Coaching as a Calling – On The Deeper Purpose to Being a Coach

Coaching as a Calling - On The Deeper Purpose to Being a Coach cover

There is something I don’t often write about in relation to coaching.

I frequently write about the practicality of the business and career of coaching, most recently exploring how coaches can work after training, the different types of coach one could become and who they suit, and coach training as the gateway to a profession.

I also enjoy writing philosophically about the nature of coaching and the ideas that sit behind it. Indeed, this is what I most love to explore.

But there’s something missing from my writing and I want to explore it here.

It’s a slightly nebulous, impractical and intangible topic but I believe it’s important to acknowledge and talk about it.

And that is coaching as a calling.

Because I believe that, ultimately, coaching is not a job and it’s not a business.

It’s a calling. A vocation. A way of being.

Because I believe that, ultimately, coaching is not a job and it’s not a business.

It’s a calling. A vocation. A way of being.

There, I’ve said it.

For many years now, we have helped coaches create businesses or develop the necessary skills to work within their workplace as internal coaches, yet we rarely talk about what is at the heart of a person’s true attraction to coaching.

The focus of why people choose to become a coach is often, at the surface at least, what being a coach is going to lead to – in other words, the opportunity created by the training that someone then accesses – a business, a new career, a new role within an organisation.

And, of course, these are extremely important.

But the reality is that many people who train as coaches do so less from a specific desire for a career outcome (though one might be attractive) but rather for something that’s less explicable and less obvious.

After all, there are many ways to be self-employed. And a change of job-role is just a CV and application away!

So why coaching?

I believe that being a coach is about the emotional, spiritual, relational, axiological, self-actualising quality it enables that person to experience and fulfil.

To some people, these words will be psychobabble nonsense but to others they will resonate and hit the truth.

And that in itself is a pretty big clue!

Becoming a coach when seen from this perspective is less a means to an end but rather a journey of intrinsic value to realise who you are and who you want to be that draws upon your unique human qualities.

This sounds very grandiose and pompous but I believe it’s true.

Many people who train as coaches do not end up with the business they expect and they don’t go on to become an internal coach.

Yet, despite having trained over 4,000 coaches around the world through Animas since 2008, I can only think of one example of someone who has said, “that was a waste of time as I didn’t get the business/career I thought I would get!” (Literally, one – I remember the person’s disgruntlement at not having a business within months of qualifying.)

I think that’s because the real reason for becoming a coach is often the much deeper outcomes I allude to above that transcend the expected outcome called “a coaching practice”.

Indeed, when I used to run our Introduction to Transformative Coaching, I would often joke that whilst most people think they want a coaching business, what they really want is to go on a transformative journey for themselves in which they lean into the qualities that make them who they are all whilst making new friends who share similar values and finally feel they belong.

For many people, that’s the true, deeper reason for becoming a coach. It takes us on a deeper journey into being who we already are.

When a monk joins an order, he doesn’t do so for the three square meals and accommodation with a stipend. He does it because he is called in some way by his faith and desire to connect to ideals and ways of being.

This is true of many “careers” including teaching, medicine, social care, the many therapies, volunteering, armed forces, and more.

Maybe you know financially successful people who have given up their higher-paying career to enter one of these more values-driven professions. Their purpose in doing so was not income or status or a state pension but something more like contribution, legacy, love, impact and value – something, in other words, that transcends the transactional nature of time for money.

Of course, plenty of people also join these professions because of the career aspects. The two are not mutually exclusive but there is an undeniably different quality to being called to do something versus choosing strategically and rationally for what it will give you.

If this all sounds hyperbolic or overly-selfless, I don’t think it is. I think there is something important going on here.

In Maslow’s terminology, we could reasonably call it a desire for self-actualisation.

In other words, it’s about realising the qualities of who we are and want to become rather than simply achieving an income, status or control of personal time – all of which might also be possible but are not prime drivers.

Seen through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, being called is meeting a “higher order” need.

Another way to think about this is that to be called to something is to immerse oneself in it for its own intrinsic worth, rather than its extrinsic outcomes.

At this point, I want to be clear though.

