The Guru I Don’t Want To Be

Crazy new age woman in a yellow robe concentratingA little over three years ago (holy crap), I launched Career Coaching for Word Nerds, a career coaching service for beginning freelance writers.

I did it because, for several years, I had been receiving emails from writers pleading for advice, and I realized there was a real need for the help I could provide. Besides, the bottom had fallen out of the economy, I needed to diversify, and I knew that — with my knowledge and experience — this was something I could really kick ass at.

So I went through a career coaching certification program to make myself legit, and then I opened for business.

In the years since, however, it’s gotten so that you can’t cross the street without bumping into a coach or a ninja or a guru or a Guide To Ultimate (Career) Enlightenment. Entrepreneurship blogs have proliferated… which on the one hand is a good thing. It means that people are opening their minds to alternate career paths.

But so much of the content I see these days is regurgitated crap I’ve read a trillion times before, from a trillion different people.

In yoga, I keep hearing the sentiment that the teacher shall remain as a student, always open to learning something new. It’s a concept I’ve always believed in.

But suddenly, I wasn’t learning anything new anymore.

And I worried that you, my dear readers, weren’t learning anything new either.

So in the past year, I’ve quieted down. I’ve kept my mouth shut more often than not. I’ve cleared out my Google Reader. I’ve slowed down with the blog and slowly stopped sending out newsletters.

In my silence, I was worrying that I was no different — or better — than any other coach out there. I was asking myself: What’s the point? They can get help elsewhere. I’ll just keep plugging away on my own projects.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been quietly juggling ghostwriting projects and social media management gigs. I’ve been quietly pitching literary magazines and reconnecting with old (and new) editors. I’ve been quietly working on my own book project. I’ve been quietly (okay, not so quietly; I can’t shut up about it) working my way through a yoga teacher training program.

I’ve been doing what I always tell my clients to do: reevaluating my work situation… asking myself how things can evolve and grow… working out how I can make my passions pay, without losing sight of life’s financial realities.

And in all of this, I’m seeing very clearly the coach I don’t want to be. The coach I never was. The ways in which I am different.

1. I’m not the coach who will tell you to rely upon manifestation and inspiration boards and glitter. I’m not going to share empty platitudes like “believe you can and you’re halfway there” and “if you don’t like your job, quit” and “when life gets too hard to stand, kneel.” Because as pleasant as these platitudes and inspirational quotes can be, they’re only a tiny percent of the big picture. The other percent — the BIG percent — is about making calculated risks and being prepared and doing your research and having a plan and getting shit done, yo. That’s the part people really need help with.

2. I’m not the coach who will tell you to always follow your passion. Because sometimes your passion isn’t lucrative. Sometimes your passion won’t pay the bills. Sometimes you have to think of someone other than yourself. Or, at the very least, you need to get creative and come up with a realistic way to make your passion a financially viable option. Hell, sometimes the answer lies in staying put, and taking steps to change your present situation without actually leaving. Because as much as I wish it was so, I’m not going to pay the bills by working on my pigeon pose and hugging my cats. (Yes. Hugging my cats counts as a passion.)

3. I’m not the coach who’s going to give you all the answers. Sure. I could do the research for you and write up a list of all the publications in that one niche you’d like to break into. I could rewrite every goddamn query letter you come up with. I could help you brainstorm story ideas. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll teach you how to do market research. I’ll teach you what goes into a holy-shit-fantastic query letter so that, eventually, it will come to you as second nature. I’ll teach you all the countless ways you can brainstorm and look for new story ideas. That way, you’ll be able to find your own way no matter what path you take, and how many times you change course.

4. I’m not the coach who’s going to keep her mouth shut about her own missteps. I’m not infallible. I’m not untouchable. I didn’t make it this far without making countless mistakes… and then learning from them. If you’re looking for someone who’s never made a single mistake in the entirety of their working life, you’re asking for too much. If you find that person, they’re lying. And if you’re afraid of taking (calculated) risks yourself, you’re never going to move forward. You need to be open to mistakes, in your coach and in your career. After all, how you react to a setback is more important than what you do when you’re not being challenged at all.

5. I’m not the coach who’s going to let you off the hook. Some people never feel ready to move forward. They need more coaching. They need more classes. They need one more self-help book or one more certification or one more course that will finally reveal to them all the secrets of the universe.

I’m not going to give you all the secrets of the universe.

I can’t take the steps for you.

That’s on you.


  1. Love your honesty.

    So true: But so much of the content I see these days is regurgitated crap I’ve read a trillion times before, from a trillion different people.

    These sentiments keep me a bit stuck. What could I possibly offer that hasn’t already been done a thousand ways? Why would someone buy yet another ebook about the same topic? I’m scrambling to decide just what expertise I can offer that is different and of value. I like how you narrowed your focus down by evaluating what you are not.

  2. Steph – So are you still planning to coach? It feels like you’re at a crossroads, I’m curious to know where you’re headed. And rooting for you along the way.

    Carrie – I know what you mean. Until recently I struggled with those questions about what I can offer that’s different and of value. Those are the same sort of questions I use to ask when I was struggling at the beginning of my writing career before it really took off.

    Now I know. Writers are a dime a dozen. Even talented ones. So are bloggers. And coaches. What differs is the way you connect with people, how you resonate and how you bring life to words and ideas. It’s not always about ‘different’. Sometimes it’s about bridge building. I look at it like making friends. You don’t connect with everyone. Others you leave a lasting impact and vice versa.

    • I still plan on providing coaching services, but clients should know that I can’t hand them success on a silver platter. I can point them in the right direction, but they still need to do the real work. They need to have realistic expectations of what a coach can and should do for them.

      That being said, I can’t see coaching being a huge piece of the pie. But I’m still not sure what the biggest piece will be.

      Come May 18, I start looking for yoga teaching gigs in earnest. It’s something I’m really excited about. And I’d eventually like to plan focused workshops around yoga. A fellow yogi and I are also mulling over some ideas that would allow us to provide yoga and wellness services to solo professionals / freelancers.

      And of course, I still want to be writing. I always want to be writing.

      But the issue of what else goes into the mix (or stays in the mix) remains to be seen. Ghostwriting? Copyediting? Social media management? Blogging? My book? I don’t know.

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