Sarah Nagaty: After all the years of making fun of life coaching, I realized it works!

 I can’t remember the first time I heard about life coaching. I know that it started out as early as the 1980s in its current systematic form.  If someone as successful as Madonna says she uses a life coach, then why wouldn’t I? 

I was always skeptical about the trend which became increasingly popular in the past few years as it sounded … pseudoscience much?!

The con artists

Those who called their coaches “gurus” described to me the sessions they paid loads for as something mystical.You can almost smell the burning of sage and hear the sound baths in the background. Things such as “depression” and “anxiety” sounded completely mishandled in those sessions. I have nothing against sage (nor against burning it), but setting fire to herbs while announcing to somebody that they have been living outside their own bodies won’t treat mental health issues.

The corporate style

There was also the other type of coaching which involved working on a set of skills for one’s personal or professional life. People either receive this type of coaching through their workplace (for example, their employer suggests to them coaching sessions on a specific topic) or personally hire someone to be their life coach. 

Over the last couple of weeks, I found out that my job offers us free coaching sessions. I checked out the platform and I found coaches available for a variety of topics: work-life balance, career building, proposal writing, etc. My aim was to find someone who can advise me on pursuing my interests for a living.

In other words, I wanted the company to pay a coach to help me leave them. They don’t know that, but there is a chance they now do.

(Dear company, I am only saying that to spice up the article, you guys remain the one and only!) 

Getting coached

I am someone who strongly believes in therapy. I don’t find more effective ways to enhance the quality of one’s life. So as you may imagine, I started out a bit cynical about getting coached (at least for the first half of the first session).

However, the experience was totally worth it.

In fact, I feel a little embarrassed for having judged life coaching the way I did before (except for the ones involving sage, I still judge those).

 You know this moment in life when you just need someone to tell you what to do? No, not someone to tease it out of you; not someone to think out loud with you, but someone who knows what they are doing and willing to treat you like a 6-year–old: “Brush your teeth and go to bed.”

And even though you know very well that you need to brush your teeth before going to bed, you actually needed to hear it this time because you ran out of self-motivation. 

My coach realized with me that I needed an action plan.

Her plan for me didn’t look much different from the one I had for myself. However, it involved different ways of going about the same goals as well as eliminating all the necessary bits and pieces involved in my plan. For example, I know I need to network more and I know that I am rubbish at it. I thought that I have been networking for the last year or more quite well. My coach drew my attention to how I “under-sell” myself as I network. 

She paused and said to me: “Your choice of words completely belittles your achievements. This probably means that your CV also undersells you. I need to check your CV out and we need to change the way you network.”

Coaching versus therapy

It is not that I didn’t know these things; it is that I have been going about resolving them in the exact same ways over and over again. While my therapist spoke to me about patterns of behavior I tend to repeat or intrusive thoughts which compromise my professional or personal plans, my coach was mainly focused on giving me a big kick and making me “do” particular things.

That is the difference between life coaching and therapy: Your therapist can’t tell you what to do, your coach can punch you in the face to do it. 

Coaching was useful in redirecting my energy to concrete tasks. I no longer think of it as pseudoscience, but I find it a much needed outsider’s perspective using a specific skill set to guide you when you lose track of the way.

I can’t judge yet how helpful this experience will be for me. My coach seems quite certain of her ability to help me. She said she will get me there whether I carry on these sessions with her or not (it sounded a bit threatening, but also reassuring).

And I am willing to accept her re-assuring threats or whatever other odds which may work for the time being. 


Read more from Sarah here in Dispatches’ archives.

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Sarah Nagaty has a PhD in cultural studies, She’s lived in Portugal for six years.

As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.

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