid run­ner be­fore the di­ag­no­sis; she’s started run­ning again, even though ex­er­cis­ing is of­ten painful for peo­ple with fi­bromyal­gia. Her point was that we shouldn’t al­ways be­lieve in our lim­i­ta­tions, no mat­ter how expert the source who presents them or how con­crete they may seem. Also, maybe we don’t need quite so many rules! She re­minded every­one that so much of what we know is told to us with great author­ity, and we ac­cept it. Part of Beck’s credo—part of any trained so­ci­ol­o­gist’s credo—is to un­der­stand that most rules put in place for our lives are a so­cial con­struct, so it’s our con­stant job to ask, “Wait, is that pre­sump­tion that I have true? What proof do I have that it’s true? How did I come to be­lieve this, and does it serve me to con­tinue be­liev­ing it?”

A lit­tle ear­lier, she’d il­lus­trated her point by invit­ing a trainee onto the stage. She asked the woman what was on her mind, and the trainee, who hasn’t given me per­mis­sion to share her story (so I’ll say it in the broad­est terms), said she was hav­ing a trust is­sue with some­one she knows. Beck coached her through the prob­lem, teach­ing her that the only per­son the trainee needed to trust was her­self, and that once she trusted her­self, she would know how to live. Beck em­ployed sev­eral of her best-known tech­niques: some ques­tions, some ki­ne­si­ol­ogy. She had the woman raise her arm and try to keep it raised as she made a state­ment she con­sid­ered true about her co­nun­drum. The body weak­ens when it’s ly­ing, Beck ex­plained. So if Beck ap­plies pres­sure to an arm and it goes down eas­ily, the per­son knows she’s ly­ing to her­self (or oth­ers). If it stays strong, well, then the state­ment is true. The trainee’s arm with­stood Beck’s pres­sure, and she learned from this to trust her in­stincts. She then made a na­maste ges­ture with hands, bowed, and went back to her chair.

Now, in the long se­conds af­ter Beck sud­denly stops, the room falls silent. She looks at the peo­ple in her au­di­ence, meets their eyes. Many look as if they’d been cre­ated in her im­age: flow­ing fab­rics and dec­o­ra­tive, loosely draped scarves. Beck wears a turtle­neck and some stealth jeg­gings, short mo­tor­cy­cle boots, and a long cardi­gan. Her smile is slight and con­fi­dent; she’s the calmest, most at­ten­tive per­son in the world. She squints, in­hales as if smelling some­thing fa­mil­iar but uniden­ti­fi­able, and turns her head two de­grees. Then she looks back at the crowd: “I’ve just done an integrity check,” she re­sumes. “And I re­al­ize that if it’s OK with you, I would like to stay and talk to you again af­ter lunch. Would that be OK?” Would it! They’d been sched­uled to do work­shops af­ter lunch, but an­other chance to lis­ten to the woman in whose im­age they were re-cre­at­ing them­selves? No ques­tion. The (mostly) women rise from their seats and clap. Some go off to have spinach sal­ads, while oth­ers do quick integrity checks, de­cide the bet­ter move is a ham­burger from room ser­vice, and run back to their rooms.

For the unini­ti­ated, Beck is the Ma­tryoshka doll of life coaches: She coaches her­self, she teaches other coaches, they in turn coach, and so on. She grossed $3.5 mil­lion last year, but more sig­nif­i­cant than her own earn­ing power is her role le­git­imiz­ing the field. Life coach­ing used to be a fluke that peo­ple rolled their eyes at or likened to psy­chic read­ings—a sphere of half-truths at best and rarely sus­tain­able as a full-time job. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey done by the In­ter­na­tional Coach Fed­er­a­tion (ICF), as of 2012, there were more than 15,000 life coaches op­er­at­ing in the U.S. and 41,300 coaches world­wide tak­ing in a to­tal of $2 bil­lion. While num­bers are hard to ver­ify (the busi­ness is un­reg­u­lated; some coaches op­er­ate out of their homes and call it some­thing else), the fed­er­a­tion’s re­port found that ac­cred­ited life coaches charge from $85 to $214 per hour.

