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Is Life Coaching A Scam?

Man leaning on fence smokingI regularly get e-mails from people telling me they’d like to become a Life Coach and seeking my advice. As an after thought they’ll quite often point out they want to be a Life Coach, but only of course when they get their own life perfectly in order.

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Let’s face it, who wants a stressed out, chain-smoking, beer drinking, 300lb life coach with low self-esteem that talks to himself and kicks his cat? Certainly not me that’s for sure.

I want a Life Coach that possesses the wisdom of Solomon, patience of Job, the kindness of Buddha and the teeth of Tony Robbins, because if my coach isn’t perfect, then how the hell can he or she tell me what to do with my life?

Unfortunately there is a dark and dirty secret about the whole Life Coach and self development industry and quite frankly I think it’s time I spilled the beans.

It’s a scam!

It’s full of people with flaws, people that make mistakes, have imperfect lives and worst of all, have multiple-personalities. In short, it’s populated by a bunch of nut jobs, and yes, I’m one of them.

I know that must come as a bit of a shock, but it’s important to be honest about this stuff, after all, this is The Discomfort Zone, not The Cute and Fluffy Zone.

If you spend a few minutes scanning peoples bios on Twitter you’ll be amazed at how many people love life and can’t wait to tell you about it. It almost seems like there’s a competition to see who loves life the most with the winner getting an additional 25 years on Planet Earth courtesy of the Universe.

I think it’s fair to say that most people love life and this is ably demonstrated when it comes under serious threat. Not many people when diagnosed with a terminal illness shrug their shoulders and say “That’s cool Doc, because I’m not really bothered about this whole life thing anyway. When can we get it over and done with?”

I love life too. Except that is, on the days when it’s a bit crap that is, and there are days like that.

When US Airways lost our luggage flying from Charlotte to Vegas, strange though it may seem I wasn’t dancing round the airport, hugging the ground crew and telling complete strangers how wonderful everything was.

No, quite frankly I was pissed off. Especially as we’d got up at Stupid O’clock that morning to take an early flight so we could take advantage of the 3 hour time difference and have all afternoon by the pool.

So I was whining on Twitter about it to anybody prepared to read what I was posting. That was my way of venting and getting it out of my system and quite honestly, if somebody thinks I’m a naughty coach for complaining, then so be it, they can find another one.

In all honesty, I did reframe it and I was way less bothered than many people in a similar situation may have been, but I wasn’t pretending I was having the time of my life in Las Vegas airport.

Whenever I post something that could be construed as being less than upbeat, I know there are a number of people that won’t want to promote it on social media. They simply don’t want to be associated with anything that could be construed as being negative.

I understand that, especially if they have a brand or online persona to promote. However, at an individual level I’m not sure it’s especially healthy nor useful to be constantly trying to maintain an ‘all is brilliant in the world’ image . Wouldn’t it be better to say:

“Hey this is me. This is who I am, how I am, and I hope you like me, as I am. If not, that’s cool because I know there are people that will and we can both move on”

Rather than:

“Hey this is the part of me I’d like you to see, because it’s the cool part and I fear that if you see the rest of me, you won’t like me”

Does that make any sense whatsoever?

Of course not, it’s completely counterintuitive, the people we really love most in life are usually the ones we know the best, warts and all.

The reality of the situation is you have multiple sides to your identity, as we all do. You’ll achieve little by ignoring, burying or subjugating the parts of your persona you don’t like. It‘s much better to allow them to see the light of day by celebrating, acknowledging and even thanking them.

I know that sounds a bit nuts. For example, not many people want to thank the Scardey Cat inside their head that stops them requesting a raise, making a presentation or asking for a date.

But what if you did?

What if you realized he actually was a real life Scaredy Cat. Imagine him sat in the back of your head trembling with fear and terrified to come into the light of day. Maybe he needs a hug? Maybe he needs reassuring that you know he has your best interests at heart and that he’s as admired by you as the Fearless Frog that wants to go and kick your bosses ass?

