Oregon State Bar Bulletin FEBRUARY/MARCH 2013
Law & Life
Four Things You Didn't Know
By Kirsten Meneghello
Ever since I made the transition from attorney to life coach several years ago, I am often asked to explain more about my profession to those who are curious but unfamiliar with exactly what I do. Many of the people who ask these questions are attorneys. I find it’s easiest to explain what I do by sharing a client success story.
When Susan contacted me to learn more about coaching, she was unsure what she was getting into. She was a very experienced attorney working in a small firm, but she was absolutely miserable. She dreaded going to work each day and it was starting to take its toll on her personal life. She was sleeping too much, eating more than she should and felt generally depressed. Susan was self-aware enough to know she was spiraling downward and it was related to her dissatisfaction at work.
During our first meeting, I asked what she did not like about her current work situation. She had a long list ready to go: lack of teamwork, didn’t feel valued for her contribution, didn’t like the culture at the office and didn’t have much in common with her coworkers. So even though Susan enjoyed some of her day-to-day work responsibilities, she didn’t enjoy her work environment.
My job was to help Susan discover what kind of work environment she desired, and then determine if she was able to create that environment at her present job or if she would have to look elsewhere for the right fit. Through the coaching process, Susan discovered that what brought her the most satisfaction was the ability to bring peace to each situation. However, she was not able to bring peace in her current office and was actively discouraged from doing just that. The ego-driven management team seemed to thrive on creating conflict and pitting attorneys against one another, and this disconnect in values was at the heart of what was troubling Susan.
Once Susan identified her personal strengths, skills, values, needs, her purpose and ideal work environment, she had a much clearer picture of why her current employment was not fulfilling and the type of position she would need to hold in order to be happy at work. After a few months of coaching, Susan identified her ideal work environment and started networking to make connections in this new area of law that would allow her to create peace. Now she’s happily working as a mediator.
In answering questions about my profession, I’ve also learned that there are some myths and misunderstandings about life coaching. Here are some of the most common myths:
You Will Not Be Encouraged to Leave the Practice Of Law
A professional coach will not tell you what to do or advocate a particular course of action for you. Instead, a coach will actively listen and summarize your thoughts and feelings. A coach can act as a sounding board and a mirror. But a coach understands that the client always has the answers; it’s the coach’s job to help the client access his or her internal knowledge.
For example, I was recently working with a client who for weeks had complained about his wife in many instances. I finally asked for permission to discuss this subject. “I hear you express week after week your unhappiness with your marriage. It sounds like you do not share the same interests or communication style, plus you say she does not respect you or support you emotionally. What is keeping you in this relationship?” I did not make a judgment about his marriage, but simply summarized what he had shared with me and brought it to his attention. I also did not advocate for him to leave his wife.
In the same way, life coaches would never encourage a client to stop practicing law or change career fields. A coach simply takes the information the client shares and helps them to identify options based on their stated needs, values, interests, etc. Sometimes, a legal career is not the right fit. But often it’s a matter of finding an area of law that is of more interest, a different role within the same organization, or a change of work environment that can make all the difference.
Coaching is Different From Counseling or Therapy
Counseling usually involves healing issues from the past, sometimes traumatic or unresolved childhood issues. In contrast, coaching helps you to identify what you want in the present and/or to work toward future goals. Coaching often involves a discussion of feelings, fears and beliefs that may be getting in the way of the life you want, but that is only to help identify choices and possibilities available to you. Coaching is very action-oriented. You create accountability when you meet with a coach on a regular basis to pursue your goals. Also, the topics for coaching are endless: career issues, personal growth, business, leadership, marketing, parenting, work/life balance and health and wellness.
You Are In Charge Of the Coaching Process
As the client, you are always in charge of your actions and your results from coaching. You cannot rely on the coach to do it for you. The coach won’t wave a magic wand to make your life better or tell you what to do. One of my clients recently didn’t want to take responsibility to make changes in her life. She wanted to complain and have someone to whom she could talk to about being “stuck.” But I soon realized she was committed to being stuck and not taking action to move forward. Needless to say, it was not a successful coaching relationship. In order for coaching to work, you must be willing to identify what you want in your life and be motivated and willing to make changes in order to obtain your goals. Whether your goal is an internal one (i.e., feeling less stressed out) or an external, quantifiable one (i.e., running your first marathon), you must be willing to do the work to reach your goals.
Coaching is an Investment, and Will Be What You Make Of It
Sometimes people are reticent to hire a coach because they are concerned they will be stuck in an expensive long-term commitment. First and foremost, each coaching relationship is unique and structured around what is best for the client. A good coach will work with you to develop a plan that works best for your budget and can structure meetings to work around your undoubtedly busy schedule. In fact, many coaches have client sessions by phone or via Skype.
As for the questions about time and money, I am pretty sure that the average coach’s hourly rate is less than the average hourly rate of an Oregon attorney. You justify your hourly rate to your clients because you know that you are providing value to them and that the clients will be better off after working with you. The same is true with coaching. The investment of money and time that you make will end up benefiting you in immeasurable ways.
Coaches will pledge to listen, ask powerful questions for reflection, be direct with you, create awareness, brainstorm with you, help you to create an action plan and give you accountability. The rewards that come from this valuable service, which I have grown to appreciate and respect a great deal, are certainly not a myth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kirsten Meneghello is a career and leadership coach and a member of the Oregon State Bar. She helps professionals who are dissatisfied with their careers to identify who they really want to be when they grow up. Meneghello coaches, speaks, writes and hosts retreats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2013 Kirsten Meneghello