To un­der­stand how life coach­ing trans­formed into a vi­able ca­reer op­tion and (al­most) shame-free re­source, Beck is as good a place as any to start. At first her op­er­a­tion was small: Peo­ple came to her for coach­ing, so she coached them. Then there were so many that she de­cided to write a book, then an­other, then an­other. Oprah Win­frey came call­ing, first for some live coach­ing on her TV show, then to grant the peo­ple what they wanted with a monthly column by Beck in O, The Oprah Mag­a­zine— the most strangely com­pelling, lik­able, and know­ing column of words you could read every month— which sold more books and left more peo­ple seek­ing out Beck. Fi­nally, she be­gan hear­ing from her read­ers, who loved her in­sight so much that not only did they want to ap­ply it to their lives, they wanted to do what she does.

She’d al­ready been teach­ing small groups her meth­ods, work­shop- style. But the de­mand was sud­denly im­mense. Martha Beck coach train­ing was born. In 2011, Martha Beck Inc. (MBI) grossed $2.1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Beck. Rev­enue has risen 63 per­cent since then—much of the growth hap­pen­ing by 2013— at a com­pany with ex­actly two full-time staff mem­bers (Beck makes three). Cor­po­ra­tions fre­quently book her, too, for up­wards of $35,000 a ses­sion. The at­ten­dees at Pismo Beach will bring to 4,121 the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple she and her team have trained to be coaches since 2008.

Coach train­ing is an eight­month tele­course and In­ter­net­based pro­gram. The cost is $7,770 for in­struc­tion led by Beck and master coaches, life coaches who’ve taken the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course, com­pleted 75 hours of paid coach­ing, and taken on ex­tra train­ing. Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for a life coach costs $850 (and in­cludes be­ing listed on the Martha Beck web­site as a coach); the master coach cer­ti­fi­ca­tion costs an ad­di­tional $8,500 and in­cludes six months of in­struc­tion that cul­mi­nate in a re­treat at Beck’s home, the North Star Ranch, in Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia.

Dur­ing train­ing, Beck re­quires each as­pir­ing life coach to col­lect fees for their time, even if it’s a small amount—say $20 or $40 per hour. Once they’re cer­ti­fied, they’ll make up to $200 an hour ask­ing peo­ple if they’re sure their sup­po­si­tions are true, and push­ing back gen­tly and sup­port­ively against peo­ple who are sure theirs are.

What’s sur­pris­ing is that the coach trainees aren’t peo­ple who be­lieve they’re do­ing so well in life that they want to tell you how to live yours. In­stead, they seem to be peo­ple who didn’t know how to live and found a way to at least as­cer­tain what they want out of life. This skill, this as­cer­tain­ment, is what they want so badly to share. They’re among the hum­blest peo­ple I’ve ever met. Per­form­ing my own integrity check, I must say that Beck and her army ini­tially had me think­ing I’d de­bunk a sub­cul­ture that’s try­ing to, at best, feel their way through life by the squishi­est means, and, at worst, feel their way through peo­ple’s wal­lets. But once with Beck and her acolytes, I had the un­de­ni­able sense that, for all their pe­cu­liar ways of speak­ing, they were gain­ing an un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man con­di­tion—and ac­cept­ing it—to an ex­tent that few do.

The prospec­tive life coaches in the au­di­ence know ex­actly what an integrity check means, and what an integrity cleanse is, too. Last Au­gust, Beck in­cor­po­rated the integrity cleanse into her coach­ing cur­ricu­lum. She’d been hang­ing out with her friend By­ron Katie, an­other prom­i­nent fig­ure in the self-im­prove­ment arts and sciences, and Katie’s hus­band, Stephen Mitchell, who no­ticed that Beck spoke about some of her busi­ness obli­ga­tions with a pal­pa­ble dread. She rolled her eyes and re­sented the con­stant at­ten­tion and pro­mo­tion that went along with be­ing a best- sell­ing au­thor of four books and a novel, an in- de­mand speaker at such places as Gulf­stream, Gen­eral Elec­tric, and the Cho­pra Cen­ter, and a sought-af­ter per­son­al­ity in her in­dus­try. Mitchell, a scholar and a poet, had trans­lated Beck’s fa­vorite ver­sion of the Tao Te Ching, which she gives to every guest in her home and has given to me twice. He’d said to Beck, “Then why are you do­ing these things?” And, Beck says, she looked hard at the two and their work and saw that “they just live their truth so deeply— so deeply.” She spent the day watch­ing them run their busi­ness—books and work­shops based on Katie’s method, The Work. “And it was just like ab­so­lutely no vari­a­tion from the deep­est integrity,” she says. “Like every prod­uct had to feel like the truth. I can’t even de­scribe how hon­est these peo­ple are. And I, just, it was like some­body gave me a big drink of wa­ter in the desert.”

