This is one of those posts I’m scared to share, but I think it’s an important one. When we make career decisions that involve trying something new, there is *always* a learning curve. But I feel like this curve is very rarely talked about or shared.
Many of us (myself included) want to give the impression that we’re immediately great at this new thing. We share when things go well, when we’re succeeding. We hide the moments that end in tears, frustration and declarations of ‘I want to give up’.
Well, all of those things happened after I did my first practice coaching session and I think it’s worth sharing why, and what I learnt.
My coaching training required me to work with at least one practice client over a number of sessions and in the end I worked with three. Before my first session, which was going to be a one-off session, I had spent a lot of time preparing.
I’d written up a solid plan for the session, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask and thought I knew the journey the conversation would take and where we would end up.
It did not go that way. By the end of the session, I felt awful. I felt like I hadn’t been any help to the client and that I had no idea what I was doing. I was scared that this meant I shouldn’t be a coach and honestly thought about quitting. I cried a lot, especially to Dan who kept trying to reassure me that I was still learning.
The client, of course, was incredibly lovely and told me they found the session helpful, but I still felt deflated.
Eventually I pulled myself together and focused my attention on the next practice client. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that future sessions with other clients went a lot better. I came away feeling that lovely exhausted but happy feeling. I got that glow that told me I was doing the right thing, and I’ve continued to learn and grow.
There may well be some people who are instantly good at the thing they turn their hand to, but for me and many others, it takes time, practice and perhaps a few fuck-ups. With that in mind, here are some valuable lessons I learnt about coaching from that first session.
You can’t predict where the conversation will go
The biggest mistake I made was trying to predict the flow of conversation when I was preparing for the session. I knew in advance what the client wanted to work on so I planned the session around key questions and assumed I would know roughly what the answers would be. I was trying to mind-read the client.
Unsurprisingly then, when the responses weren’t what I was expecting – I froze. I hadn’t planned for that and fumbled to find a way forward. Since this session I have really reduced the amount of planning I do for coaching sessions.
I have rough landmarks I know I want us to hit in the conversation and I have a loose structure for each session, but I’m also happy for it to go wherever the client needs it to.
I’ve developed my skills more so I know what to do if we get stuck somewhere and I know how to guide the client through it. Getting stuck somewhere isn’t a sign of failure, not all journeys are simple or smooth.
Big topics can’t be neatly addressed and resolved in one session
I’m glad I learnt this one early on. In my first session we were covering some heavy topics and I had the utterly unrealistic expectation that we would be able to ‘resolve’ them in 90-minutes. Yeah, that isn’t possible so of course I was disappointed when it didn’t happen.
This is why I decided to make my self-worth coaching package more long-term (three months and six calls). With my self-care coaching, however, I realised if I focus in on helping people with one element (creating a sustainable self-care routine), I can do it in one session.
I may go back to my packages at some point and do some more refining, but I quite like the two different options I have now and think they suit different types of clients.
It’s not your responsibility to fix the problem
Oooft, this is a hard lesson for any coach I think. The reason I decided to get into coaching was because I wanted to help people. During the first session, when the conversation got stuck (i.e. when the client answered a question in a way I hadn’t prepared for) I was frantically trying to think of solutions for them. I wanted to fix their problem there and then.
I now know that this is not what coaching is about. Coaching is about helping the client fix their own problem. It’s about asking the questions that will help them gain insight and come up with solutions themselves.
Coaches are facilitators – we can guide and potentially offer our own thoughts, but our role, really, is to facilitate the client’s journey.
While I still have the urge to problem-solve in sessions, I’m learning to reign it in and hold myself back. I do offer ideas from time to time, but this totally depends on the client and type of session we’re having.
You won’t be the right coach for everyone
Yikes, another difficult yet essential lesson to learn. I’m a recovering people pleaser and it’s hard to realise sometimes that you aren’t the right fit for someone. In hindsight, I wasn’t the right coach for my first practice client.
I wasn’t far enough along in my training to be tackling the issues we were discussing and I should have ended the session early when I realised this and signposted to someone else.
A big part of coaching training is learning when you can’t help and what to do. When I officially launched my coaching services I had a couple of enquiries that fizzled out, but had they gotten further I know they wouldn’t have been candidates for coaching (based on information I gathered on application forms).
As I work in the self-worth realm, the line between coaching and therapy is thin.
I feel like I know enough about mental health and counselling to know when a client needs therapy, not coaching, and will always be happy to recommend someone speaks to a counsellor instead of me. And sometimes, personalities and ways of working just don’t fit.
I’ve only worked with a handful of clients, but I’ve been lucky in that they’ve all been what I would call ‘dream clients’. I think a lot of this is down to the way I talk about my offerings and hopefully make it pretty clear who I am and how I work.
But if someone comes along one day who isn’t right, I’ll happily recommend someone else who’s on their wavelength.
So there we go, even though that first session ended with me in tears questioning everything – I learnt a hell of a lot. We need these learning moments to grow and even though they feel totally shit when they’re happening, it’s so important. I feel like there’s a metaphor there somewhere about shit being good fertiliser…
Anyway, I hope this was interesting – I would love to hear about your learning experiences in the comments. And if you like behind the scenes posts like this, I think you’ll really enjoy my monthly newsletter.
Every month I pick a theme, usually about something I’ve been wrestling with, and share my musings on it alongside resources and a free download to help you if you’re experiencing something similar. The next one is going out next Sunday, 29th September and you can subscribe here if you want to receive it.
I’ll be back next week with this month’s short story.
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