mental engineering
Three Ugly Truths About
Life Coaching

by Olga Reinholdt
Meditation Teacher and Author
I'm crossing an American border, entering the country with my new Green Card for the first time.
I've lived in the US for three years, and finally, I could afford to visit my hometown in Kazakhstan and not worry about entering on the unreliable travel parole.
This time I'm relaxed and happy.
I confidently approach a border officer.
I hand my ID over to him.
I'm no longer an alien.
"What do you do for a living?" — he asks. Well, that's random.
My confidence vanishes. I want to hide behind my suitcase. Or lie that I'm just a stay-at-home mom. I know both are a bad idea.
I mumble:
"I'm a life coach"…
He gives me a look. The Look.
The "WTF is life coach" look.
He checks me through, and I enter the USA land, as an alien again.
This time — an alien in the profession that I chose, and that I sincerely love.
It's been two years since I graduated from my life coaching training program, about five years since I started doing what I identify as life coaching service.
I watch my clients and my readers transform their lives under the influence of what I have to offer. Yet…

Many people that are interested in life-coaching talk to me about the job and the industry. One very straightforward lady asked me once:
"Do you even identify yourself as a life coach?"

The answer was… "No. I'm afraid not". I surprised myself with this answer. It was true.
I do identify myself as life coach in the way that I see it: someone committed to helping people get from point A to point B in their lives.

I did not and I still don't identify myself with life coaching as the industry it currently is. Although the life coaching industry does claim that life coaches help clients reach their goals, there's so much ugliness and misrepresentation of the profession.

In other words, if you had doubts about hiring a life coach, maybe you were right.
If you are a life coach and you have doubts about staying in the industry, again… maybe you are right.

I've seen a lot of amazing people in life coaching. I've seen them — sharp, smart, unique — being homogenized by the industry to the extent where all you could see was a smiling mask of averaged "successful life".
Pathetic.

So, what are the ugly truth about life coaching? Buckle up.

1. Life-coaches are underequipped and undertrained for the tasks they claim to accomplish

Worse — they don't even realize how undertrained they are.
Wait… they're systematically exposed to the illusion that they really CAN do what they claim.
And they are trained to claim a lot.
Create happy relationships in the family? — Sure.
Successful business? — No problem.
Anxiety and self-loathing? — Well, you'd better see a psychotherapist, but hey… if you've already paid me, we'll kill that monster too.

You can do, be and what's most important — have — ANYTHING.
If you work with a life coach, of course.
Anything is possible if you meet someone once a week, answer their "open" questions, and report to them on your progress at a ridiculous price.

Just believing that life works that way is the sign of inadequacy. I don't claim I know how life works. I surely know what doesn't work. The "bratty-workaholic" model of life is definitely deficient. No, you can't have "all you want" just because "you work hard and put your mind to it".
Life's more complex than that.

People are different, and nobody can achieve anything.
Your mind, your society, your social habits, your ego, and greed can tell you that you need this and that and that and this… You fail to realize that you don't need all that. Fake goals like these urge people to sacrifice their precious lives and health for nothing.
What life coaches are really bad at is reality checking and adequacy checking the goals they promise to help achieve. People dwell in the delusion of grandeur for years, all the while paying life coaches for companionship in this dwelling. Thinking "just one more little step, just one more breakthrough, just one more insight, and I will be there".

Life coaches claim to work with deep psychological and spiritual issues, such as relationships between humans while having a very vague understanding of the nature of humans.
Where I was trained, life coaches mostly worked within the simplified duality of "survival mechanism" (the bad guy) and "essence" (the good guy).

The so-called "essence" was considered the state that assured that ANYTHING is possible. The servant of ego. What a mistake!

It's a wannabe condition of "everything good about people that I believe I can summon just by saying so". Survival mechanism was considered "an enemy to identify and to fight".

"- I can't advertise my service among my friends.
- Why not?
- I'm shy and I'm scared to talk to them about what I do.
- What are you afraid of?
- That my service isn't valuable.
- What would it feel like from essence?
- From essence, I know the value of my service, and I can explain it to my friends.
- How many friends will you call and talk about your service to?
- Ten, I will talk to ten friends before the next call!"
Hallelujah!

What's wrong with this typical life coaching conversation? Everything…
In particular:
a) most times when thoughts like these arise, the service is actually shit and "the survival mechanism" is, in fact, a wise guide to the unwanted truth
b) the wannabe state of "I know my value" is not going to last, unlikely to dawn on the client at all, and probably doesn't have any grounds to (see p. a)
c) what's going to happen is instead of improving the service and creating the kind that one can really be proud of, the poor guy is going to torture himself and his friends with overexaggerated and frankly annoying "sense of self-value"

If there is a fear that is messing with a person's life, the fear doesn't go like that. It actually becomes stronger and more destructive when ignored due to the illusion of "solving it".
Any fear is hard-wired in the body, it's been there for the most part of the person's life, and it takes time, a lot of attention and body-based practices to gradually clear that fear.