So Beck went on an integrity cleanse. She de­cided she wouldn’t be dis­hon­est with any­one about any­thing for any rea­son. When she feels her ex­pres­sion is be­com­ing disin­gen­u­ous—po­litely smil­ing when she’s an­noyed, pa­tient when she just wants to get out of there— she re­con­sid­ers. Re­cently on a con­fer­ence call with a few peo­ple ready to give her a pile of money, she re­al­ized she’d had enough. “I’m go­ing to get off this call now,” she in­ter­rupted, then asked her chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Brid­gette Boudreau, also on the call, if she would han­dle it. Boudreau said yes. Beck hung up, walked out­side, and tilted her face to­ward the sun.

The integrity cleanse is now part of every life coach’s train­ing. They learn to stop in the mid­dle of an in­ter­ac­tion if they’re be­ing more ac­com­mo­dat­ing and less truth­ful than they should be, and say, “Integrity check!” Then they check their own in­ter­nal truth me­ters. In the world ac­cord­ing to Beck, we all pos­sess one, and it never breaks. What’s dif­fi­cult is find­ing it be­neath the lay­ers of po­lite­ness and trauma we en­dure in our lives.

Beck’s coaches are trained to do a lot of things, but they don’t give ad­vice, be­cause they don’t have ac­cess to your truth me­ter— only you do. The job of a coach, Beck says, isn’t to tell you how to live your life. It’s to keep dig­ging un­til the coach un­der­stands what the client re­ally wants from her life, her ro­man­tic part­ner­ship, her friend­ship, her ca­reer; it’s the job of the coach to “help en­hance the qual­ity of life and help find what is caus­ing the suf­fer­ing.”

The Meet and Greet in March was the sec­ond of Beck’s gath­er­ings I’ve at­tended. In 2013, I went to her Coaches Sum­mit in Phoenix. There I found an en­thu­si­as­tic, ebul­lient au­di­ence of (mostly) women—med­i­cal doc­tors and English lit pro­fes­sors and psy­chother­a­pists and in­vest­ment bankers, all of whom (re­ally, each one I spoke with) had one day re­al­ized there was an on­go­ing mis­ery in their lives de­spite their suc­cesses. They were try­ing to find what they’d do best, or, as the ti­tle of Beck’s first best­seller had it, their “north star.” What they re­al­ized is that they wanted to do what Beck did.

A li­censed ther­a­pist told me she was look­ing to learn coach­ing so she could help her clients plan the fu­ture in­stead of stay­ing mired in the past. A woman in turquoise capris, who had an MBA and had been an in­vest­ment and money man­ager, said she was “stuck in a box” do­ing what she thought she was sup­posed to be do­ing. “I was an im­pos­tor,” she said. She started see­ing a life coach who helped her re­al­ize that the men­tor­ing part of her job, the part she loved, was what she should be do­ing full time. She quit her job and started train­ing as a coach.

I met a grief coun­selor who wanted tools to help sup­port those in mourning. An­other woman, af­ter a tough di­vorce, wanted to learn how to help peo­ple in tran­si­tion. She told me that Beck had said that “what­ever your hell-and-back is, that’s your gift.”

And then there were the peo­ple who help ex­plain why life coach­ing has had such an up­hill bat­tle in terms of le­git­i­macy: “I didn’t de­cide to do it,” said one. “It de­cided to do me.” “I had a know­ing,” said an­other, who, when I asked what that meant, sim­ply re­peated her­self.

“I was be­ing drawn to my fu­ture self,” said a woman who pre­vi­ously had braided hair at Re­nais­sance fes­ti­vals un­til she felt the call­ing to train as a coach.

An­other: “One day I asked my­self, ‘Who am I?’ Then I said, ‘Who am I not?’ ” Which, sure. But three years later in Pismo Beach, Beck’s au­di­ence has changed. Mostly, I meet peo­ple who are mount­ing a proven and po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive ca­reer track.

