“What is a life coach? And why would anybody need one?”
When Georgio Valentino, editor of Folio Weekly, asked me this at a recent #FindYourFolio Happy Hour, my heart sank. I had come up with what I felt was a perfect pitch to launch a weekly advice column in the paper. I would answer readers questions, doling out my priceless expertise on relationships, career and life purpose, and be a free resource championing the evolution of my community. Then a self-described cynic in attendance crowed, “You know anybody who pays for life coaching, really needs life coaching.” [Editor’s note: I do believe that was Jim Minion. -GV]
“They do!” I responded happily. But as I walked away, I knew it wasn’t true. Nobody needs life coaching. What we do need is unconditional love and acceptance, for ourselves and for others. We need to learn the principles of personal responsibility and self-integrity. We need to learn how to find the guide inside and follow our hearts to create the lives of our dreams. Life coaching provides a space for all of that learning, but it’s true that nobody needs “life coaching.” It’s also possible to learn these lessons in other arenas, be it wise and supportive family members, faith leaders or that one rare, incredibly amazing friend.
The difference is life coaching is like jet fuel. You have a set time and place to learn these lessons and love on yourself, and you’ve put skin in the game by opening up your wallet. You want to get your money’s worth, so you might as well actually do what the life coach says!
Valentino suggested that I write a Backpage Editorial explaining to Jacksonville what life coaching is and how we all can benefit from it. So here I am, folks! Please buckle your seatbelts—it’s about to get a bit radical.
I believe life coaching is a vehicle for greater consciousness and empowerment. Many of us have daily anxiety or depression. Deep inside, we feel powerless and unworthy. We allow self-doubt and fear to imprison us as much as our standardized nine-to-five institutions of work and education. We walk around keeping the conversation light, fearing to go deeper because we collectively avoid grief, fear, anger and shame.
I do agree the term “life coach” is ridiculous. I’m not really a life coach. I’m an alternative healer and guide. I’m a mystic, a medicine woman, perhaps a shaman in a past life. Or call me a spiritual life coach. Truthfully we lack words for this role in our culture. We lost respect for the wisdom of the elderly. We lost the art of shamanism or wise tribal elders who gave advice when members of the tribe were having emotional difficulty. It was lost, or perhaps more accurately taken from us.
When the religious leaders took power around 2,000 years ago, they went on a rampage to stamp out all that is in harmony with nature. Girls and women became property, and boys were groomed to become workers or soldiers, sacrificing their lives at the whims of those in power. They took our freedom, our ability to breathe clean air, have clean water, the freedom to nurture a child and not have to go to a fake job in a fake world where we are just meaningless cogs in the machine. In place of that freedom, the matrix was born: a gilded cage in which we think we’re free, but we’re not. The costs of this are apparent, especially to youth, to people of color and to women.
To rewind a bit, let me introduce myself. Growing up in small town, Snellville, Georgia, wasn’t that bad at all on the surface. I didn’t know a thing about it yet, but I had the privilege afforded to people with light skin tone and a background of higher education in my family. Going to college wasn’t a dream; it was just the next step before getting married and having babies. It was only when I went to college, just down the road at the University of Georgia, that I began to experience flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and depression. I had PTSD. The symptoms continued untreated for years because I was too afraid to ask for help. Deep down I sensed they were from years of abuse by my stepfather, but I thought PTSD was only for soldiers returning from war. When I finally did ask for help at the psychologist’s office at school, I was told the abuse I experienced was too severe to be treated within the six free sessions offered to students. I was handed a list of referrals in the community and sent out the door. It took me two years to build up the courage to visit that office, and it took another two years before I gained the strength to try to get help again. In the next decade, I would try again and again, dabbling with prescriptions and more than a dozen licensed therapists of various backgrounds.
I earned a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I became a therapist to try and figure out how to help myself and others. And I came up pretty short. Diagnosis, pills, listening. Repeat. Where were the answers?
The first human from whom I feel I received true healing and support was a Reiki and sound-healing life coach. She held a space of unconditional love for me and I could feel it. I felt deeply safe and accepted unconditionally by a professional for the first time. I completed a yoga teacher training and again received much deeper support and healing from that experience than my years in therapy. I began to study voraciously, learning all about trauma and attachment and somatic healing—subjects not covered in my fancy Master’s program. I learned how to heal myself. And now I teach others how to do the same. Our healing will not come from within the ridiculous system that created our problems. The answers we seek are the ancient universal truths found within all indigenous cultures. Everything you truly need is inside of yourself and available in this very moment. All of that Hallmark crap about love and gratitude is actually true. You hold the keys to unlock the self-imposed cage in which you trap yourself.
So does anybody need life coaching? Nope. But humanity collectively needs to wake up and remember who we are before it’s too late for our survival. I believe the coaching world is an integral component of that remembering.
Larkin is a yoga instructor and life coach in Jacksonville.