Every sabotage is also the way for a wise bodily consciousness to tell us that we are not doing the right thing. We're serving our own delusions and ego, and nothing good is going to transpire from this service.

But life coaches usually are at the service of the ego. I believe the term should be "ego coaches".
Life has nothing to do with the ambitions and greedy goals of the polluted brain.

Speaking of making the service better…

During their training life coaches are also deprived of the tools that they already might have.
While being trained as a life coach you're told numerous times that you can't consult, or train, or assume.
All you do is ask questions and offer "reflections". And "hold space for the client's greatness" whatever it means. It is considered enough for a client to solve everything they need to solve.
It even makes sense. Until it doesn't.

The problem here is that a life coach claims to take the client from point A to point B in his life.
Why would somebody want to pay money for something that doesn't take them from where they don't want to be to where they do want to be?

So, in reality, nobody can take anybody from point A to point B with questions only.
No, you can't help anyone build better relationships or better business by just asking questions and reflecting. It's only one ingredient of the recipe.
You also need to be able to consult. So you need to understand the subject, to have enough experience, research capacity, your own insight into it.
You need to be able to train, to develop the important skills for traveling from point A to point B.
And the hardest part — you need to be able to distinguish between something that can be learned and something that must be realized from the inside.

I always recommend that coaches take the niche that they have expertise in, and learn additional skills that are required for the client's "trip".
For example, you can have expertise in running an online business.
If you aren't able to work out your clients fear or unique talents, you can't properly help. You can't tell them what to do here — you can't only support them in their own realizations.
But you can tell them how to better package their training, and which button to push to launch a website.
You can also develop a skill of making videos in them.
None of that alone will take a client to the possibility of a successful online business. All of that combined will. A competent coach should be able to offer all of them.
But usually, they're trained not to.

Why?
I believe it's a "fool-proof" strategy created by the industry so that masses of people can be charged for coaching training programs and certification.

It's hard to be a real coach, but that makes the mass industry of coaching training programs impossible. So they developed a fool-proof approach: you ask questions, give reflections, and here's some "tools" by the way — scripted conversations that are supposed to work miracles with your clients' minds.

By the way, I noticed that coaches who act as "mentors" and "trainers" in coaching training programs do better there than in their own practice. That's because in the training environment they can offer life coaching along with consulting and training.

So effective coaches must base their service on their own background and knowledge, and be realistic about what "empowerment", "confidence" and "leadership" they are really capable of offering to clients.

2. Life coaches are delusional about life, clients, and themselves

"You can't change the situation before you accept it," said Dalai Lama.
I don't have reasons to argue with that.
No doctor can offer a treatment without a diagnosis.
No construction is based primarily on "what we want this building to look like" — architects assess the actual area and follow the rules of physics as they are.

Humankind wouldn't conquer the skies if it tried to defy gravity. We need to accept and understand gravity as it is, and only then we can engineer a plane.

Not in the life-coaching industry.

While life-coaches can be well trained to analyze a current situation with a client, they are conditioned to be delusional about a more fundamental thing — themselves and the world around them.

Usually, life coaches come into the industry because they have issues on their own. They've faced existential crisis and look for ways to deal with it.
What usually happens to a person in an existential crisis is an ardent desire to help others. We see reflections of our own issues in other people and really want to fix them. Essentially we want to fix the shadow while being too scared to see it's source.

When I was trained life coaches in training underwent extensive life-coaching on their own. The idea was to address the inner issues of the coach before he or she would start working with other people.
The intention was good.
The implementation wasn't.

The coaching industry creates a stereotype of a "successful coach", and coaches try to superficially fit into that stereotype.
You can't realize your true issues and fit into "successful coach stereotype" at the same time. So most choose the latter, and the whole industry helps. The issues remain out of control.

During their training, life-coaches become illusional not just about solving their own issues, but about becoming something exceptional, superior to "ordinary people". "Leaders", "enlightened beings", etc.
A coach may be filled with fears, but drown in the illusion of confidence, because that's a what a "successful coach" supposed to be.
A coach may not handle his financial responsibilities at all but perform "abundant life" by spending ridiculous money on his coach, fancy clothes and an enviable lifestyle for Instagram followers.
A coach may be hugely unhappy in her family life, but stay in complete denial and throw a "happy couple" show because coaches are supposed to have happy relationships.

