Life Coaching for Skeptics: 18 Areas of Life (But No Parachutes or Color Therapy)

09/08/2010 12:21 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I once bought the book What Color Is Your Parachute at a Relay shop in San Francisco International airport. I was returning from a business trip, feeling unsatisfied with life and unsure of what would make me happier. I slid the book, along with another self-improvement title and an issue of O Magazine over the counter, somewhat embarrassed, and the man at the register rhapsodized: "This is such a great book. It's really amazing." I nearly asked for my money back.

The book didn't, after all, teach me what color my parachute was (and I'm still wondering what color it has to be for an airport job to be your calling). So while I'm not categorically against self-improvement tools - I bought the book in the first place, didn't I? - I was dubious when my editor asked me to try life coaching for Blisstree. I imagined cheesy meetings with a pudgy, feel-good bald man in his "therapeutic blue" office. I didn't imagine Laurie Gerber telling me stop making excuses and start figuring out a better plan for my life.

Laurie is my life coach. I've never met her; we only talk over the phone, and that's the way she likes to keep it with her clients. She's the President of Handel Group Life Coaching, and though we haven't met, I'd put my life savings on the fact that she's not pudgy, bald or into therapeutic wall paint. She's all about efficiency (hence the phone calls - who has time for commuting and waiting around in an office?) and accountability (I call her. I also have to send her my homework by 6 p.m. the day before our appointment, or else.). She's also all about getting people to match their real life to their dream life. (That's the hard part.)

Handel Group Life Coaching methods aren't for lazy people or anyone with an easily-bruised ego: My first homework assignment took me over 5 hours, and asked me to divulge details about my weight, sex life, family, and even my financial portfolio. For someone I've never met in-person, Laurie digs deep into the cavities of my worst habits and traits, and knows things about me that, come to think of it, no one else knows. She knows exactly what I currently weigh; what I want to weigh; how much money I spent on lunch last week - and that I blew $50 on an impulse mani-pedi two Fridays ago. Oh, she also knows how much time I spent with my boyfriend, what time I woke up yesterday, and she even knows how many times I hit the gym and the, uh, bedroom. (Seriously, she does.)

If you think this all sounds creepy and overbearing, well, sometimes I feel the same way. But the thing is, it's worth it.

When I embarked on my Handel Group Life Coaching adventure, I started with a deceptively simple homework assignment, called the 18 Areas of Life. It sounds easy enough: On a scale of 1 to 10, you describe a perfect 10 - your dream - in each area. Then you fess up to the reality for each area, and explain what's keeping you from getting to a perfect 10, assuming you're not there already. (Because, let's be honest people, you're in life coaching.) Though the assignment was long (18 areas of life!), it didn't seem that tough... until I actually started doing it.

Articulating my dream life and my real life turned out to be the biggest self-evaluation I'd endeavored in years. I was used to multiple-choice magazine quizzes, for Christ's sake! I spent at least five hours on the assignment, and if I'm honest, I'll admit that I blazed through some of the areas a little too fast. (This didn't slip by Laurie - she asked me to redo parts of the assignment after our first session.) But the exercise alone - even without Laurie's feedback and discussion of my answers - was one of the most enlightening things I'd done in a long time.

Before Handel Group intervened, evaluating my life was something I mostly did when I felt particularly successful or particularly failed. But when I embarked on my life coaching mission, my life was in a pretty "normal" phase - if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? But the assignment made me realize that in a lot of areas, my life was about a 7 - described by the Handel Group as "Solid, can't complain, coasting because it's good enough but not a source of pride". Kind of crappy. Who ever said: "On a scale of 1 to 10, my goal is a 7"?

This is where Laurie and life coaching comes in. Our next call is on Tuesday at 8 a.m., and now I need to go do my homework...

Handel Group's 18 Areas of Life Homework Assignment

For each of the following 18 areas of life, use the scale below to describe: a) what a perfect 10 would be for each area; b) what your life is actually like in each area (choose a number and describe in-depth); and c) what the barriers are to making it a perfect 10.

1. Body
2. Career/Business/School Life
3. Money
4. Relationships
5. Romance
6. Sex
7. Community
8. Character Traits
9. Family
10. Time
11. Relationship to Self
12. Bad Habits
13. Home
14. Personal Space
15. Learning
16. Fun & Adventure
17. Spirituality
18. Health

Evaluation Scale:

10 - Perfect. Unsustainable state of affairs. Reserved for individual episodes and fleeting moments. 9 - Highest sustainable rating for a category. 8 - Highly satisfactory state of affairs. Significant additional focused effort will be needed to elevate rating to a 9. A source of pride. 7 - Solid, can't complain, coasting because it's good enough but not a source of pride. 6 -Weak, but not painful. Frayed around the edges. Can talk oneself into it being a 7 but it's not easy. Needs work but doesn't have to be today. 5 - A 6 that's been around a while. Still not intolerable but likely the issue or the necessary remedial steps are being actively avoided. 4 - Getting to be intolerable...but not yet. Requires a great deal of justification and/or denial to continue this number at a sustained rate. 3 - Things are bad. Very bad. It is not yet life threatening or a point of no return, but close. 2 - Things are hopeless. You wonder why you exist. There is much pain. Virtually unbearable. 1 - Fleeting moments of hell. Unsustainable level of displeasure.

Handel Group Life Coaching believes that individuals achieve lifelong happiness by consciously designing every area of their lives. Handel Group Life Coaches create personal and professional breakthroughs with clients all over the world, including leaders at Vogue, MIT, and AOL. Their unique method, Personal Integrity®, emphasizes inspired, promised actions, accountability and when applied to any area of life, including career, relationship, body, and money creates meaningful results in a very short period of time.

Personal coaching is available by phone and online. Handel Group leads live events throughout the country, including group Life Coaching Tele-Courses, Urban Retreats, and Crash Course weekends. Mention Blisstree for 50% off your first private session or 25% off the fall Coaching Crash Courses.

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