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Confessions of an ex-life coach: “I’m very glad I got out of it”

We’ve poked fun at life coaches before at GrowthLab, but now we’d like to go deeper and show exactly why someone chooses the profession and how exactly they make their money.

That’s why we talked to one ex-life coach to give you the unvarnished truth about the fear and pain of what she went through — and what drove her to life coaching.

“When we make decisions out of desperation,” she explains, “we make poor decisions.”

While her experience is her own, we believe it’s emblematic of a larger truth: Those who get into the profession often find the experience worse than what they expected.

Why I became a “life coach”

As told to Tony Ho Tran

I became a full-time life coach for the same reason a lot of people become life coaches: Desperation.

Around 2009 when the recession hit, I first got started with life coaching on the side. I had been working in government before then. During this time, a friend of mine suggested life coaching to me. She did executive coaching and made her living off of it.

After researching it more and talking to her, I figured life coaching used my natural skills like good communication — though in different ways. So I dabbled in it a little, never really taking it very seriously and taking on a few free clients.

Then in 2013, I got laid off.

When you get to a place where you’re out of work and you didn’t expect it, you go to a bad place mentally. I went from a steady, six-figure income and being the primary breadwinner between my husband and me … to zero income.

I got a little bit depressed because of this, and it started to affect different things in my life. My husband and I had just bought a house literally days before I got laid off so I also had to worry about paying off my half of the mortgage.

I had less flexibility in time and money too, and I couldn’t do things I loved like traveling. So I started to look for something to fill the gap and help me cope.

That’s when I turned to being a full-time life coach.

How I made my money

I didn’t want to do anything crazy like become famous with my coaching, but I thought I could turn it into something great. I looked at people like Tony Robbins and how he created a movement. I figured I could do a smaller version of that.  

With life coaching, I figured it was a way to earn enough, pay my bills, travel again, and do whatever I wanted with my time — and also help people.

A lot of my work was with veterans and my first few clients were pro bono. When I started, I knew I needed a few coaching clients to “practice.” So I reached out to friends and family and worked with them for free.

I struggled with a few of my first clients. I remember I had a conversation with one after a session that I thought went really well, but then at the end, they told me, “That didn’t really help me.” 

I’m very happy they were honest with me in retrospect, but I felt almost self-defensive at the time. I started projecting all of my fears and the things I’m not good at onto that person. I could feel myself physically cringing as my pride took a hit. But I also recognized their criticism was warranted. So I bit my tongue and I took some time to process it. But still it was tough to hear.

That wasn’t the only tough client I had. Sometimes a client and a life coach just don’t match personalities and there’s more friction. But that client sticks out because I also knew them personally before.    

Eventually, I was able to expand by leveraging my network and referrals. I began to scale. I started small with $50 an hour. Then it went to $100 an hour. Then that became a few hundred dollars an hour. It was a gradual thing.

Like any freelance work, though, you’re going to have lean periods and I failed HARD my first year. Sometimes I took on a client only to realize that I needed three more to make my bills for the month.

When your bank statements are constantly going down instead of up, you realize something’s wrong. People who have gone through periods of being poor will understand. You do that numbers dance where you’re constantly moving things around. “Oh if I move these few pennies from this account to that account I’ll be able to pay for groceries this week.”

There wasn’t exactly one moment I realized this, but after many bank statements and tough client interactions I knew something needed to change.

Why I got out

Remember when I said that that desperation was the reason I got into life coaching? It was also the reason I got out.

There’s always the challenge of having clients whose personalities you just don’t match with. And in situations where desperation is driving you, you end up taking on bad clients just because you need the money. This leads to bad relationships and a lot of baggage for you to deal with.

I found myself becoming their therapist instead of their coach. Instead of helping them work through a problem, you become an emotional punching bag — consoling them and trying to help them justify why you’re taking their money.

It’s very emotionally draining. It doesn’t give you joy or space to breathe when you feel depressed or anxious yourself. You end up taking on too much.

People who do coaching, by and large, are very empathetic individuals. They want to help. That’s a big reason why they get into it. But that caretaker mentality can make it really personal so you have to be careful. There’s a fine line between coach and friend. You don’t want to be both.

I remember once I had a client who was in danger of hurting themselves and others. I knew I couldn’t adequately support them. So I referred them to a medical professional who could. That’s the smart thing to do but some life coaches might not do that though or realize when they can’t help a client.

Desperation is what drives a lot of people to life coaching. It’s an easy label to give yourself. You don’t need certification. You don’t even need experience. If you’re just calling yourself a life coach and not taking the time to position yourself and educate yourself on what you’re a coach for, it’s not good.

When we make decisions out of desperation, we make poor decisions.

That realization is what got me out of it. It didn’t feel like a right fit anymore. I knew I could use my skill sets in a better way.

I was lucky to have a partner and husband to help support me throughout my time as a life coach. Not everyone has the same support system I had though. My husband was very supportive of what I wanted to do and I could lean on him during the down times. But some people still have a mortgage and family to pay for.  

What to do if you want to be a life coach

To this day, when people ask me if they should be a life coach I give them a very short answer: Don’t. 

I loved a lot of the work I did, but people who want to be life coaches are likely coming to it with the same desperation I had, which isn’t good for anyone.

In the end, I enjoyed my work — but am very glad I got out of it.

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Ryan WEgenast

WOW!

I’m a huge fan, follower, and spend cash often on Growthlab & IWT, but this is one “Ugh” article.

