I reached my breaking point on vacation. The resort was an island paradise where I thought I could leave work stress behind and relax. Sadly, neither rum drinks nor steel-drum melodies could drown out my restlessness. I heard every breeze whisper, Something has to change.
But what? And how? I didn’t know where to begin. An internet search led me to Diane Thibodeau at LifeWizard Coaching Services. During an introductory call, I said I needed clarity and an action plan — and I needed them ASAP. Her response surprised me.
“Yeaahhh,” Thibodeau said slowly. “That’s not how I work.”
She described herself as a co-active coach, meaning she treats her clients as equals rather than acting as an expert to them. “We are partners in this journey,” Thibodeau explained. “My job is to help you rediscover the person you are and find the courage to change. You can’t do that if I give you all the answers.”
I wish it was easy as Flora, Fauna and Merryweather scattering some magic about. But it wasn't. I was burning out from a three-decade marketing career and couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there was something else I was meant to do. It turns out that’s one of the biggest reasons people want to work with a life coach, especially in these times. The pandemic has drawn people to reconsider the values they apply to their lives—to career, family, community and self-care.
“People who call me want a life that is in service to who they really are,” Thibodeau told me. “They’re changing their expectations from should do to choices that resonate with who they want to be.”
But what if you don’t know who you want to be? This may be a good time to work with a coach: when you are drawn to change but something is holding you back, or you’re ready to write a second (or third) life chapter and feel blocked in making the first move. The right coach can help you understand what’s holding you back and help you move forward—and may even help you surprise yourself.
I’d wanted certainty and a plan. I looked for someone to give the signs and call the plays. After all, isn’t that what coaches do? Not necessarily. That’s one of a few discoveries I made while working with one.
- Expect more questions than answers
A life coach asks thought-provoking questions. I thought my coach would tell me what to do about my career. Instead, she asked, “Do you need my permission to change?” Through the discussion that followed, I learned to stop rushing to conclusions and spend my energy building a better relationship with the only person who had the authority to decide: me.
- You can’t hide
I’m pretty wily about hiding my vulnerability. But my coach promised she would call me on my crap, and she did. Despite my best efforts to shield myself from risk—I can’t. That’s not possible. What will people think?—she saw right through my excuses and challenged me to go outside my comfort zone.
- Prepare for deep work
I wanted to talk about my career—just my career—but skimming the surface wasn’t helpful. “Life coaching is your whole life,” my coach said. She encouraged me to dig deeply and helped me identify the fears that had been holding me back. Life coaching isn’t therapy, however. Seek out a licensed professional for help with any mental health issues.
- There are no quick fixes
I can still hear my coach’s voice every time I get impatient. “Stop steamrolling your life!” Thibodeau told me. I thought I’d wanted instant clarity and an action plan, but time to rest my mind has since become core to my midlife reinvention. Although taking action is important, as she reminded me, “Follow-through is the key to lasting change.”
Women are constantly striving. We cheer one another on (and compete!) toward some imaginary finish line in games like appearance, family and career. Yes, a professional coach can help you with strategies to achieve specific life goals, too—from building a business to building killer abs. Finding a coach isn’t hard. In its “2020 Coaching Study,” the International Coaching Federation counted more than 23,000 practicing coaches in North America.
Finding a coach who’s right for you, however, requires preparation.
- Define your criteria. Just as you might have standards or ideals for a life partner, consider the values you’d want a coach to have. Also, think about logistics. Do you want to meet in person? Via video conference? Or would a phone conversation suffice? How much can you afford in money and time to give to the process?
- Search the internet or get recommendations from friends and colleagues to find candidates. Then check their websites and social media to see whom you feel drawn to. As my coach once told me, “Don’t think, just intuit.”
- Schedule introductory phone calls. Once you’ve narrowed the list to three candidates, check your intuition against your criteria. Look for someone you connect with but who will also challenge you.
When I interviewed Diane Thibodeau, she told me nothing I wanted to hear. I hired her anyway—partly because we connected on a human l level, but also because I knew she would tell me what I needed to hear.
With coaching, I resolved my career burnout by uncovering a creative part of myself that was longing to be set free. Within a year after my sessions began, I quit my job without a plan for what would come next and felt great about my (in)decision.
More surprising to me: I now say yes to things that used to scare me—like leading a workshop, submitting my writing for publication, or hiking 52 miles in the Maine wilderness—all because of the tools I gathered from my life wizard.