Lately I seem to have encountered a number of people who want to be life coaches. They generally impress me as being alert, intelligent, insightful, and caring people of above average social adjustment. Occasionally, one will be a tad on the zealous side, displaying the fervor of the recently converted, but for the most part, they have definitive life skills that they would like to share with others. I am very glad these folk are in the world.
As for me, my office is intentionally client-centered. Few demands on my time can trump the needs of a person who walks into my office with an issue that has some relation to my function—employment, entrepreneurship, difficulty of finding space, conflicts with co-workers, need for training. Sometimes, I get caught up in personal tragedy less overtly linked to my role. It’s not that I mind any of it, not exactly, but the drain on my time and energy can be substantial.
I have one of those faces, you see. The kind face that somehow encourages a homeless man to walk from the far end of the subway car to talk to me, to tell me how he came to be living on the street. The open demeanor that says “Tell me all. I want to help.” A friend recently convinced me—if only for a few days—that it wasn’t that I attract people who need to talk; rather, she opined, people who need to talk will talk to everyone. It is just that I let them. Why?
I let people talk because I have a soft heart. I let them talk because they need to talk. I let people talk because occasionally I have a skill to share. I just let people talk. Sometimes they solve their own problems and thank me for it, but more often they not only don’t do what I suggest, but somehow feel driven to explain to me that I am wrong. Well, okay. I am learning not to be surprised that most people don’t really want new ideas, they just want to talk, and a non-judgmental person like me is a prize audience. I am cautious about whether or not I have skills to offer, or even whether I have adequate skills myself to deal with some of the things with which I am tasked. And I am very cautious about playing God with other lives, assuming that I know how it is to be in some of the ever so daily tragedies that play out in human lives around me. I don’t know how it is, and I don’t know what to say.
Over the last several months, I have become comfortable with taking on less. I don’t do financial models for clients—they need to have their own modeler. I don’t try to figure out clients’ accounting issues or their hiring problems or even how their website should look. Rather I refer them to the specialists—the bookkeepers and recruiters and web developers and marketing consultants and others—whatever they need to move their businesses to the next level. Perhaps I should add a category for personal coach. While it is difficult to displace a clingy client onto a professional clearly in the mental health arena, perhaps a more neutral helper will be able to take over some of the long, long hours of listening. It’s not that I don’t care, it's not that I mind, but a more specialized and well trained resource can surely do a better job than a reluctant coach.