iOn the Contrary-i The Coach Approach

July 1, 2000
It’s Friday afternoon, 5 o’clock,and instead of thinking about what I’m going to do tonight or what I’m goingto do this weekend, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with the rest ofmy life. Again.

    This has been arecurring theme of mine since, oh, about age five. That was the year my GrandmaGina, a large, well-dressed woman who favored emerald jewelry and single-maltscotch, first started asking me what I was going to be when I grew up. No matterhow I answered the question, it was always wrong.

    “Veterinarian?”I’d venture. “Veterinarian!!!” she’d bellow. “Why spend all thoseyears in medical school only to work on mangy old housepets? Why don’t youbecome a neurologist or pediatrician?”

    “Interiordecorator?” I’d suggest. “An interior what!!!! What kind of brains doesthat job require?”

    Grandma’s longgone, but I still intermittently hear her voice urging me to carefully evaluateand, more important, plan my career decisions. So, having just turned 40, Ihired a personal coach to help me design the next phase of my career.

    I don’t know howother people hire coaches, but I used a highly scientific process: I calledseveral people whose names I got online at and chose the onewho liked my voice. Her name is Susan. We’ve planned to talk three times amonth by phone.

    I’ve justcompleted my second call with Susan and two things strike me. First, afterlistening to me for just 10 minutes, she was able to succinctly summarize thecareer issues I’m facing. I had hoped that Susan would say, “Oh Shari, theseare highly complicated and unique challenges you’re facing. This will take along time to sort out.” Instead, I got a three-point checklist of extremelyordinary career issues: maintaining balance, finding meaning, and breakingdestructive habits.

    Second, she didn’ttell me anything I didn’t already know. I’ve written about career issues foryears and I know how to make positive job changes. So why didn’t I do thesethings? For the same reasons other people don’t: fear, laziness, uncertainty,lack of focus, lack of objectivity, and the fact that there was no one holdingme accountable.

    This is where Susancomes in. By confiding in someone with no vested interest in my career -- or mylife, for that matter -- I get kind, objective feedback that neutralizes fearand uncertainty. Because I’m paying Susan, we spend the entire time focusingon my issues. And I’m not obliged to ask Susan about her marriage or job atthe end of our conversation. And because we’re scheduled to talk almost once aweek, I’m more likely to complete assignments that will move my careerforward.

    Some people scoff atpersonal coaching as just another form of self-indulgence enjoyed by the samepeople who hire personal trainers, housecleaners, and massage therapists. But Ithink it’s far more indulgent to wallow in self-pity and not do anything aboutit.

    Also, personalcoaching is not psychotherapy. It’s not about attributing my problems to thefact that I wasn’t asked to the junior prom until two days before the eventand only then by someone who looked eerily like Roddy

    McDowall in Planetof the Apes. Instead, coaching is about looking forward and taking action in thepresent.

    Furthermore, to hirea coach is not to abdicate responsibility and hand your career issues over tosomeone else to solve. Crummy jobs are not like rumpled shirts that can be takento the dry cleaners. Creating a fulfilling work life takes a great deal ofresponsibility and personal time and attention. Coaches merely facilitate theprocess.

    My Grandma Ginainstilled in me the sense that life -- and work -- should be experienced on aconscious level, and that we alone are responsible for our circumstances. It’snot easy. Blaming a bad boss, a bad marriage, office politics, overwork, moneyissues, time constraints, a bad haircut, old clothes, and the fact that you’retoo old to change is so much more seductive. But in the long run, where does itget you?

    So here I am,staring out the window at the couple across the street getting into their whitevan and heading, probably, to a nice Friday night dinner. Instead of worryingabout which restaurant I’m going to, I’m thinking about the future. Still.And it feels good.

Workforce, July 2000, Vol 79,No 7, p. 14 SubscribeNow!