Thanks, coach


On New Year's Eve two years ago, I had a chance meeting with a friend of a friend. We now view our introduction as a kind of kismet -- good fortune, fate, destiny. Whatever you want to call it; it transformed both our lives.

First introduced as an actress and musician, she jumped into the afternoon's sledding party with great zeal and theatrics. Her over-the-top humor and slapstick comedy were hits with our budding Chevy Chase and Lucille Ball, and I instantly admired her forthright demeanor. It wasn't until hours later, while defrosting over much-needed, first-rate coffee, that I learned she was also a professional and personal coach.

I was intrigued; I acutely needed new direction in my life. After leaving teaching to stay home with my children, I felt pulled -- repeatedly -- to the field of coaching. But honestly, I hate the term "life coach." It feels too "California"; I am a New Englander, after all. We don't hold with that touchy-feely business. We are people of ice storms and stacking wood. We revel in a good Nor'easter. We are practical and a bit taciturn. When things get rough in our house, we like to say, "I ain't dead yet!" Life coaching? I didn't have the patience for that squishy indulgence.

But at the end of the visit, she said simply, "Give me a call. Coaching can change your life." I did, and it has.

I could rattle off my personal successes of the past two years, but I might leave you with the idea that I am a superhero and not the slight, slightly-neurotic, far-sighted, middle-aged gal I truly am. What has changed? I live more in line with my personal values now, and that has made all the difference.

I don't mean driving a more fuel-efficient car or eating locally, although those can be part of living your values. I mean those values that are so much a part of who we are and want to be, that we may not realize their critical importance in our lives. Naming them gives them the power they deserve. My initial "values" list included dozens of things I cherished: laughter, curiosity, service, accomplishment, and movement. It was immensely pleasing to name those elusive intangibles that make me who I most want to be in the world.

Sometimes stated values conflict with one another: I want more solitary exercise, but I also want more quality time with my family. And I only have so many hours in the day. But that is the exquisite and intricate dance we must all do. Honestly acknowledging the tension -- and making the best choice in that moment -- can provide a balm for the harried or the chronically disappointed. There is no "have to"; there is only choice.

Tens of thousands of coaches and organizations around the globe use the Co-Active Coaching model, created by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House and Laura Whitworth, to transform lives and businesses. Although decidedly California in its origin (Ah-ha -- I was right!), it recently found a home at the stodgy Ivy League: McClean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate, announced a partnership between its Institute of Coaching and the Coaches Training Institute, the premier Co-Active Coaching training school. Karen Kimsey-House explained, "We've known intuitively and by watching results for 20 years that the Co-Active Model is an effective approach to coaching, and now, with this partnership, we'll be able to demonstrate that through scientific research."

I am more joyful -- and more satisfied -- now that I have embraced Co-Active Coaching, both as a director of my life and as an aspect of my career path. But I recently came to the wholly unexpected -- and amusing -- realization that it is easier for me to come out as gay than to come out as a life coach. It feels much more revealing to say that I believe living my stated values is a radical act of fulfillment. Sexual orientation? That's so 90s! But declaring that the right coach, asking the right questions, could transform one's life and work? Well, that's chastening; there is shame and embarrassment wrapped up in admitting that we might need help living a life of true purpose and fulfillment.

It's like when some of us on the Development Review Board thought we might witness a battle over southern Vermont's first proposed medical marijuana dispensary, and the real tussle of the night -- the one that brought the crowds to the meeting -- was a discussion about parking clogging up a narrow side street. It turns out that it's often the mundane things that are so vitally important to our sense of wellbeing.

Through my extensive Co-Active Coach training, I met men and women from around the world who use coaching in their personal and professional lives. I know financial planners, therapists, editors, writers, teachers, human resource managers, performers, administrators, doctors -- and even a supervisor at a diamond mine -- who all use it in their work. For some, coaching is the entirety of their practice; for most of us, it is a highly effective tool we use to shape lives and careers of more resonance.

I am a much better parent, writer, educator -- and person -- now than before I embraced Co-Active Coaching. And my coach agrees that as I have lived a more authentic, vulnerable and brave life, she has been inspired to do the same. It is the same with my clients. When I witness someone engaging fully in their life and work, I step up my own game.

As you welcome the New Year, how will you create your own kismet? What will be your breathtaking challenge? I am crafting my own as I write this.

Rebecca Balint writes about history, education and culture. She welcomes your comments at Read her blog at


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