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Why I Didn't Want to Call Myself a "Life Coach"

“Who isn’t trying to be a life coach right now?” I asked my friend and hiking companion last April as we contemplated our respective career paths.

Since about 2006, I’ve known at least 15 people who have quit their jobs to become life coaches. I remember the first time a friend told me he was going that route. He was even going to grad school for it. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that enough people had even heard the term to make it a lucrative or worthwhile path, much less that there was a graduate program built around it. Of course, that was me judging. I thought: “Isn’t it sort of admitting failure if I need a coach to guide me through my life? It’s like admitting that I suck at something that everyone else appears to be really good at!” (especially if you spend a lot of time on Facebook.)

Nevertheless, I was still intrigued. “What does a life coach actually do?” I asked the next time I talked to him, trying to make the question sound innocent instead of judge-y.

“Well … ” he started. And then went into a long explanation that would have sounded to most people like Charlie Brown’s teacher talking (wah, wah.) It was all “coach speak” on the surface. Deeper down, it sounded really mushy and woo-woo. Not that I wasn’t into that, but I didn’t feel like it was something people would take seriously. And I wanted desperately to be taken seriously at that point in my career. The woo-woo shit I could do at home and keep to myself, but I wasn’t about to advertise that kind of mush on my LinkedIn profile.

Since then, it seems there have been coaches popping up for EVERYTHING. Life coaches, business coaches, career coaches, transition coaches, relationship coaches, parenting coaches, strategy coaches, executive coaches, performance coaches, wealth coaches, nutrition coaches, mastermind coaches, success coaches -- they're like apps (you name it ... there's a coach for that!) And the market for a little woo-woo mixed in with your standard business team-building is exploding. So, awesome. Everybody's doing it now!

But, one really off-putting aspect of this industry is, ANYONE can do it. The barriers to entry are incredibly low for someone who wants to call him- or herself a coach. And there’s A LOT of crap out there. But for anyone who’s experienced the power of good coaching, you know just how awesome coaching can be. Despite the best efforts of lots of organizations to regulate it, to offer certifications and ratings for coaches, the industry remains the wild west, and anything goes. Here’s the thing though … it’s really difficult to be a successful coach if you are not genuine, if you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you haven’t done the work yourself. And if you’ve ever gotten “sold” by a bad one, I’m so sorry. I'm sure it left a bad taste in your mouth.

Doing research on the industry, I came across so many of those! It was mind-blowing how cheesy, and inauthentic, and used-car-salesy they were. And yet they must be doing something right because they appear to have tons of customers and really expensive, high-end programs! And I can see how anyone who’s feeling really down and desperate might be susceptible to their ploys and their wild promises. But if you’re not in that place, it’s easy to see right through the screens.

I just didn’t want to be lumped in with them. This industry might appear to have a pretty bad reputation depending on who you ask. I mean, look how skeptical I was, at first! I didn’t want to have to defend my career choice based on the perception that life coaches are like snake oil salesmen or that they are all part of some big pyramid scheme. So maybe I should just keep calling myself a consultant who works with entrepreneurs and small businesses. But as I dug further, I realized there is a fundamental difference between consulting and coaching, and the former just wasn’t going to cut it for me anymore. (I have an entire post coming up soon that will explore this topic in depth, so if you’re curious, stay tuned!)

Business coaching (consulting) was something I’d been doing off and on, full-time and as a side-gig for years, but I could never bring myself to call it coaching. I did some “career coaching” with my business partner in 2009 and in that case, we did refer to it as coaching. It just felt appropriate. I mean, what else would we call it? Together we created a safe space for our clients to see themselves more clearly. We asked for more intentional thought, action and behavior changes than our clients would have asked of themselves. We helped them clarify their goals, build an action plan, and then held them accountable for the results. And our clients all got the jobs they wanted! It was incredibly satisfying, and I loved the work.

But when my own coach said to me in early 2016, “I really see you being a great coach. I mean you could be coaching people right now,” I cringed. Clearly the stigma around the word was still strong.

Then, maybe a month later, I was on a hike with a friend who was talking about his new path to being a life coach, and he said something about always having seen me as the coaching type. I told him I’d done some work like that in the past, but I felt like a fraud. I had just been laid off. How am I going to coach someone else to get their shit together, when I don’t have my own shit together?!? He said something about me being really hard on myself and probably having my shit together way more than I was giving myself credit for.

Have you ever noticed that the things you resist most tend to just keep showing up in your life until you address them? Well, that’s what happened with me and coaching. I was on my way to developing an awesome product with a huge market and totally untapped potential. NOBODY was making this product!

I didn’t want to be a coach, I wanted to launch my awesome product and make lots of money. I didn’t want to be the face of my brand, or put my personal story out there when I could avoid it and do something relatively anonymous that would allow me to live quietly the life I had always dreamed of, without being in the limelight. Why would I want to be so vulnerable?

But as I kept plugging along, it kept coming up. With all the work I’d been doing on myself, I had new tools to offer my friends when they’d come to me with a problem. After I helped them, they’d be like, “Wow, you’re really good at this. You should consider coaching!” What? Seriously?!? Why do people keep saying that?

And then one day, suddenly it all clicked. I didn’t want to keep doing what I was doing just to get by. I realized my product idea was going to take a lot more time and a lot more money than I had hoped. I did not want to go back to working a full-time job for someone else. I did want to keep making a big difference in people’s lives. I did have my act together way more than I was giving myself credit for. I realized I was already coaching people and had been all along, and it suddenly it all made sense. I had to go for it! Six months after having that conversation with my buddy on the hike, here I am, having just officially launched my coaching practice. I’m a business coach and a life coach for entrepreneurs. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier to be right HERE right NOW.

More next week on what coaches actually do, and how it’s both the same as and different from consulting (and therapy.)


Meanwhile, what are your thoughts? What do you think of when you hear the term “life coach?” I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!