The North Star Ranch sits at the end of a long, dusty road in San Luis Obispo about 15 min­utes af­ter you lose your cel­lu­lar ser­vice. Beck bought it three years ago and has since ac­quired horses that are of use in one kind of coach­ing she does. She doesn’t sub­scribe to just one way to live

one’s life, or even one way of coach­ing. She be­lieves you can use sur­vival train­ing, an­i­mal track­ing, horse train­ing, just plain talk­ing, re­li­gion, athe­ism, academia, re­search, per­son­al­ity psy­chol­ogy, other gu­rus (like Katie)—all in the ser­vice of find­ing, yes, your truth.

Beck is an au­to­di­dact, and it seems as if there’s no part of cul­ture or his­tory or academia that she doesn’t know a lot about. A par­tial list of ref­er­ences she makes dur­ing a two-hour in­ter­view at the ranch in­cludes: The Mus­tard Seed Gar­den Man­ual of Paint­ing, Pablo Pi­casso, Alexan­der Mccall Smith (au­thor of The No. 1 Ladies’ De­tec­tive Agency se­ries), the re­al­ity show Naked and Afraid, Tarahu­mara Indians, the movie Her, Alan Watts, Eck­hart Tolle, Chris­tian mys­tics, Jewish mys­tics, and frac­tals. She says things like: “We’re in the af­ter­life. This is the af­ter­life of my 20-year-old self, and your 20-year-old self. We are liv­ing af­ter that life, and that per­son is gone.” And: “En­light­en­ment is this re­turn to child­hood through the heroic saga of the per­son­al­ity, like fight­ing it­self. The ego bloat­ing up and get­ting punc­tured. To re­turn af­ter that is an in­no­cence that is also wise, and I think that’s what we’re all try­ing to get to, but it’s in­ter­est­ing to strip away the lay­ers of ar­ti­fice.”

She lives on the ranch with her ro­man­tic part­ner, Karen; her mid­dle child, Adam; two women who teach life coach­ing through horse in­ter­ac­tion; and a man they jok­ingly call a farm­hand who also coaches—his spe­cialty be­ing help­ing gay men heal from trauma and shame.

She once had a more con­ven­tional fam­ily. She was the sec­ond-youngest of eight chil­dren in a prom­i­nent Mor­mon fam­ily in Provo, Utah. While at Har­vard study­ing East Asian stud­ies and so­ci­ol­ogy, she mar­ried an­other Mor­mon, John Beck. She found out dur­ing her sec­ond preg­nancy that her baby had Down syn­drome. To the sur­prise of her col­leagues at Har­vard, where she had fin­ished her stud­ies and was do­ing re­search, she didn’t end the preg­nancy. She and John moved back to Utah, but de­cided to break from the church dur­ing a pe­riod of sup­pres­sion, when many peo­ple were be­ing ex­com­mu­ni­cated. The Becks ul­ti­mately di­vorced. They both were gay—he’d known he was for a while, and even­tu­ally she re­al­ized she was, too. They con­tin­ued to live to­gether and co-par­ented while rais­ing their three chil­dren. Even­tu­ally they moved south, where they both taught at Ari­zona State Univer­sity.

Beck de­signed and taught a ca­reer devel­op­ment class at the busi­ness school, where she learned that her mat­ter- of-fact ap­proach to find­ing the life you want wasn’t just ap­peal­ing to her stu­dents, but also was con­sid­ered es­sen­tial. Im­me­di­ately, stu­dents be­gan flood­ing her of­fice hours. They asked if they could book an hour with her. She charged $ 50, and with that, her life coach­ing busi­ness was born. “I could barely force my­self to put it in the bank,” she says. “I just felt like it was high­way rob­bery. What could I pos­si­bly be do­ing to help these peo­ple? I mean, ev­ery­thing I was say­ing was so ob­vi­ous. If it makes you feel good, do more of it. And if it makes you feel hor­ri­ble, maybe you should back off a lit­tle. And that was re­ally all I said. And they kept pay­ing me.”

In 1999 she pub­lished a book called Ex­pect­ing Adam about her preg­nancy with her mid­dle child. She then wrote Find­ing Your Own North Star, the first of sev­eral books about strip­ping away the con­di­tions you’ve in­vented so you can fig­ure out what to do with your life. The ad­vice in it seemed ob­vi­ous to her. Not so to her editor and pub­lisher. It be­came a best-seller. She even­tu­ally wrote a book about her life in the Mor­mon com­mu­nity in which she de­scribed the sex­ual abuse she’d en­dured as a child. She left the church and is no longer in touch with what she calls her “fam­ily of ori­gin.” She calls her­self and her fel­low coaches “wayfind­ers.” She be­lieves her abuse and her suf­fer­ing were a felix culpa— it ei­ther made her into a wayfinder or iden­ti­fied her as one.

