Are Life Coaches The Answer to our Problems?
While it’s far too simplistic to say. "people are turning to coaches because they don’t have enough friends,” the combination of pandemic isolation and our capitalist society certainly seems like a key piece of the coaching boom.
One of the fun things about being a journalist is that if you are lucky, you get to learn more about things you are personally interested in yourself -- which was the case for this recent feature I wrote for HuffPost about the growth of the coach industry, and what it says about our society. No, it’s not all in your head, there are a lot more people becoming coaches than there were five, 10, or 20 years ago, and the pandemic has definitely fueled people exploring coaching as a career and seeking out coaching themselves.
I came out of writing the article thinking that there are plenty of coaches out there who are meaningfully helping people.I also think the industry is frothy and could cause harm if coaches act as under-trained mental health providers.
Read the full article about how the industry’s grown and why, who it caters to, what coaches ACTUALLY do, and what I see as the profession’s biggest problems.
The larger sociological trends I raise in the article that I’m still thinking about have to do with the cultural gap coaching fills:
“In generations past, people feeling lost might have joined a church-led group, volunteered at a soup kitchen, participated in a weekly bridge night, or formed a feminist consciousness-raising collective. While none of these communities would directly answer how to chart a new career path, navigate a tricky work situation or realize you are in an unfulfilling marriage, they did provide a space for people to talk and others to listen.
While it’s far too simplistic to say “people are turning to coaches because they don’t have enough friends,” the combination of pandemic isolation and our capitalist society certainly seems like a key piece of the coaching boom. So much of women’s collective time and energy are spent filling the gaps of our country’s under-resourced safety net, all while prizing “making it on your own” as cultural value. We don’t have the roadmap or bandwidth to contribute to non-monetary personal and community relationships that build invaluable support over time.”
How can we as humans help recognize that among ourselves and our peers, our family members there is a vast unmet need for more connection, stronger ties, consistent listening, interwoven community threads of support? Can we start building those so people feel like this isn’t only available as a service, with an often out of reach price tag?
This reporting has also made me think about how to bring more meaningful support into the world in a non-monetized way. I just want to remind us all that helping and being helped doesn’t always have to be about money changing hands. Here are two ways I think we can all work on building these stronger ties our society needs so badly.
- Individual support -- Are there friends, neighbors, acquaintances in our lives that we can do small things for? Here’s an example of what I mean. I’m personally fanatical about participating in Meal Trains for families who just had a baby. If someone I know is having a baby and doesn’t have one set up, I set it up for them. This comes from the experience of friends and sometimes merely loose acquaintances signing up to bring us meals for three solid months when our twins were born. I will never forget this. I have a three month karmic Meal Train debt that I’m always looking to pay it forward. And new baby Meal Trains aren’t a one-to-one trade, I may never make a meal for some of the people who did for us -- but this all goes into a community of care I want to be a part of. Please note: this story is also about how I NEEDED this care too, and accepted it. If you are feeling like, “wow, i’m so overwhelmed I can’t even think about helping anyone else right now,” maybe that’s a sign that you need to reach out to others to let them know you are in a place of needing a literal or metaphorical Meal Train. Accepting help is also a crucial part of being in a community of care.
- Supporting existing institutions -- For much of this country’s history, and still in many parts of the country, churches have been a primary social organizer. There are long lists of reasons why millennials like myself and Gen-Zers are turned off by organized religion, (This is probably a good subject for a future newsletter) but I still maintain there are ways to build up community ties though existing structures -- including religious institutions, even if you are a non-believer. I’m personally a big fan of my local Jewish Community Center. It’s not more expensive than many gym memberships, and rather than just treat it as a place to hop on the treadmill or splash in the pool in the summer, I’m being more deliberate about investing in it. I’m attending the fundraising gala, I’m sending my older son to camp there, I donate items to refugee resettlement projects organized there, I’m taking advantage of the free childcare while I work out, I’m looking into the classes and workshops they offer, I’m picking up a CSA that delivers there this summer .... you get the idea. To me, there is value in doing all of these things in one place rather than 6 different places. It makes me more invested in the institutions’ success, helps me get to know people there more -- essentially being a part of the community aspect of the community center. You certainly don’t have to be Jewish to join, but as someone raising her kids vaguely Jew-ish, the light Jewish cultural connection is nice, and this JCC has generally inclusive, lefty social justice values suit me well.
As you think about this, what are existing institutions you have a connection to that you could get in deeper with? A church that is much chiller and more progressive than the one you grew up in? A YMCA? A PTA? A charity volunteer group? A fantastic park clean up and hiking group?
Investing in individual support and existing institutions doesn’t negate all need for coaching, but it promotes different values. As I write in my article, coaching is often about helping people “who feel like the institutions they belong to aren’t supporting their needs, including moms in corporate America, progressive women in conservative churches, or people who are queer, neurodiverse or disabled.”
Where I personally diverge in values from most coaching philosophies is I think we owe the world more than just giving people personal solutions to navigate these hostile institutions. I believe we need to collectively work to make them better --- and not just for ourselves. This is a theme I’ll definitely be coming back to in future newsletters.
Hangout IN PERSON in Durham, NC!!!! Y’all, we are going to try our FIRST in-person hangout for Double Shift members since 2019.... outdoors in Durham, NC on Thursday evening April 21. I can’t wait to meet and hug some Double Shifters in person. Want in? If you are a member, details coming soon to your inbox. If you aren’t a member yet, become one and I’ll share the deets. Your membership helps keep this newsletter free for all and supports mom-centered journalism challenging the status quo. Stay tuned for future in-person hangs in other cities, TBD.
What I’m Reading: Dietland: A novel by Sarai Walker. I picked up this wickedly subversive, engrossing novel from 2015 on a whim from the library and I loved it. Part feminist critique, part crime mystery, part searing critique of diet culture, this book checks a lot of boxes for me.
CROWDSOURCING: For an upcoming article and newsletter, I’m going to write about normalizing personally restorative trips away from your kid(s)/partner. If this is something you’ve considered but haven’t done it, (or you don’t think you’ve done it often enough) what are the things that stop you? Are you concerned about cost, logistical hurdles, judgment of others, feeling like you’d be imposing on your partner or family members? Not trusting things will be well handled in your absence? Not feeling worthy of time for yourself? Please reply to this email with a few lines if you have thoughts on this.
Also: I’m redoing my website with a lot of new features and getting the audio newsletter and ability to comment going for members in the coming weeks. The newsletter may not be fully weekly til then. Thanks for bearing with me during this season of transition.