What if you went a step further and thanked him and for being such a brilliant Scardey Cat. And then asked him what his concerns were, and if you could help ease his worries without threatening to drug him with Xanax and red wine?

As well as a Scardey Cat, you may also have a Moody Mouse, Sullen Snake and even an Aggressive Aardvark  scurrying around inside your head, feeling lost and misunderstood and vying for your attention.

They know they’re looking out for you. They know they’re doing the best they can with the information they have to hand, and they know they’re just as much a part of you as the Witty Walrus and the Charming Chicken, (ok, I may have taken the alliteration and animal metaphors a tad too far now, sorry) yet where’s the love for these guys?

There are a lot of cliches in coaching, and what you resist persists is right up there with the oldest and most hammered to death. The reason being, because it’s true. Denying the existence of all the parts of your being is a form of resistance and it wont make you feel any better in the log run and it certainly won’t make them go away.

They are part of you and part of life too. Better to consult with them, listen to them and once again, thank them, because they are you and you can’t win a fight or an argument with yourself.

You’re good enough as you are.  That doesn’t man you can’t improve or shouldn’t want to become an even more brilliant person, just that you should never wait for that to happen before you love yourself and treat yourself with the respect you so rightly deserve.

Is Life Coaching a scam? Well I guess so, if the question means, is it full of less than perfect people that talk to themselves and just occasionally forget that they are supposed to be sucking the marrow out of life 24/7 and telling the world how great it tastes.

25 comments to Is Life Coaching A Scam?

  • I completely agree with you about Twitter. The overwhelming positivity crowd often worry me for that very reason. They don’t seem normal and I can’t really relate to them at all. On occasions when I’ve felt down and admitted to it on Twitter, I have had a deluge of “Oh my god, feel positive now!!” and they get a bit freaked out by the idea of accepting how I feel rather than rejecting it.

    On the other hand, I’d rather work with somebody who has their life more straightened out than me. I’m not going to take relationship advice from somebody who’s single and hasn’t held down a relationship in a while – no matter what their reasoning.

    In life and work you should be a demonstration of what you teach, to prove that it works.

  • Hi Tim.

    I like that you brought this up. I’d say people as a whole have equal passion for life, but some have their routine in a bit more order, and are then a bit more vocal about it, as they are in a better position to display passion.

    We can call that award that gives you 25 extra years on Earth the “Passion Promoting Extension”.

    When one person teaches and helps another, they are coaching them, but some take this thought further to think the coach has to be a higher-level individual on all fronts before any help can be provided. It is an assumption that isn’t really founded on anything.

  • I love that: “Stupid O’Clock! Time to feel bad!!”

    This is timely for me. I was just this weekend chastised for my negative remarks about hearing Michael Jackson songs everywhere I go — I’m told that interfered with someone’s ideal image of me as a happy, positive person. (I am positive that I’d be happy if I never hear “Smooth Criminal” ever again.)

    And it was construed as “negative” when I suggested to a friend who wanted to overcome her fear of getting more involved with a married man, who was lying to his wife to cover up his relationship with my friend, that such fear might be reasonable — that perhaps rather than overcoming that fear, listening to it might be a wise idea — I was being a Negative Nellie and giving out bad vibes.

    Now that I think about it, that did happen at Stupid O’Clock. Maybe from now on, I’ll reserve that hour for silent contemplation.

  • Tim,

    Thank you very much for a spot-on post that is very timely for me personally. I recently started blogging about…overcoming perfectionism! And am thinking about beginning to coach people on it.

    It’s scary, because on the one hand, I’m still working on it myself. But on the other, I do have a lot of helpful things to share. How to ride that line will be interesting. “Hello–I’ve learned how to become (*cough*) LESS PERFECT! Would you like me to help show you how?”

    It’ll be interesting to see if I have any takers on that. :o)

  • @ Joely – I can remember my first experience with a hypnotherapist. Prior to us starting our session she just nipped out for a cigarette. I was completely incredulous, so I asked her, why does a hypnotherapist smoke? She answered because she enjoyed it and didn’t want to quit.

