The hardest thing about being a coach
You want to change the way you work. You think the hard part is deciding what you’ll do next, and how you’ll get there. But that’s just the start. The hard part is the mental transition you have to go through once you’ve made those decisions.
When I coach people they are often surprised that they find change hard after they’ve made the initial decision.
I experienced that exact thing myself. When it came to it, it wasn’t that hard to quit my full-time job in theatre. My con list was five times the size of my pro list. And it wasn’t that difficult to become freelance. It wasn’t a challenge to enrol on a coaching course. But after making those choices, I changed – I had to. Becoming a coach changed the way I saw everything. Which was challenging for me, and it was really challenging for my husband (I may talk about this stuff in more detail once my divorce is finalised, but for now I’m not ready to do that. Suffice to say that change and transition is complicated and it has relationship impacts as well as individual ones).
When I first started coaching it was 2008. Coaching (which was usually called Life Coaching or Executive Coaching) wasn’t the big thing it is now, and there wasn’t that much evidence-based research then* into its efficacy.
I could see that it worked, but I couldn’t read much stuff that backed that up.
That was my first challenge, because I am person that needs proof, not just observational evidence (that’s a little insight into my psyche, and it’s a thing that can really hold me back).
I was thinking maybe I’d do a masters in coaching, but coaching master’s courses were prohibitively expensive. So I did a series of training courses instead.
The first one I did was an internal training course at the Co-op, who are a big employer in Manchester, that offered cheap places on their two-day programmes to organisations with charitable status.
I enjoyed it and felt it reflected my values and attitudes so much that it made me want to get properly accredited. The weird thing was that it immediately opened my eyes to quite how miserable I was at work and my overall lifestyle, and I handed in my notice when I got back to the office. Just like that.
Then I did an accredited training course over 3 months which involved learning the principles of coaching, various techniques and tools, and practicing a lot with the other people on the course and anyone else I could get to be a guinea pig.
I didn’t find the formal learning hard, but all the other stuff was intense.
It involved a massive amount of self-reflection and showing vulnerability in front of strangers. The whole experience was like looking in a mirror with your skin removed. It’s fascinating in a way, but you just want to look away: it’s so painful.
I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about why that was such a challenging time for me: but that analogy sums it up I think.
I’d say, for me, that has been the hardest part of the work. I’ve done other coaching courses since that have been much easier because I was more used to the format. And I’ve had so much coaching and therapy since that floodgate was opened that it doesn’t scare me anymore. But, be warned, if this is a route you want to take, there’s some intense internal work involved.
Challenges not hardships
I’m probably going to make you gag a bit by saying that I love my job, but that’s the truth.
I don’t find coaching hard at all - like any job it has some challenges.
I’d say that the main challenges for me are or have been: the intensity of the training; the weight of responsibility of holding space for other people’s vulnerability; and ensuring that I only work with clients that are a good fit - people that want life change coaching or a career change coach.
After feeling very exposed and vulnerable in training, the second thing that’s been hard is learning through working with clients.
Everyone has to start at the beginning, a bit clueless, and learn though their mistakes. I always feel that coaching is a position of massive responsibility because you are asking people to enter into a covenant of trust with you.
It’s not just that you want them to trust that you’ll be discrete. It’s also that to be coached you need to be vulnerable. So as a coach I am asking people to trust me with their feelings and their thoughts and their flaws.
I want them to open up about things that they like to suppress or compensate for in everyday life. I need to be able to get to know people so that I can identify their strengths and help to maximise them. And I need to help them to put their vulnerabilities into context. At the start, I was much less confident with, and maybe even less mindful of that.
With experience I’ve learned that rapport and trust take different amounts of time for different people, and that it can be built if it's not immediate. So if it doesn’t happen immediately, that’s ok. And if it doesn’t happen at all, I think it’s fine to call it quits if that’s what feels right to both parties. Early on that would have panicked me. Now I see it as a healthy part of the process.
Coaching and Therapy
It’s really important to me to draw a clear line for clients about the differences between therapy and coaching. People often conflate the two, but they are distinct, despite having similarities. I don’t find this hard per se, but I do think that it’s of paramount importance and adds to the weight of responsibility of a coach towards their clients.
Coaching can definitely have benefits for mental wellbeing. But it’s really important for the coach and the coachee to recognise that they are an incidental benefit and not the main purpose of coaching. Coaches are not trained therapists.