“I be­lieve, and please, I would say this very, very gen­tly to any­one who’s read­ing this, this is on the far side of a lot of heal­ing, I was lucky enough to be abused,” she says. “I was very for­tu­nate to be born with a high level of sen­si­tiv­ity, I think as most peo­ple are, and then to en­counter suf­fer­ing in a form that was very, very chal­leng­ing and al­most com­pletely de­struc­tive, and then to find my way back to peace and hap­pi­ness and ev­ery­thing.”

She wouldn’t trade what she has now for a “nor­mal” life. “It’s what Ernest Hem­ing­way said, life breaks us all. We can hope to be strong in the bro­ken places,” she says.

At Ari­zona State, the ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t seem pleased with her pop­u­lar­ity, so Beck left the school and went out on her own, in­creas­ingly em­pha­siz­ing not how stu­dents could bet­ter pro­ceed in their own ca­reers, but how to do what she does. With that, she cre­ated a course for her first coach train­ing, and al­though it would be three years be­fore MBI was an of­fi­cial com­pany, her busi­ness, as she knows it now, was born.

No small part of MBI’S suc­cess is, nat­u­rally, Beck her­self and how her touch is in­sis­tent but never tough. “We get a lot of letters say­ing, ‘I read this column, it changed my life,’ ” Amy Ma­clin, her editor at O, says. “Some­times she’ll have ex­er­cises that force you to get down to it. If you do the work, it changes you. It’s not just pablum. There’s noth­ing shal­low or sur­face about it. She chal­lenges peo­ple.”

Beck be­lieves that peo­ple who rise to the top of pyra­mid-struc­tured busi­nesses are nar­cis­sists. Every­one on “the team,” which is what she calls the two full-time em­ploy­ees and six part-timers at MBI, is in charge of what they’re in charge of— coach train­ing, CEO, mar­ket­ing, so­cial me­dia, though no­body has such clearly de­fined re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as to in­ter­rupt their col­lab­o­ra­tive meth­ods, which are their pride. “It’s like it’s so sort of in­ces­tu­ous at this point. It’s like who knows who’s touch­ing what,” says Jes­sica Stew­ard, who largely over­sees mar­ket­ing and is a master coach who helps train coaches.

The team meets via Skype weekly when one or more is trav­el­ing. When meet­ings stop be­ing pro­duc­tive or some­thing ap­pears

to be off, they make the de­ci­sion not to go back to work and work harder, but to shut down their com­put­ers and go rest. When busi­ness doesn’t seem to be thriv­ing, Beck in­structs them all to go out and play at some­thing un­re­lated to the work. They come back each time to find their con­cerns re­solved. “It works every time,” Beck says. “I don’t know why, but it does, so I guess I don’t re­ally need to know.”

The morn­ing of Beck's key­note, there had been busi­ness- build­ing work­shops for the coaches-in-train­ing. Af­ter lunch that day, there was sup­posed to have been a Q&A ses­sion with the master coaches, but then Beck came back on­stage. No one was up­set about the pro­gram change. As much as she tries to con­vey to her trainees that they’re each max­i­mally gifted, they still look to her as their su­pe­rior, gaz­ing at her with sparkling eyes. When she walks into the room, their al­ready shiny mur­mur comes even more alive.

As she be­gins speak­ing again, Beck asks if there are any ques­tions about what had hap­pened be­fore the break to the coach trainee, the one with trust is­sues. To re­cap, a woman had a ques­tion about a re­la­tion­ship, and Beck had coached her into un­der­stand­ing that she had a per­fectly work­ing truth me­ter her­self. The only way she could re­ally live her life was to un­der­stand that if she kept check­ing in with the truth me­ter, it wouldn’t let her down. The case seemed closed, and the woman sat­is­fied. Con­fused, I raise my hand and ask what the woman is sup­posed to do next. Martha thanks me po­litely for my help, then asks me to come on­stage. She says I didn’t quite get it. She’d like me to un­der­stand that coach­ing isn’t about ad­vice; it’s about tear­ing away fear and every other layer to fig­ure out ex­actly what you wanted in the first place, which is al­ways the right thing.