    Not completely sure what that means, but here’s my take. If the dating person had a long list of happy clients, then I’d hire them if I were in need of one, because it may be they don’t want to be in a relationship at the moment.

    But I agree, you don’t really want your coach to be an absolute disaster zone.

    @ Armen – I think it’s simply founded on the belief that to teach (which coaching isn’t btw) you need to be better than the pupil. I guess Tiger Woods is screwed for finding a coach then?

    @ Angela – Yeh Smooth Criminal sucks donkey balls. Can I say that as a life coach?

    @ Michelle – LOL, that’s funny, I can imagine having that conversation!

  • Great post, Tim!

    I especially like the notion that we shouldn’t wait until we’re perfect to start enjoying life.

    Of course, my biggest take-away will have to be, “Smooth Criminal sucks donkey balls.”


  • I think a reality series where you put the relentlessly positive in some sort of prison with the relentlessly negative would be awesome. Heck, we wouldn’t even have to film it, we could just let the lone survivor come back and write a book or something.

    @Joely on a sort of related note, a lot of my blog posts are me musing about some little neurotic facet of my personality and playing it up for the humor aspects. I like to think it’s fairly obvious that I do in fact, understand that some of my stinkin thinkin is silly and why but lately I’m doubting because I get lots of comments telling me why my neurotic quirks are silly and something the commenter wouldn’t do! It’s like dude, chill, this is my blog, I’m allowed to show myself warts and all here – in fact, I think that’s the appeal!

  • “Smooth Criminal sucks donkey balls.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. :)

  • My favorite line:
    “It almost seems like there’s a competition to see who loves life the most with the winner getting an additional 25 years on Planet Earth courtesy of the Universe.”

    What, you mean the Universe doesn’t give out special favors? Looks like I need to rethink my plan, dangit.

  • I too believe in being all that we are but I’m not sure I need to air my “flaws” and “bad days” to my clients. I don’t deny them and if appropriate I might casually mention something that’s not pretty or perfect about me but I don’t feel I need to be a totally open book for them to get the most they can get out of the sessions.

    Let them wonder about the rest…

  • @ Barb – Thanks a lot and please use that phrase with gay abandon, it needs to be heard more imho.

    @ Tracy – You are so evil, and I like it. Let’s pitch it to Fox!

    @ Naomi – You sure do need to rethink your plan because I love life more than you do anyway. I’m literally seizing this particular day as we speak, and later I’m sucking some marrow and then getting high on life.

    @ Donna – That’s not really what I meant. I don’t insist clients read my autobiography before working with me. At the same time, if things are going badly and I happen to be online, I’m not going to pretend everything is 100% brilliant if it’s not. Where’s the integrity in that?

    OTOH, if I have had a bad day I hope it would never be obvious when I’m working with a client. That’s a whole different ball game.

  • Jordie

    Extra word:
    Is Life Coaching Is A Scam? I believe you did not intend to have the second “Is” in your headline.

  • I say hallelujah! I enjoy sharing the good in life via Twitter or Facebook, but I also believe I should be able to share the stuff isn’t as good either, like your example of lost luggage. I have been attacked for not being 100% positive via my twitter profile. I addressed this via a tweet in which I said it is NOT healthy to be 100% happy all the time. Research indicates we need to appreciate the lows as they help us more appreciate the highs, but both will always occur in life. I think it takes courage to share your vulnerabilities – what scares you, makes you nervous, frustrates you – instead of bottling it up and pretending to put on a face of happiness. It’s unrealistic to me. Thanks for a timely and great post; it was very appreciated.

  • Maureen

    @Tracy I like your quirky ways and humor. I would NEVER tell you to lighten up because uhm then I wouldn’t read your blog.

    @Tim great blog. When I coach people I ALWAYS learn something more about myself. I am on the road to being a better person. Yikes how boring to talk to someone who is perfect. Flaws are the spice of life.
    And sometimes I even let them in on my flaws. I think they feel relieved they are dealing with a human being.