I have had clients that find this difficult to grasp, because there are aspects of coaching that look like therapy and aspects of therapy that look like coaching. Sometimes I find this hard, and again it comes down to the weight of responsibility. Just this week, one of my previous clients who experienced mental health benefits from coaching with me was suggesting that they recommend me to a friend suffering from debilitating anxiety. I discouraged it. I wouldn’t claim that working with a coach won’t help anxiety because it can provide insight and new thinking patterns and problem-solving skills. It can enhance someone’s sense of control over stressors. But, it can also make anxiety worse if it’s used irresponsibly, because unlike therapy it doesn’t look at root causes or diagnostics. Its tools aren’t specific to mental illness. Moreover, coaches aren’t trained to recognise or diagnose mental health problems. Coaching is future focused, and the way that I do it, is solutions focused, so a lot goes unsaid in terms of mental health, and rightly so.
I sometimesI need to communicate to a coachee that they may also need therapy, and to draw a clear line that the coachee understands (although I mostly subscribe to the view that everyone would benefit from therapy, so why the hell not?). This has less to do with me, and more to do with misunderstandings about the purpose of coaching. So I am clear about what I can help with that may impact mental well-being: boundary setting, problem solving, positive self-talk, self-acceptance, developing insight, improving optimism. And what I can't: recognising, diagnosing and treating specific mental health problems, healing past wounds, and therapeutic interventions.
An appropriate way to think of it is that what I provide can be construed as wellness coaching for lasting lifestyle change or career change.
Mindest + Time + Understanding change processes = feeling more positive, hopeful and fulfilled.
Finding the right fit with clients
I run a small business, so it could be tempting to work with anyone that expresses and interest. In marketing terms there’s a lot of emphasis on the ideal client from a sales point of view, as in if you target your marketing by understanding your client, you’ll make more sales. Actually though, it’s also about who you want to work with and who will benefit most from your approach. To that extent I definitely have an ideal client in mind, and I don’t want to work with people that don’t fit the criteria.
My understanding of my ideal client has developed over the years, and is influenced by working with not-so-ideal-clients in the past; by the people that have been the most pleasurable to coach; and by who I think my coaching will help the most. The benefit of this approach is that I feel excited about who I’m working with, and they are more likely to benefit from working with me rather than with someone else.
So, who is my idea client?
They are of no specific sex or gender, but are typically aged between 28-55 (though age matters less than life stage: which is that they want a change in their lifestyle or career, or are already experiencing a change that they want to get the most they can from). So there’s flexibility here.
They are proactive and energetic to the extent that they are prepared to go out and make stuff happen (even if they don’t have the skills or confidence quite yet). This is a must.
They are interested in how they can develop their autonomy rather than expecting a coach to provide a magic bullet: it’s surprising how many people think a coach is a fixer that will provide life changing advice. It just belies reality to imagine that anything works that way. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But change isn’t just about making the change happen. You have to change too because you have to start thinking and acting in new ways, and that’s the hard bit that your coach helps with: that's the bit that's most challenging to do without support.
I wouldn’t say it’s too hard to ensure I get the right fit because I have processes in place to make sure that the client is right for me and I am right for the client. These are pre-coaching questionnaires, a free chemistry call, an inexpensive coaching taster session, and checks and balances during coaching. But it has been a learning process for sure. If you are interested you can book a chemistry call by clicking this link.
As long as you believe in what you do... the rest will follow
So, there you go. I’ve been coaching for a long time, so it’s no longer hard.
Even when it was more difficult than it is now, it is such a gift to be able to facilitate people’s learning and growth, it was totally worth it. I’m not kidding that I love seeing other people succeed, and playing a part in that is a privilege.
All jobs have challenging aspects, and the key is whether you enjoy solving those problems, and whether you think it’s worthwhile to do that. I definitely think that having the opportunity to run my own business my way, with the clients I can be of most use to, makes the challenges of the job absolutely worth it.
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*The modern literature is ever expanding drawing on methodologies from the field of psychology. For a quick overview:
Bennett, J.f & Bush, M. W. 2014. Coaching for change. New York and London: Routledge
Grant, A. M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition and mental health. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 253-264. doi:10.2224/sbp.2003.
Grant, A. M., Passmore, J., Cavanagh. M. J., & Parker, H. (2010). The state of play in coaching today: A comprehensive review international Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology , 25, 125-167. doi:10.1002/978047066
I'm Jodie Lamb and I have been running Trevnee Coaching since early 2020. I've been an accredited life coach since 2008. I focus on Careers and Change. I work with people that are either thinking about changing things in their work and want a plan and support with acting on the plan; and people that are experiencing any kind of change in their lives and need help to make the most of it.
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