Why Your Coach Makes You Work

Adults learn by doing. Most people don’t learn much by simply reading or listening. We forget about 80 percent of what we hear in eight hours after hearing it. That’s why I am not enthusiastic about computer learning that guides you through blocks of texts and asks questions. You’ll get a lot of answers right an not remember a thing.

Jill (not her real name, this is a compilation of conversations from several clients) hasn’t reached many of her goals, and wants to quit coaching. While clients always decide when to leave, I like to discuss the reasons for leaving and make sure the client has some tools for the weeks ahead.

I asked Jill what she could use from our coaching sessions.

“Well, I really didn’t get a lot out of it. That’s why I’m leaving.”

“What was missing, Jill?”

“I don’t feel better. I still have all the same problems. I’m going to have my chart done by an astrologer. I think my Mars is in retrograde.”

“What steps will you take if Mars is in retrograde?”

“I don’t know. But it will explain how come I am not solving my problems.”

“Jill, I did notice that you didn’t do your homework very often,” I said.

“Well, you didn’t make me, you never yelled at me, so I thought it was OK not to,” Jill said.

“You often told me you were sick or too busy with work. Did you not get anything out of the homework?”

“I don’t think I should have to do homework. It takes time. I’m paying you to help, and then you give me homework, ” Jill said, suddenly explaining more than she had in weeks.

“Homework is part of coaching. Most of the coaching understanding comes between the sessions, because you work on your homework and have flashes of insight.”

“But I hired you to tell me what to do.”

“No, Jill, we talked about that early on. I don’t give advice, and I can’t fix people because I don’t think they are broken. Our talking leads to discoveries that you want to follow. Homework allows you to experience what you discovered in coaching and act on it.”

“Well, but it’s a lot of work, and I don’t have a lot of time. And I have anxiety attacks at night, so I watch TV to calm down, and I can’t do it then. I don’t understand how come you just didn’t tell me to read a book or something.”

“Have you read a lot of self-help books?” I asked.

“Sure, and you don’t even know a lot of the authors that I’ve read. I wonder why you don’t read all those books,” Jill said.

“Do those books help you?” I aked?

“Well, yes. Of course. They are smart people. Those books help millions of people.”

“Jill, what change have you made and kept for more than three months from one of those books?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t remember. But that doesn’t mean the books weren’t good,” Jill said.

“Those books could be very good. But to change your life, you need to choose a goal, break down the steps to get there, and work on it regularly. Working with a coach keeps you in motion toward those goals. The responsibility of doing your homework works better if you have someone to report back to.”

“I still think if I’m paying you, I shouldn’t have to do homework, too,” Jill sighed.

“I’m not an emotional or spiritual plumber that you call when your plans spring a leak, Jill,” I said. “I can’t come in, patch up your heart and soul and send you off to be happy. Being happy or fixing your problems is work you have to do yourself. I can help you look at goals, show you how to weigh them, find out what success and happiness mean to you, and ask you questions that will result in understanding as you work with stumbling blocks, but I can’t patch up your spirit. I’m not a magician, just a coach.”

In the weeks to come, Jill visited different spiritual workers, hoping for an answer. But for Jill, even an explanation is not an answer. Working with a coach is a mental and spiritual exercise, work you have to do for yourself. You have to care enough about yourself to want to help yourself. A coach is a guide, a map-reader with a compass. If you don’t know where you are heading, you won’t notice when you get there.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. Read more about her coaching practice.