  • The best life-coaching I have gotten lately has been by reading Sarah Maria’s latest book, “Love Your Body, Love Your Life.” I am finally able to look past my flaws and have learned to love myself.

  • Hey Tim, I am definitely more in the ‘Life is shit sometimes, that is okay’ camp :)

    My voice is a big hairy boggart.

  • Many times people tell advice after they forget how they solved problem. :) Many times you will get better advice from person that have problem now, than from person that solved it ten years ago.

    Also “perfect” persons are so pain to hang around.

  • @ Anissa – You’re welcome and thanks for commenting. Life is all about yin and yang and anybody that tells me they have more yin than yang has me suspicious. I’ve no idea what I’m talking about, but I think you get the gist.

    @ Maureen – I agree, I don’t think people should be intimidated by their coach who they see as being perfect. There’s no danger of that with me!

    @ Becky – I haven’t heard of that, so thanks for the heads up.

    @ Claire – Well thanks for letting me know that, it’s a lovely thought.

    @ Dalibor – LMAO – yes they are which kind of makes them less than perfect ;-)

  • Ahhhh. Did you feel that?

    I think it’s what’s known as the breath of fresh air called honesty!

    Thank you for it.

  • Ah … well EVERYONE has there wonderful flaws and imperfections, even some life coaches.

    I wonder if many people are looking to be saved by this mythical ‘perfect human being’. Somehow we expect our Gurus, teachers, life coaches and politicians(!) to be perfect, to be people we look up to and can emulate. Knowing they’ve got themselves and their lives somehow perfectly in order gives us hope that maybe we can too.

    Of course it’s crazy. We’re all struggling with the same things, we’re all learning, we’re all growing, we’re all making the best of our lives we can. We all need to find our own paths. Looking for role models might give us some clues about how to do it, but completely unrealistic (maybe even dangerous) if we expect them to having everything sorted.

    Except life coaches, of course. They need to be perfect in all aspects of life ;-)

  • A clear advantage is that people can relate to you there and then. You will build your own small community as you share your own problems, offering and receiving advice from others as you progress and help other progress with their own journeys.

  • Tim, thank you so much for your “spot on” post. There are few people that I feel I can really be myself around these days and while I think of myself as a very positive person, I am still “only human’ and haven’t reached complete enlightenment yet.

    So there are days when I feel sad, angry, frustrated etc. And I just feel the feelings and move through them as best as can. Some days quicker than others.

    It is all part of life and much healthier in the long run to just be honest about it with each other. So thank you Tim for your compassionate and understanding post.

    By the way, the person in my life (a counsellor) that I learned the most from was as honest as they come. She chain smoked, drank gallons of black coffee and was far from perfect. But no one has ever come close to how much she made a difference for me, especially the seemingly “more perfect ones”

    Perhaps it is time to drop the judgements of what is and isn’t acceptable, good and right, and just be open to what is, in whatever shape or form, showing up for us. They may just be a diamond in disguise.

    Take care and enjoy your day, warts and all.

    Blessings, Veronica Hay

  • Afterlife Coach

    Yes, life coaching is a scam. Just think… for millenia people managed to get through life without coaches and their CDs, DVDs, workshops, seminars and enchiladas. Imagine that!

    With most of humanity now being squeezed dry like a grape by the few hoarders of wealth and resources, people are now desperate for a way out of the mousetrap (too late); and among those people looking for a way out, are the opportunistic purveyors of “secrets,” those selling hope, those cultivating greed disguised as “enlightenment,” and life coaches.

    Having said that, I think I’m going to corner the market on Afterlife Coaching. It will be entirely different from run of the mill religions, and far more ego-gratifying. Look for my first book to hit the shelves soon! ;)

    • Compelling argument.

      Just think, for millenia people managed without anti-biotics, decent hygiene, education and stupid comments on the Internet.

      Let’s trash them all!