In the life-coaching environment, life coaches don't really work on their issues — they pretend they do, they put a mask of success on. That mask is not sustainable, of course. But it does a great job of keeping the industry well fed.

Therefore, the third ugly truth.

3. Life coaching industry is essentially a financial pyramid with emphasis on manipulative selling

This is how it works:

You stumble across life-coaching when you face some crisis in your own life.
You decide to take life-coaching as a profession because you need help with your own crisis in the first place.
You find yourself in the environment with a lot of ego, unhealthy ambitions, illusions about life, and stereotypes of basically "what you should be to be a life coach".
But you accept it because it feels better than your current crisis.
Your crisis is being addressed superficially, mainly to dip you into the stereotypes of the environment and to teach you to "act as a fulfilled happy person".
Your unresolved crisis is getting worse, but now it's buried under thick layers of glitter.
You have troubles selling your service, because, let's be honest, most people don't have a reason to trust you. They sense the drama behind the glitter. And you charge too much.
You are being told that you must hire a coach for yourself.
You are being told, that you can't sell your service without paying for the same service to someone else.
In fact, you do depend on another coach and on the whole coaching community because by now your unresolved crisis has turned into a rotting wound under beautiful garments. You need someone to keep telling you that the wound doesn't really smell, that the garments are amazing, and maybe give you "painkillers" every so often.

Overpriced "painkillers".

Of course, you need reassurance about your competencies and the value of your service. The coaching industry came up with a system of certification and accreditation to cover that and to monetize your needs once again.

You see, if people trust you, if people show actual results after working with you, if you are content with your craft, you don't need someone with authority to tell you that you're ok.

You don't rely on certification or accreditation, that has no legal requirements around it.

Life coaching accreditation is made up by the coaching industry. It's not based either on objective criteria or on something that would ensure effective service.

Although there are official "competencies", they don't provide any basis for actually taking a client from point A to point B. They are way too general and abstract to serve as professional criteria. And there is no measurement outside of an assessor's own "feelings" about "whether you were present, open and danced in the moment"
Actually observance of some of the "competencies" can potentially cause serious harm to a client.

However, accreditation gives you the relief of temporary validation. If you pay for it, of course.
You will also be offered to pay for preparing you for the accreditation.
You will also need to pay your own coach to be accredited…
And once you get one level of accreditation, you will realize that you're still not ok — until you get the next one.

Many new coaches stay in the industry by becoming "mentor coaches" within their training programs or federations.
They volunteer plenty of their time and money in order to stay around the "painkillers", and keep receiving the so needed reassurance and comradeship.
They will be trained to sell the coaching training programs to others. They will be given manipulative selling techniques, they will be encouraged to push the training along with their own service onto any human being within the reach, no matter how disinterested the person might be.
They are caught in the wheel of selling and recruiting, selling and recruiting…

And certainly, they will be the main source of revenue for the industry. That's how any financial pyramid works.

But I'm still a life-coach. And I'm loving it. Quietly.
I've gone through all the circles of life coaching industry's hell, and I was lucky to see what was going on. And have the courage to quit. Yes, it took a lot of courage.
I quit the industry.
But I didn't quit the service.
Actually, I became way more conscientious, laborious and effective in life coaching since I liberated myself from the life-coaching industry.

The path where you consciously choose to help others get from their point A to their point B in life is honorable. It's very challenging because it implies that you uncover all your crises and wounds and address them.
Often you can only address them alone. Any "help" from the outside will interfere in the necessary process of inner growth.
The true path of life coaching requires a certain extent of existential loneliness and independence.
It's a lifelong learning that makes you very humble. Uncomfortably humble in the culture, where "knowing it all" is the "quality standard".
What's most important, a coach must cast away one's own ego, ambitions, and illusions. If money, fame, and self-importance are your true goals, life coaching is not for you.
There are less dirty ways to earn good money and fame than pretending that you care about other people.

The true path of life coaching doesn't involve creating wealth and the alleged "financial goals".

Of course, you charge for your services, because you are responsible for providing for your needs. Inflicting self-harm through so-called "altruism" is no way to help others. But money only comes as a side-product of your journey, not as a primary objective.

Wealth is never a priority for a life coach.
A life coach doesn't have ambitions other than pure desire to realize oneself and help others realize themselves.
A life coach doesn't want fame and a large following, because it distracts from the path of self-discovery and service.
Life coaching as a craft is a great phenomenon of the modern age, revealing the growing value of emotional intelligence in society.
Life coaching as an industry is but an echo of consumeristic ego-driven culture, that is slowly but surely destroying itself with its own greed.

It is an ugly yet a natural stage of humanity development.

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