The New York Times
January 5, 2003
Sunday WESTCHESTER WEEKLY DESK COUNTY LINES;
Resolutions Broken Already? Try a Life Coach By MAREK FUCHS (NYT) 813 words
Are you entering 2003 feeling more zeta in your career than alpha? Don't want to spend another 12 months feeling friendless and unsupported around the water cooler? You are welcome to try my cure for tough times, but keening self-pity isn't for everyone.
In an age in which society's capacity to unload emotional cargo on hired hands is vast, there is an option. You can get yourself a life coach. Designed for fully functioning, high-achieving people who have hit rough patches or sticking points in their jobs, life coaches try to help you change course or deal with day to day challenges more effectively.
Life coaches are a cross between a career counselor and a friend-for-hire, and though styles vary, they tend to be light on dictates and heavy on leading you to answers. Though some have backgrounds in psychology, many do not.
Some life coaches meet their clients in person, while others work exclusively through phone contacts, which conjures up the strange image of someone giving you pointers as he sits at home wearing his bathrobe.
Whether the consulting is by phone or live, fees are steep, ranging from $60 to $200 a session locally, where the life coach has joined the personal trainer as a trophy trapping of suburban life.
''It's like a spa session for the mind and soul,'' said Carol Sommerfield, who opened up a life coach company, Frogs Leap Consulting, as a sideline to her management job at a Fortune 500 chemical manufacturer based in Westchester. Mrs. Sommerfield, 46, whose Web site, www.frogsleapcoaching.com, features a frog on a lily pad getting its fly, said she always had a natural talent for guiding people. She honed the gift via a teleconference course given by the Institute for Life Coach Training, which used to be called Therapist University. Not all life coaches have received training.
Dr. Patrick Williams, trained as a psychologist, started the institute four years ago and describes life coaches as formal sounding boards. ''A life coach can help bridge the gap between where one is and where one wants to be,'' he said from his home in Colorado.
True enough, but I have a wife, mother, father, brother and now daughter who offer reams of advice for free. Why pay? ''The reality of the situation,'' said Melinda Axel, 41, one of Mrs. Sommerfield's clients, ''is that friends, spouses and loved ones are busy, or they have a lot of problems and doubts of their own. A life coach is like a therapist for the healthy.''
Lately I have been reading ''Benjamin Franklin'' (Yale University Press), Edmund S. Morgans new biography about the statesman, scientist, author, ambassador and, apparently, ladies man. Though he accomplished much, I couldnt quite picture Franklin consulting with a well-paid stranger over what to do next. But Franklin was very much a man of his times, and maybe he would have been a man of ours. The recent International Coach Federations seventh annual meeting, held in Atlanta, was opened with a taped greeting from Jimmy Carter.
Before beginning her tele-relationship with Frogs Leap Consulting, Mrs. Axel was in a rut on several fronts. ''I had classic cluttered desk syndrome,'' she said, ''and not the kind where you know where every thing is. I didn't.''
Mrs. Axels' career trajectory also needed a jump start. Working as a business analyst for a pharmaceutical company, she said, she had never tapped her creative and entrepreneurial talents.
''I hesitated to go to a life coach,'' Mrs. Axel said. ''It costs a lot of money. Then again, a life problem costs you too.''
Eight months later, Mrs. Axel describes Mrs. Sommerfield as a California Closet organizer for the desk and soul.
Manageable goals, organizational techniques and reminders were the salve for her desk. With Mrs. Sommerfield's support, Mrs. Axel left the pharmaceutical company and started her own business analysis firm. ''There was a lot of redirecting of energy negativity,'' Mrs. Axel said. ''The first thing she always asks me is: what were your wins this week?'' That said, being in a rut at work would be a blessing for the many people who are unemployed and unable to afford the heating bill, let alone the talents of a high-priced phone pal.
Even life coaches are feeling the pinch. Getting disciples in the current environment is hard work, said Mrs. Sommerfield. She is sticking with it, however. ''My husband always says, 'I can't believe you get paid for this,' '' she said.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company