The Misconceptions of Coaching
Close your eyes (metaphorically; otherwise reading this will be a challenge), and picture a life coach. Can you see her? I can. She’s blonde and lean, somewhere in her twenties or thirties, tanned from her third beach yoga retreat of the year, and sipping on a green juice.
For a lot of people, this is the face of life coaching. But it’s just one of many preconceived notions and misconceptions about the coaching industry that do both coaches and prospective clients a monumental disservice. This issue is the natural outcome of the unregulated nature of the coaching industry. In the absence of any rules or a governing board providing barriers to entry, the criteria to be a life coach is… simply calling yourself a life coach.
Without a set of standardized qualifications to present to prospective clients, social media feeds take the place of resumés, and one’s life can become one’s sales pitch. Life coaches end up marketing themselves instead of their credentials. The focus shifts to living a highly Instagrammable life; to promoting their coaching services with the implicit or explicit promise that being coached by them will let people live a life just like theirs.
The Magic of Coaching Can’t Be Seen in a Photo
This prioritization of style over substance negatively impacts the profession in manifold ways. First and foremost, it is based on a totally erroneous conception of what coaching is.
It is the practice of artfully and safely guiding someone in unraveling the tangled threads of themselves, only to discover their most sacred and precious pearls within. It is being someone’s thinking partner, without projecting our own lived experiences onto them, as they discern and align their next best steps. It is being a catalyst of change for others as they reimagine their future, and, as a bonus, it’s having the honor of watching that future unfold. Coaching, when practiced in integrity, is pure magic.
Think of our profession as mechanics. Clients should come to us when there’s an issue because they trust our expertise and skills—not because coming to us means they leave the shop driving our car.
To further this analogy, have you seen what mechanics drive? Usually, it’s a decade-old base model, decidedly unflashy, but it runs like a dream. In the same way, great coaches lead deeply examined lives, are committed to self-work, looking inward, and taking personal responsibility for issues, setting healthy boundaries, and learning to live outside their comfort zone. These are incredible qualities, but they cannot be conveyed easily in pictures.
Please don’t read this as a wholesale denouncement of social media as a tool for your practice. Visibility is beneficial to a business, and it can be a great way to expose new audiences to the existence and abilities of a field that could help.
However, when a coach uses their social media feed for a formulaic presentation of their life as #goals, this does a disservice to them and their audience. The negative impact of “Highlight Reel”-style social media is so widely acknowledged that it hardly bears repeating here. But, as coaches, we must consider how our curation of the personal for use in the professional context is received. Is it a promise that they can copy your life with your guidance? That would be impossible and irresponsible.
Also, what if they don’t want to be you? Frankly, you’re not even the you that gets posted to social media.
If a client wants to work with me just because they see the “vacationing-with-my-cute-kids-and-loving-husband-makeup-wearing-hair-done” version of me, how can I show up in sessions authentically and confidently? I know full well that I’m the mom who always forgets it’s picture day at school, the woman who hasn’t seen the floor of her laundry room under piles of dirty clothing since buying the house, and the dog owner who brings her Labrador to a child’s soccer game without poop bags (and, yes, said Labrador promptly pooped right on the field).
What I have to offer as a coach has nothing to do with either of these versions of me, so neither polished Taryn nor poop bag Taryn should be of interest to clients. I keep my personal and professional profiles separate so that I can build a following based solely on the short and informative posts I make that are relevant to the field and hopefully add value centered on potential clients, not myself.
In the best-case scenario, a coach is posting a picture-perfect life that is an accurate representation of their reality. This has no bearing whatsoever on their ability as a coach. Maybe they’ve had no training, have no experience, or lack the temperament, objectivity, or skills to do this beautiful job well. Maybe they are as ignorant of what coaching is—and what it isn’t—as much of the general population.
We know that coaching isn’t giving advice, that it’s client-centered and client-driven. But to an uninformed amateur with a personal agenda and no ethics committee to answer to, it is dangerously easy to steer a client down a bad road, even without having bad intentions. The irresponsible practice of coaching that emerges from this has sullied the reputation of the industry, and for good reason. This is an incredible trust we’re given, and we should act accordingly with integrity, care, and deep humility.
Making Coaching More Accessible
The misplaced focus on the external trappings of success leads to a second major issue with the current state of the coaching profession: lack of accessibility. There is a (sound and understandable) perception that coaching is only accessible to those economically privileged enough to afford it, especially as it isn’t generally covered by health insurance—another function being unregulated.
We set our own prices; empowerment, financial success, and self-worth can merge together in a vague concatenation of intangible, inextricable ideals. The message many coaches receive is to price themselves high, that if you’re not expensive it reflects you have less value, and that your hesitance to raise prices stems from your own limiting beliefs around money.
If charging more means a coach can afford the lifestyle they want to promulgate to attract more clients (who they may underserve and leave disenchanted with coaching as a whole), which brings more income, which funds a more lavish display, and around and around—why on earth would we want to be affordable?
But if you believe in coaching, if you appreciate its power to transform lives, to support and uplift and help the voiceless to articulate their thoughts, fears, and deepest yearnings, then you can see that this model means that coaching will be economically inaccessible to those who need it most.
If you agree that this is an unacceptable situation and believe our businesses can serve as outlets for social change, then we need to ask ourselves, “How can I run a thriving business and make my services accessible to those who need them most?” For example, at The Mind Rebel™ Academy, we have a program called Coaching for a Cause, where clients can sign up to be matched with a Certified Mind Rebel™ Coach, in exchange for a donation to a charity in the amount of their choice. This is one way we are able to make coaching more accessible to more people.
Other options a business might implement include charging on a sliding scale, pay-what-you-can policies, and scholarships for women from historically marginalized groups and those who are overcoming adversity in their life.
Making coaching and coach-training accessible to wider groups of people is an impactful way to promote equity and sow diversity, expanding the client base and the body of qualified practitioners. Truly gifted coaches come from all walks of life, and receiving coaching is a gift that should be accessible to everyone. We all deserve it, and the profession deserves it, too.
Taryn Watts, a Master Certified Coach and Founder of the Mind Rebel™ Academy, trains and supports world-class coaches around the globe, helping them to step into their life’s work. She is the creator of the revolutionary Mind Rebel™ Method, a simple yet powerful self-discovery framework that is transforming the way people coach, lead, and connect internationally.