Ever considered getting a professional coach?
A coach can be a partner in finding happiness and professional success on your own terms. That’s a pretty powerful ally.
Nine years ago, I had a pretty clear vision for my life. I was an aid worker in Tajikistan for a US-government funded health project, helping health care workers do their jobs better through training and improving the systems they worked in. My plan was to keep on doing that, move up the ranks until I hit the level of seniority that defeated me or it was time to retire. I was doing good, inspiring work. But it was also narrow work, with a specific, difficult-to-quantify impact. It left me cynical and emotionally drained.
Then, in 2009, I was selected as a TED Fellow. Attending the TED conference in Mysore, India, alongside some of my role models helped me to realize that I wanted a more complicated kind of career than the one I was currently building.
That’s where coaching came in.
As a TED Fellow, I received access to a coach — a professional trained in asking powerful questions. A good coach is a thinking partner, a source of outside perspective and a reality check. A coach can help you refine vague aspirations into actual plans. Your coach isn’t a guide. They’re a partner in figuring out your own stuff.
Most coaches prefer to work over the phone or Skype, although some people meet their coaches in person. A session takes 45 minutes to an hour, and it’s essentially a highly structured conversation. The client — that’s you — establishes the topic for the session, which might be a problem you’re facing at work, a decision you want to think through or an evaluation of the progress you’ve made towards a major goal. The coach will then talk you through a series of questions that help you clarify your thinking around that topic. At the end of the session, you establish a decision, plan or goal and commit to the actions you need to take to get to that goal.
Your coach isn’t a guide. They’re a partner in figuring out your own stuff.
Talking to a coach is different from talking to a friend. It’s a highly focused interaction. The coach will listen with complete attention and keep the discussion on topic. If things stray from the original subject, the coach will bring them back. The discussion doesn’t range widely across ideas; it goes deep into the one component of your life you need to think through the most.
Unlike a friend or relative, the coach doesn’t need you to like them. Unlike a colleague, the coach doesn’t need you to do a specific job or achieve a specific result. The only thing a coach wants is for you to find success and happiness on your own terms. That’s an incredibly powerful force to have in your life.
Now, I have to be honest: coaching can be very expensive. It starts at around $250 an hour, and senior coaches can cost far more. It’s the kind of investment in your future that you have to save up for. That being said, the TED Fellowship is not the only program that provides complimentary coaching to its participants. There is even a fellowship aimed at women that specifically funds coaching. Many companies have programs to provide coaching for their employees, and some coaches also accept pro bono or reduced-rate clients who work in social-benefit fields.
How did my coach help me? My coach and her insightful questioning helped me identify what my bigger, more complicated career was going to look like. With her help, I realized that my burnout stemmed from doing work that had no immediate visible results. I cared about changing things at a systemic level, but I also needed to see tangible results in my day-to-day life to stay energized. I also needed more variety; changing projects and topics helps me stay motivated.
The only thing a coach wants is for you to find success and happiness on your own terms. That’s an incredibly powerful force to have in your life.
Years later, I’ve gone from having one office job to juggling at least four from my laptop — including now being a professional coach myself. I still work in global health, but as a consultant — troubleshooting problems and designing programs. I’m a freelance journalist, too, and on the leadership team of a movement advocating for women in executive roles. I love all of it.
Of course, I’m only one example, and every coaching experience is different — but here are three things that one should look for in a coach:
1) Certification. There are a lot of questionable people calling themselves coaches. A coaching certification, like one from the International Coach Federation, is a sign of a coach who is trained and committed to a code of ethics.
2) A good fit. You need to feel safe and comfortable with your coach, so their personality and approach matter. Every good coach will agree to a phone interview before getting started; use that interview to get a sense of their style. Some coaches are forceful, high-energy personalities. You might respond well to that, or you might feel overwhelmed. Others take a gentler approach, which can make you feel comfortable but might not offer the motivation you need.
Your coach should be easy to talk to, even if they are asking hard questions. Some coaches take a spiritual approach, while others focus on psychology and neuroscience. Coaching also incorporates all kinds of tools — from personality testing to breath work — and you want a coach who uses tools that feel right to you. Don’t be afraid to shop around.
3) Experience. Certification and training help to create a good coach, but the other key is practice. You want a coach with years of experience, not months. I would aim for someone with at least five years of experience as a professional coach. If you have friends with coaches, you can ask for a recommendation. You can also use the International Coach Federation to find someone.
[Special Announcement]: Danielle N. Adams, TEDFellows Coach
I have been selected as one of fifty coaches from around the world for the TED Fellows Program. The Fellows Program helps world-changing innovators become part of the TED community and, with its help, amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities. Fellows are drawn from many disciplines that reflect the diversity of TED's members: technology, entertainment, design, the sciences, the humanities, the arts, NGOs, business, and more. The program includes individuals from all around the globe, from Asia/Pacific region, Africa, the Caribbean, The Americas, Europe, and the Middle East.
TED is all about 'ideas worth spreading' and does so through the TED Conferences and TED.com. Each year, thousands of people attend TED events and TED Talks and TED Talks attract millions of viewers worldwide. The SupporTED program was created to provide personal, professional coaching and mentoring to the TED Fellows to help amplify the impact of their projects and activities.
Although I cannot disclose who I have the pleasure of coaching, please know that I am honored to be recognized as a world-class coach and be selected to participate with the TED organization and its Fellows. Together we are co-creating success how they define it and design it!
This opportunity and distinction speaks to my mission to inspire, nurture, reset, and empower leadership, personal growth and professional development one question at a time. My vision is for professionals to achieve success and balance (qi), however they define it and design it, and it is my honor and privilege to give more power to a TED Fellows’ purpose.
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My ideal clients meet the following criteria: 1. My clients must be inspiring or have an inspiring mission. 2. They must make, or be ready to make a big impact. 3. They must be fun. 4. They must bring along a challenge. 5. And they must understand the power of commitment.