What is coaching?

  Image courtesy of Matheus Bertelli.

Image courtesy of Matheus Bertelli.

For you, the coach, trying to find your way.

For you, the coachee, seeking to better understand the value of having a coach.

There is a lot of voice out there for what coaching is.

But let's be clear. There are also a lot of things that coaching is not.

1. Coaching is not consulting.

I am 35 years old and at various moments of my life I have gone through significant life-altering transformations. I am happier and freer than I have ever been. I am successful, and I am fulfilled, and my connections are incredibly nourishing.

While you may want what I have, my job as your coach is not to tell you how to live my life. My job is not to give you advice on how to do it like me. Perhaps the most frustrating for you, as my client, is that my job as your coach is to ask you questions so that, like me, you can build the life ON YOUR TERMS that will have you feel nourished, fulfilled, happy, and free.

And I can assure you, you don't actually want to live my life. I say this not from a place of "you can't handle the truth" but rather from a deeply rooted knowing that the life I have built for myself is uniquely tailored and customized to MY desire, based very much on my own unique path of experiences and needs. It would be incongruent and out of alignment for you to do all the same things I have done in order to get where you want to go, and in fact, you could literally do all the same things I do right now and still not have my life because your starting point is not the same as mine was.

It's important to understand what consulting is in order to fully understand why coaching is not consulting.

Consultants are working with known problems within known parameters, and usually have some extra stipulations in place for how to financially compensate for unknown factors. You know what the problem is, and you pay for a very specific solution, and if gaps present themselves underway, you get an extra bill. 

While consulting may work well in business environments for certain endeavors, and even in personal lives (for example, if you need to figure out how to market and brand your new business, or are looking for tools to track sales and expenses), the reality is, when we're talking about human lives, it's rare to actually know all the problems and be clear on all the parameters before the work begins. I as the coach can of course know what my known problems and parameters are, and while that likely would make it easier for me to identify yours, paying me to find all of them for you fails to empower you to find them for yourself. 

When you see something you want in another person, actually what you want is the essence of that thing, and what you really really really want, and what you're usually paying a coach for, is that you want agency in that essence.

A good coach knows the difference, and can offer you integrative tools in helping you capture, and take ownership of, YOUR essence.

2. Coaching is not emotional support (at least not in the way you might think it is).

We are trained to believe that if someone loves you, they will [fill in the blank]. Women especially are trained that if they love someone, they must carry their emotional baggage, cheer them up when they are down, cry with them, reassure them when they doubt themselves. This is our role, and this is what it means to be a good woman, a good friend, a good mother, and a good partner.

We are not robots. We are all feeling, and on varying degrees empathic, human beings. And, the sort of "love" and nurturing described above is actually codependence.

This is not the relationship you want to cultivate with a coach. This is dysfunctional and my guess is that at the root of the obstacles that sent you to seek out a coach in the first place is to alleviate the burden of this way of relating so that you can actually be free and have true connection.

One of The Most Loving Things you can do for a friend, partner, or child, is to believe they are capable. What you communicate to them by taking on their lot for them is that they are in fact, incapable. You are enabling them to stay broken. To trust that they know what to do, and to hold space for their capability, which is significantly less heavy than holding their belief in their incapability for them.

You pay a coach to believe in your capability even when you yourself may not. Sometimes what that looks like is your coach explicitly NOT giving you the answers or helping you in any obvious way (read, this doesn't mean they ignore you or take on some other punishing archetype, either), other than to lovingly trust in your knowing until you trust in it yourself, and potentially reassuring you by reminding you to be patient. This can look unloving especially to those of us who come from codependent backgrounds, but it's actually the opposite.

Once this level of relating is established in a coach-client relationship, connection becomes nourishing, self-sustained, and profound. And then with practice in this container, you as the client learn how to bring it back into your daily lives.

This freeing up of emotional energy (entropy) can unleash HUGE amounts of creative force you didn't even know you had, now backed by your belief in your own capability. THIS is how transformation sustains itself and perpetuates.

3. Coaching is not teaching.

While it is true that a good teacher usually involves coaching, the opposite is not necessarily true.

It is tempting as a coach to take on the authoritative role of "teacher" in a coaching relationship. After all, people are paying us because they want to know what we know, right?

Wrong. (See point 1.)

On the surface, you think you are paying us to know what we know (the proverbial regurgitation teaching method). But actually you are paying us because you want to know HOW we know what we know.

In layman speak: you want access to you own intuition, to your truth, to your primal man/woman.

It is our job as coaches to stop dicking around and blowing hot air into our own balloons and instead give you what you may not yet know that you want.

What does this look like? This looks like saying the truth to you, even when it's hard to say or for you to hear (and subsequently, knowing when something is outside of your hearing level and waiting to say it even if it's obvious to us, until you can actually hear it).

This looks like experientially showing you what staying connected in the full range of emotional expression is.

This looks like sometimes NOT putting our own words to your experience for you, and letting you struggle through not yet having the language or comprehensive understanding of what's going on (and knowing that you'll definitely get it in hindsight).

This looks like having our sensors all the way out as a coach and pointing out when something has energetically shifted in a conversation, so that you know we can feel you, and asking you, lovingly - genuinely - about it.

This means that ALL CONTENT AND CONCEPTS ARE MUTUALLY GENERATED.

It is not my job to come up with curriculum for a coaching session, it's yours. It's my job to make space for you to go at the exact pace you need to in order to unfold (and that could be slower or faster than you think you're capable of going), and to meet you in the present moment every step of the way. The experiential learning here is intimacy, truth, awareness, affirmation, and when necessary, adjustment, and scrutiny. The curriculum is your present day life.

Creating a teacher/student dynamic in a coaching relationship can be detrimental to your growth. It creates dependance when the opposite should be the goal. It implies some level of dominance and submission, which can have all sorts of backlash, especially if it's also partnered with advice-giving, diagnostic/prescriptive advising, consultation, and emotional intervention/enmeshment. 

4. Coaching is not therapy, however, it IS therapeutic. 

Therapy: How do you stop being your worst self?

Coaching: How do you start being your best self?

Therapy: takes the stinger out of the bee sting

Coaching: puts honey on the sting, and identifies where the bee's nest is. 

Therapy: heals childhood trauma/conditioning so that we can enter recovery

Coaching: helps you discover how your childhood trauma/conditioning is a gift.

Therapy: assumes lack of sovereignty and follows protocol

Coaching: assumes sovereignty and uses infinite playing field

Therapy: survive.

Coaching: thrive. 

...you get the idea...

It's easy to assume these are apples and oranges, but actually, it's like apples and metaphysics. 

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To sum it up:

A consultant prescribes medicine for your heart palpitations. 

A teacher teaches you about the anatomy and physiology of a heart.

A codependent prevents you from feeling your heart.

A therapist helps you recover from a heart attack so that your heart beats normally without interruption.

A coach asks: "What does your heart want?" and then helps light the pathway to get there. 

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We WANT you to be able to scrutenize our sight, use your own language for your own experience, and challenge us on things that don't land perfectly. 

This is how you grow your own wings and eventually learn to fly. And incidentally, this is also how we as coaches continue to grow.