Helping Me Help MyselfOne Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Beth Lisick
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780061143960
A lesson in cringle-stifling
Technically, you wait until January 2 to start your resolutions, right? When everything is supposed to be getting back to normal, when banks are open and mail delivery resumes, that must be when you jump in and blindside this nascent, unsuspecting year with your hot new program. Because, if you're like me, the first of January is already shot. It's noon and you're just getting in the car to drive down to your parents' house to collect your four-year-old son and will spend the next six hours sinking into their battered leather sofa with the central heat blasting while emptying a wooden bowl of its potato chips and staring at a football game on the enormous TV screen before eating a half-pound of ham and polishing off the rest of the See's candies. See what I'm saying? You can't attempt anything new or revolutionary under those circumstances.
My dad, who's gearing up for triple bypass surgery later this month, is filling Eli in on the game using some of his favorite phrases like "barn burner" and "deep yogurt." Eli's not much of a football fan, but he can get into the novelty of it during holiday gatherings. My son, Gus, is momentarily content, doing a connect-the-dots book on the coffee table in front of me as I watch this football coach get more and more agitated. My first thought is: I'm glad it's not me he's yelling at. Then it dawns on me that I've been hearing a lot lately about "personal coaches" and "life coaches." It's usually in the context of a joke, or one of those newspaper lifestyle features you can't quite believe is real. One of those stories where it seems like the journalist is just interviewing her friends and passing it off as a trend. But maybe I should find a coach to help me. The thought of it makes my scalp tingle, but it might be time to admit that if I put my mind to it, anything could happen. I'm already doing okay, so I've got nowhere to go but up, right? It could even be entirely possible that by the end of the year I will actually be able to say it—"life coach"—without using a cartoon voice or making air quotes with my fingers.
"I need a life coach," I practice saying to the TV.
There are supposedly 30,000 certified life coaches in the world right now, and lord knows how many unlicensed practitioners lurking about on Craigslist, which means that each time I say those words with a sneer I am essentially hocking a giant loogie on a group of people who are only trying to help (and I'm sure some who are preying on your insecurities, which can be found in any profession, including dentistry, landscaping, and the small but influential army of body waxers). I'll start with opening my heart a little and trying not to be mean for sport. Being mean, as I've learned from Gus and quite a few blogs, is one of the easiest things in the world.
The first time I ever heard of a life coach was a couple of years ago. Some guy I'd met at a party, the kind who introduces himself as "an entrepreneur," was carrying on about a dinner party he'd thrown to which he'd invited everyone in his employ—"my people," he'd said. I was a little hung up on the reality of it anyway, a dinner party for the eight people who work for you—not for you at your company, but just, you know, the housekeeper, the accountant, the pool guy, and the like. The staff. (How did I even meet this person?) He said he had wanted to invite everyone "from his life coach to his housekeeper" but wasn't sure if his house-keeper would feel awkward, because she didn't speak that much English, or—"and I know this is terrible to say," he conceded—if his life coach would feel "insulted" to be invited to a dinner party that included the housekeeper.
I went on to quiz him, in a not unkind manner, about what he and his coach did together as I tried to wrap my mind around it. You pay this person to help you achieve your goals. You are so focused on yourself and your quest for fulfillment and happiness that you hire a professional to motivate you. You're okay, but you want to be the best you can be, and you have a very specific idea of what constitutes this Ultimate You. The corners of my mouth were involuntarily turning downward as I spoke, nearly twitching as if they were being pulled by strings. Interesting that I have none of these reactions when people tell me they are in therapy. I have heard of life coaching being called "the new therapy," and supposedly it's much more popular with men because of the bro-friendly nomenclature.
Just hanging with my coach. We're coming up with a game plan!
But why am I so critical of someone who's trying to improve his life? Do I think if I don't keep up, I'll be the last loser standing? Part of it is that the intimacy of having a personal coach freaks me out. I can barely get a pedicure without feeling ridiculous for imposing my feet upon someone for twenty minutes. How could I dump my whole life in someone's lap?
It's not that I don't have a plan. What I want to do is spend the year putting some well-known self-help programs to the test, but I am lacking any semblance of an entry point. Do newbies really just walk down the self-help aisle at the bookstore and pick up whatever looks appropriate? For something so monstrously pop-u-lar, it sure is difficult to get hooked up. Where's the pusher willing to give me the first one for free?