It doesn’t add any value to your brand and the energy coming off of it doesn’t match the brilliance and excellence of Growthlab or Ramit.

I also TOTALLY GET IT! “Life Coaching” is a funny space.

The title should read:

“Confession of an Ex-life coach that needed a Life Coach and I’m very glad I got out of it because I shouldn’t have been in the business to begin with.”

Any profession the writer would have tried to birth from a place of desperation was bound to be a total flop, coaching just happen to be his “random” choice! I would avoid demonizing coaching, in the right place with the right person it has awesome value!

This article could have been extremely powerful through the value of “OWNERSHIP”!

If the writer would have just owned up to the fact that they weren’t ready or made a bad decision out of desperation, there was a hint of it – Kind of! Yall could have done some really impactful “Life / BIZ Lessons” on the POWER of OWNERSHIP with this article.

Instead of blaming the outer structure “coaching” and owning the inner structure, “SELF”!

4 Take Aways from a 6++ figure “Coach”:

1. “it didn’t feel like a right fit anymore. I knew I could use my skill sets in a better way.”

All great coaches have mastered the art of ownership. Just own it! Own that you fucked up, own that you gave it a go out of the wrong vibration, not to get all ZEN, but figure out how you need to flow that energy or you will likely repeat this in your next venture in some way.

2. “you become an emotional punching bag”

I’ll actually offer 4 weeks of coaching for free to the writer because this makes me sad as Hell! When you are your clearest and Highest self – there is no time to be anyone’s punching bag, especially your own! (Current four week pricing for my coaching 5k-10k…Insane right?)

3. “Desperation is what drives a lot of people to life coaching. It’s an easy label to give yourself. You don’t need certification. You don’t even need experience.”

YOU ACTUALLY NEED LOTS OF EXPERIENCE, AND NOT JUST ANY EXPERIENCE, THE RIGHT EXPERIENCES

4. “I took on a client only to realize that I needed three more to make my bills for the month.”

Coaching is not like UBER – you’re not randomly driving people around, or maybe the coach was! You don’t pick up extra shifts to pay the bills. Coaching is a such a vibrational occupation, if you take on clients to pay the bills, you have already lost. Good News – that can change!

5.“To this day, when people ask me if they should be a life coach I give them a very short answer: Don’t.”

Great! Don’t do it if your depressed or desperate and haven’t figured out what your genius in life is yet – VERY TRUE!

Great! Do it if you have hired a coach, (you can’t ask someone to hire you, if you haven’t done it yourself, good luck with that.) Have tons of personal transformational experience, spent time around other coaches, aren’t depressed or desperate, have figured out your genius, people generally wanna hang out with you because of your “genius”, and you enjoy the process of hearing yes, no, maybe and then only finding those who want to say yes.

Sean Blanda

Ryan, love love love the thoughtful comment. I’m the editor of GL and I’d like to share some insight as to why we assigned this.

Mainly: in the coaching space the information people choose to share is overwhelmingly positive. Yet we see lots of folks decide it’s not for them and those stories often aren’t represented.

So, this isn’t meant to be an indictment of the coaching space. (We actually have several articles about how awesome coaching is.) But this is a data point to consider and a story to highlight.

I’d love to hear about the positive stories around coaching you think we’re missing. And feel free to email me at [email protected].

Ryan Wegenast

Hi Sean,

Yes, we’ve swapped emails a few times – Love your work, keep going…

Totally get it…I’ll also own that this was a V1 response.

I don’t think it’s indictment of the coaching space at all. I’d actually love to hear more of people’s and coaches negatives experiences – I really love the “Raw” life lesson stuff, I think we all want to “See in” a little more.

Again it’s not so much about the positive or negative. From an avid reader, I think anything negative – with an ending that creates space for growth or creativity is super inspiring.

-Cheers.

As a California licensed attorney who has had to coach people in, around, and through legal issues, I’ve found the roles of coach and “counselor at law” or legal advisor often overlap. Clients fail to appreciate the role of one versus the other. I’m in the midst of totally updating my website, branding, etc and hope to clarify this.

Most people assume they cannot afford both an attorney for representation and one as a “counselor at law” or “legal coach” and it costs them more money later. Basically, as the law increases in complexity people should have a generalist who can help pick a specialist, just like many small businesses or corporations have both in-house counsel and outside counsel.

The counselor at law (or inside counsel) can help hold the outside counsel accountable to the user’s true end goals. Inside counsel (or a counselor at law) might help you find that you don’t even need to hire outside counsel. In such cases, the potential value or savings can be near 100% off – because you knew the limits of litigation (and typically the answer is NOT so simple as “I never go to court, it’s just not worth it for me or my business”).

I found the article helpful and hope Growth Lab will include more stories that are “negative” about coaching. I applaud the author for being so open; his writing pushed me to think. Eg – as a coach, what value am I offering to people? Since many people don’t understand the value (and assume that one attorney can do both without a serious conflict of interest), should I continue to offer such services?

Hi
well i don’t think this article is about coaching, it’s about “how a person desperate to pay their bills tried something, without proper education or training in it, and failed” … this shouldn’t be used as a judgement that coaching is a bad profession or that it is ineffective in helping people
Regards

Totally agree with Lobna and Ryan. The author sounds as if she wouldn’t be successful at anything. She should seek out a therapist for self-esteem issues.

Best, Sabine

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