Life all out of whack? Get a coach

These advisers home in on what's missing, and try to help their clients chart a course to fulfillment

The Middle Ages

October 29, 2006|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN REPORTER

In the old days, people who wanted advice about big decisions managed to make do with talking to parents, friends, ministers and maybe a shrink or two.

Not so the baby boomers.

They've discovered the value of mentors, job counselors, therapists of every ilk, nutritionists, personal trainers, party consultants, retirement planners, and now, life coaches. A life coach focuses on the future, rather than the past, helping clients find the best way to improve the quality of their work and lives by using the skills, character and creativity they already possess.

"There are only two things that people want," explains life coach Sandy Vilas, owner of Coach U training programs in Colorado. "One is more of something, like money, time, energy, love, opportunity. And the other is less of something, like frustration.

"If someone's life isn't working or their business isn't producing the results they want, it's usually about who that person is being or is not being."

Which is where the coach comes in. He or she will pose those insightful questions that can help you realize what adjustments are necessary, and then support, nudge and push you toward them.

"We often need something to help us create that shift," Vilas says. "And a coach can see things that clients can't see about themselves."

Over the past decade, a lot of people have entered the life-coaching business. Although there are no overall statistics yet, the International Coach Federation, the field's professional association, says the growth is dramatic. Since 1999, its membership has grown from 2,000 to 10,800 coaches with credentials working in 80 countries. Most coaches charge $200 to $500 a month for weekly 30-minute sessions.

In the United States, most life coaching takes place over the phone -- at work, at home, in the car or wherever folks are floundering in the murky stew of modern times. Long-distance relationships are the norm.

Baltimorean Jenness Hall, a life coach with a doctorate in higher education administration, works with clients who live in California, Vermont, Washington and North Carolina, as well as the Baltimore area. Like many of her peers, she came to the profession through a midlife career change.

When Hall was "reorganized" out of a job a few years back, a friend recommended that she engage a life coach to help devise her next move.

"I said, 'That is way too Granola-y for me," the 48-year-old Hall recalls. "I told her, 'I bet they're based in California.' Which, of course, they were."

Three months later, however, she hadn't gotten any further along in her job search. She decided to try a free consultation with the coach her friend had mentioned.

"Twenty minutes into the conversation, I said 'OK. I understand this now!' I called my husband and said, 'I think this process will really help me sort out what I want to do.' "

As she worked with her coach in weekly sessions, Hall realized she was not ready to use her skills to invest in real estate, direct a non-profit or write the book that "I know is in me." Instead, as the mother of two preschoolers, she required "flexibility, fun and funds."

That's when she determined the world of coaching might be a good match. She took a basic coaching course administered by the Coaches Training Institute and began working with several clients, pro bono, to develop and refine her skills. Three became paying customers.

'A new context'

One of her clients is Mary Funke, 54, the executive director of N Street Village, an organization that works with homeless women in Washington, D.C.

Two years ago, Funke's husband died unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism and derailed the comfortable suburban life that the couple had created in Columbia with their 14-year-old son.

Devastated, Funke sought help from a grief therapist.

"After a certain point there are only so many times you can say 'I miss my husband,' and that she can say, 'That's normal,' " she says. "I was a working mom, an older mom, who had suddenly lost my husband and my whole life. Nothing was the same in any direction. ... Although I knew I had to give myself time to grieve and adjust, I didn't want to become a professional widow. I needed someone to help me process a new context for my life and move forward."

For the past year, Funke has consulted regularly with Hall. The telephone coaching appointments usually take place while the executive director is at work.

"Before my husband died, I was basically working 60 hours a week and commuting to Washington. One of my issues has been 'How do I maintain the level of productivity as a professional and also respect the fact that my son needs more of me?' We've spent a lot of time talking about achieving that kind of balance."

Did Funke consider more traditional forms of counseling?

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