What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
It was around my last birthday when I finally acknowledged I needed a little help.
Months before, I’d switched from a full-time job in a startup ad agency to freelance writing with local startups and publications. To any who asked, I told them with assurance, “I’m so happy. Life is so good.” And I was. I am. I love working for myself and not wearing pants some days.
But I was dealing with big changes on my own, and my anxious nature started to rear its head. Months into my career change, I was missing deadlines, breaking into a cold sweat sitting at my desk, and experiencing a general lack of productivity.
A part of me couldn’t believe this and was angry — I had everything I had always wanted, and I couldn’t cope.
My stress came to a head one afternoon while I was lying on the floor of my friend’s office. I told her I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t managing my stress, or life, at all.
She immediately suggested a life coach.
I am all for seeking professional help, but a life coach? I’d seen therapists during the duration of my angst-ridden young adulthood and they helped, but I couldn’t see myself working with a life coach. I’d never been into organized sports, and as far as I understood it, a life coach was just someone who drilled you about healthy life habits and carried a whistle at all times.
My friend set me up with her acquaintance, a practicing life coach willing to see me within the week. We set up an appointment over email, and I was immediately apprehensive.
What was I thinking? What would I be able to get out this? In the week’s time before our appointment, I tried to talk myself out of going. It was only out of respect for our mutual friend that I dragged myself to the first meeting.
Our consultation took place at a Panera, and among the studying college students and lunching moms, I found it surprisingly easy to open up to Cathy*.
The session started with a stream of consciousness exercise.
“Write down the first three words that come to mind,” Cathy explained. I scribbled down a few random words, and was flabbergasted when we applied those words to my emotional state of mind.
It took me halfway through our first session to realize that a life coach was exactly what I had been looking for but never expected to find. Like my therapists before, we shared a special hour where we talked only about me, but unlike those sessions, we chose action steps and made decisions with intention.
What I love most about working with a life coach is our contract. I know I won’t work with Cathy forever, and our focus is on 90-day sprints. We decide together what we should be working on, and tackle those problems within that timeline. It’s not about the past, but my present and future. We don’t spend sessions talking about my childhood, but instead focusing on the present and what I can do moving forward.
In my sessions, we focus on the specific goals I want to tackle. When I started seeing Cathy, my anxiety was blocking my creativity. She encouraged me to put pen to paper every day and write something, anything. I learned to stop judging my work and ideas.
One of my goals is to become more decisive, so for a portion of the session, we’ll work on intuitive thinking. In the privacy of her office, I’ll close my eyes and respond to her prompts with the first word that comes to mind. Prompts can be as simple as “If you could have any snack right now, what would it be?” This leads to me yelling “CHEEZE-ITS” or other cheese-snack products that enter my mind.
At first, I found the exercise silly, but I see the exercise paying off in daily life. With my freelance clients, I feel more confident to trust my instincts and go with my gut on story ideas.
Life-coaching certainly isn’t for everyone. Many people supplement coaching with a side of therapy or meet with a coach only a couple times a year. Being a list and goal-oriented person, I feel like creating contracts and tangible goals has changed the way I think and work for the better.
I do feel that working with Cathy is an undertaking. Between our sessions, I know I need to put in the time to work towards my goals. Rather than a passive conversation, our sessions are filled with next steps and action goals.
I’m still dealing with anxiety and managing my own work, but Cathy has helped me understand the importance of taking responsibility for my work and using my time with intention. When we meet, we establish goals that often sound silly at first, but over the course of the week, I realize how effective they are.
In a session, I offhandedly mentioned how I run late in the morning when I can’t settle on what to wear. My goal for the next week was to set out clothing the evening before. Removing that roadblock helped me realize that my anxiety wasn’t about getting dressed, but actually self-perception. When I expressed my envy of outgoing friends, we made it a goal to talk to someone new each day.
For some, these goals may sound like no-brainers, but they’ve made me see others and myself in a whole new light.
Initially, I was reluctant to tell friends and family I was seeing a life coach. I expected them to treat the decision as if I said I was going to a shaman; but again, I was surprised when many people expressed the interest in seeing a coach but hadn’t had the gall to do it.
The way I see it, everyone could use a life coach. People use personal trainers at the gym or personal stylists at stores — why is a life coach any different? It’s an experience tailored to each participant, a chance to give yourself the attention you deserve.
Cathy is an accredited coach, with a graduate degree and certification from a national organization. I met her in person, but it’s more common to connect with a coach on the phone or over Skype. I know I won’t see Cathy for more than a few months, but the time spent with her is building the foundation for a healthier life.
I’ve learned to value my thoughts and work, and trust my intuition rather than ignore it. Cathy taught me that I already have all the answers to my problems, and I simply have to listen to find a solution. Using positive affirmations and daily writing exercises, my anxiety levels have dropped. I feel that after leaving Cathy, I’ll have the proper tools to deal with stress.
After my time with Cathy, I’d consider going back to work with her again in the future. I’ll miss our time together when it ends, but if we work together again, I’ll have new goals in mind.
*Name has been changed.