Nine out of ten people ask me– “What is Life Coaching?” – when I tell them it’s my vocation. And it’s a good question. Honestly, I still don’t fully know the answer. I do know that coaching is a mysterious and deeply intuitive way of being with another human being, and that it can be incredibly effective when the match is right between client and coach. Also, I know that it looks different every time; there is no codified way to be with a client that will always work, so I am required to listen with every cell in my being for what wants to happen next.
No two meetings with clients have ever been the same in my experience. This isn’t to say it’s a free-for-all – structure, training, and tools will only enhance a deeply engaged intuition as a coach, and my training through Falling Awake, led by Dave Ellis, was invaluable. But, as with any art form, training and the known must be dropped when the moment calls for fresh, authentic action. So that’s what I strive for – to meet clients newly every moment, hearing the deepest calling in what they are sharing, and reflecting that back to them. My goal as a coach is singular and steady: I want the client to come out of each session with a more direct experience of who he or she really is.
Now what does that actually mean, in practical terms? Sometimes it looks like an hour of talking, laughing, and celebrating what is already working well. There is an alchemical, tonic effect in shifting awareness to celebration that is revolutionary for some people. They realize there is actually no problem where they had thought one existed; a deeper intelligence is moving and all is well; they can relax and enjoy instead of continuing to imagine things to worry about. A warm relief emerges.
Other times, coaching session serves to host a deeper experience of emotional release than would be allowed if the client were alone or with anyone else. In this there is freedom of emotional movement, instead of freezing tension into the body or mind. Often what’s left in the wake of deep feeling and emotional release is a sense of spaciousness. In this, a simpler and more intuitive knowing can arise for the client. Sometimes, coaching looks like setting goals and creating practical steps to achieve those goals; other times it is digging down to discover the long-hidden assumption that might have forever hindered the goal from being reached. The discovery of this assumption can provide an opportunity for new ways of being to emerge, possibly leading to the original goal. Or, perhaps the goal is now seen to be obsolete, and a new direction reveals itself for the client.
Life Coaching can be like a collaborative treasure hunt for the truth. Some sessions are serious, some playful, and some both. I always want to stick to the bigger picture of what the client ultimately wants, while also following the thread of what’s coming up between us moment to moment.
So is a Life Coach like a good friend mixed with a therapist? Kind of. Except I am not trained to work with mental illness or to diagnose, and I will serve your vision and true self more pointedly than is usually expected of a friend. I am only (but very) confident in working with high-functioning, healthy people who want to blossom or to deepen, and are therefore seeking support from a professional. People with more serious mental or emotional concerns I will refer to a licensed therapist, who know that terrain. I would not want to lead a trek on a mountain whose paths I have not already traversed myself.
Here’s a metaphor for the transformation that’s possible through Life Coaching:
the client is a glowing, alive, radiantly true being, wrapped inside layers of habituated identity, protective personas, and fear of revealing the honesty at her core. With the time, focus, and clear reflection from coach to client, the false layers fall off in a natural and healthy way. With consistent attention to this process – one hour a week for six months, usually – the untrue aspects of the client cannot survive. They realize they don’t exist. They are peeled away, chopped off, dissolve, or simply slide off like old skin, as the client remembers who he was born to be. This may sound lofty, but it is the possibility that burns in my heart as a coach.
One more thing I know about Life Coaching is that my way is certainly not the way, and that there are as many approaches as there are practicing coaches. This is why perhaps the most important thing about coaching is that the client and coach are right for each other, as in any intimate relationship. When the match is right, when the chemistry is on, it rings like a bell in the coaching space. Something beyond the two separate selves emerges, and that’s why true transformation is possible.
Brooke Gessay is a dance artist and teacher, as well as a CHA graduate scholar and MFA candidate in dance at CU Boulder. She is also a Life Coach and newly a student of Zen.