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Deborah Gaines Headshot

Why I Need a Life Coach -- And You Might, Too

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I have a life coach. Among people I know, this is about as embarrassing as saying, "my nine-year-old isn't toilet trained" or "I have an STD," so you may be wondering why I am coming out with it.

The reason is, in the 10 years I have been working with Travis, my life has changed dramatically for the better. And if I, with my arrogant, know-it-all attitude, can experience this kind of change, I believe you can, too.

It all began with a gift from a friend. I was a freelance writer with an unemployed husband and two small kids, and she bought me several sessions with the career consultant (no one called them life coaches back then) who had handled her corporate layoff.

My challenge was clear: I needed to make twice as much money without sacrificing flexibility or working more hours. This, as I explained to Travis in our first phone session, was clearly impossible. The newspaper industry was imploding, flooding the market with people like me. The competition was younger, hungrier, and more technologically nimble, while I was older, crankier, and less able to adapt.

With kindness and patience, Travis began to do what all good coaches do: dismantle the road blocks I had placed in the way of my own success. We started by visualizing employment that would fill my needs. Rather than focusing on a specific industry, he asked me to list my criteria for a great job: More money. Dinner with the kids every night. An environment where my education and previous experience gave me an edge. A steep learning curve to keep me from getting bored.

I ended up leveraging my college contacts to pitch corporate writing projects, a process that I fought fiercely until I received my first assignment -- a brochure that took three days and paid more than a month of full-time newspaper work. This was followed by a six-month engagement for a law firm that netted well over a year's salary.

I stopped complaining about Travis' rates. He, in turn, made me a deal -- he would charge me on a sliding scale that increased along with my income. He literally bet on my success.

One of the hardest parts of all this was learning to recite my new fees with a straight face. Before meetings, I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, looking myself in the eye and saying, "My hourly rate is [more than I used to make in a day], with a two-hour minimum." Then I would try to control the nervous giggle that inevitably followed this outlandish statement.

Travis' constant refrain, which took years to worm its way into my consciousness, was "Why shouldn't you succeed?" Financial educator Barbara Stanny wrote a great book on this subject called Secrets of Six-Figure Women. In dozens of interviews, she showed that the difference between high earners and the rest of us had nothing to do with our skills -- the culprits are fear, lethargy, and self-sabotage.

Another key to career success has been learning to align money with values. What makes me happy, and how can I support these goals financially? I first learned of this concept through a book called Money & Happiness by HuffPo editor Laura Rowley. Over the years, I've worked with Travis to determine what I really want (perhaps the hardest question you can ask) or, as he puts it, "what truly feels prosperous."

I have learned, for instance, that experiences feel more prosperous to me than things. I would rather travel frequently than live in a palatial house. Time with my family is infinitely more valuable than high-ticket cars or clothing.

These areas blur the lines between career coaching and the full-blown life version. What constitutes success in relationships, and how can I achieve it? What are my criteria for a prosperous life?

It's been a long road, and I'm not entirely there yet. Sometimes Travis annoys the hell out of me. Sometimes things don't work out the way I planned. Often I wish I was healthy enough to just know this stuff without spending four thousand dollars a year on a babysitter for my mental health. But I'm not -- so I am investing in my success.

So far, the returns have been pretty great.