She asks what’s go­ing on with me, and I think for a minute about how that morn­ing I had had a hard time get­ting dressed. I’d gained some weight re­cently, or maybe not as re­cently as I like to think, and had packed the wrong jeans. In gen­eral, if I were hon­est, this was an on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion, turned more frus­trat­ing by my many at­tempts at weight loss. I tell her I can’t fig­ure out why I can’t lose weight, how it con­sumes me so much of the time, and how bad it makes me feel. She asks when the thought is worst. In the morn­ing, I tell her, when I get dressed and look in the mir­ror and try to pro­ceed with the day like a reg­u­lar per­son.

“What is the thought you have when you’re get­ting dressed?” she asks.

“I think when I get dressed that my body is dis­gust­ing,” I an­swer.

She asks what hap­pens when I have that thought, how it makes me feel, and what I do next. I tell her that it makes me tired and pes­simistic, it makes me avoid eat­ing break­fast be­cause I can’t deal with the mat­ter that some­how got me here. She points out that the stress, plus the hunger, will prob­a­bly send my cor­ti­sol soar­ing, and cor­ti­sol forces an an­i­mal hunger for the largest amount of high-calo­rie food there is. She asks me to imag­ine the op­po­site of the trou­bling thought that my body is dis­gust­ing. “My body is func­tional,” I try. She asks the room if they think my body is func­tional, or if I am, in fact, beau­ti­ful.

“Who­ever thinks Taffy is beau­ti­ful, raise your hand.” Ev­ery­body does. She tells me to look around the room. She says to look every­one in the eye and look at the whites of their eyes. If they’re shak­ing, I’ll know they’re ly­ing. Look how the whites of their eyes aren’t shak­ing.

It’s in this mo­ment that I’m sup­posed to have a revelation about my body (and maybe I do) that I re­ally come to un­der­stand why so many peo­ple re­spond to Beck and want to have what she has. By the time we hit the year 2016, we’ve been in­un­dated with so many peo­ple pro­fess­ing so many apho­risms and rules parad­ing as truth that our clichés have clichés. A life coach is re­ally just a coal miner used for dig­ging through the plat­i­tudes and find­ing out what’s true for the in­di­vid­ual. The truth of a per­son’s life isn’t only about the will to­ward integrity; it’s about dis­cov­er­ing what you want un­der the lay­ers of what you’ve been told you should want all these years.

Now that I’d been seen by all these peo­ple who were all also on integrity cleanses, Beck asks me again what the op­po­site of me say­ing my body is dis­gust­ing is. Fi­nally, I say what I know she wants to hear. “My body is beau­ti­ful,” I say. Every­one claps, and I cry. I get down off the stage while peo­ple look at me solemnly, wish­ing only for my peace and hap­pi­ness. Sit­ting down, I won­der what has just hap­pened. Have I been ma­nip­u­lated? Have I been wrong to lose my cyn­i­cism and skep­ti­cism even for that one minute?

In ret­ro­spect, I think my body be­ing func­tional was the op­po­site of it be­ing dis­gust­ing—that I was at the be­gin­ning of learn­ing to be OK with it on a func­tional level. But func­tional isn’t the word that will make you feel like you’ve got­ten your money’s worth from a life coach. In ther­apy, com­ing out with such a ver­dict can be a good goal. For coach­ing, the an­swer and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing feel­ing have to be mag­i­cal—they have to el­e­vate you enough to re­main with you af­ter you’ve left the ses­sion.

So what was my integrity check of that mo­ment? I’ll tell you that in that mo­ment, my in­ter­nal truth-o-me­ter was flooded with love and well-be­ing and hope for all the ways I still haven’t quite ar­rived at the per­son I want to be. And though I’m not wrong to be cyn­i­cal— cyn­i­cism is the integrity check of my pro­fes­sion, af­ter all—i re­al­ized Beck’s es­sen­tial lesson: What ex­actly is the harm of be­liev­ing the thing that makes you feel good rather than bad? And I’ll tell you what hap­pens next, which is this: I get off the stage, and, one by one, the trainees line up, a line that snakes among the round ta­bles and al­most out the door. And, one by one, al­most all 80 of them hug me and tell me I’m beau­ti­ful, just like that. <BW>

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