I am not saying the people should become coaches with no plan for what they are going to do with the skills they learn. Indeed, it is important to us as a school that the people who join us do have some sense of why they are taking our course beyond a personal journey, since becoming a coach might not be the best way to have that journey.

But it is to say that we can acknowledge and value coaching as a place to encounter, deepen and embrace the values, practices and principles that connect with us and as a place that provides a new context to realise our essential qualities.

Essential qualities? Is there even such a thing? Are we not all able to change? Do we even have an essence?

These are all good questions and, no doubt, they would make for an interesting post or conversation, but at a pragmatic level, it seems clear to me that there are people who are naturally drawn to what coaching stands for and there are those for whom it would be all just hot air, navel-gazing, mumbo jumbo!

Just a few qualities that draw people to coaching include:

  • Caring for, and being interested in, the individual lives of people beyond our close circle.
  • A belief in the ability of people to change and grow.
  • A faith in the essential wholeness and creativity of people.
  • A fascination in how people think, act and feel.
  • A belief and trust that people are the best guides of their own life.
  • A belief and value in people making positive change that brings about the life someone wants rather than remaining stuck.
  • Celebrating someone going beyond their assumptions of what’s possible.
  • Valuing the ideal of a happy, fulfilled and meaningful life.

There is something about this combination of ideas and ways of being that is profoundly important for the person that connects to them, and I would argue these are best found together in the coach.

Other people might connect to some of these but not all at the same level of depth. For instance, someone who is fascinated by how people tick but sees them as essentially governed by external stimuli might make an excellent behavioural psychologist but less so a coach. Someone who cares about individuals but values the role of physical care and healing might become a doctor, nurse or care worker. And so on.

It is the unique constellation of these values and qualities that makes for a great coach and it is this that seems to provide the calling for individuals to become a coach.

It is the unique constellation of these values and qualities that makes for a great coach and it is this that seems to provide the calling for individuals to become a coach.

This way of being allows for those that embrace it to realise their potential within this field of human relationships because it is where they need to be to tap in to, draw from and work with their deepest sense of self.

I recall many years ago a coach saying to me that after years of doing different people-centred work, coaching was the final piece of the puzzle that made it all make sense. She said it “felt like coming home”.

I’ve seen it so many times now that I can’t ignore it.

Coaches who struggle to create a sustainable business continue to love coaching and will carve out any opportunity they can to do it because it is where they are most truly themselves.

It is where they feel they are fully-actualised in their human qualities.

So why does this matter?

Well, at some level, it doesn’t. It just is what it is.

And yet, at another level, it does matter.

Here’s why.

The coaches I see who are happiest, regardless of the immediate practical outcome of training as a coach, are almost always the ones who are drawn to coaching because it where they feel fulfilled, not because it was their chance to be self-employed or who thought they were going to have clients knocking down their door and paying a high hourly rate.

Indeed, I would argue that it is the people who had perceived coaching as a low-hurdle route to self-employment who end up being disappointed and frustrated. This is why we are so particular about having this conversation when someone looks to join us.

The fact is that starting and growing a coaching business is no easy feat. It can be done, of course, and plenty do. There are also many more opportunities to succeed as a coach now given the growing network of umbrella organisations that take on freelance coaches. But if the journey to become a coach is not predicated on a deeper sense of purpose and connection to what coaching is really about then the motivation and desire needed to thrive will ebb away.

To succeed as a coach, you really have to love the journey and the work for its own intrinsic worth and trust the process of building a practice over time.

To succeed as a coach, you really have to love the journey and the work for its own intrinsic worth and trust the process of building a practice over time.

Whilst I do not personally assume any spiritual or metaphysical nature to the call to coaching, I do believe in the calling as a place to realise who we are and what, through our lifetime, we have become.

And I believe we need to listen to it and nurture it as we might an ember that we gently blow into a flame.

I don’t personally coach much anymore, but coaching as a mindset permeates my life and the ideas that sit behind coaching continue to govern how I think about myself and others and how I live.

Is coaching a skill that can be learned by anyone as a necessary and useful tool for dialogue? Yes, of course. For some, coaching is just that, a tool to be taken out for a particular task.

But to be a coach is to embrace ideas, values, ways of thinking and ways of being that emanate from who you are and find their realisation in a way of working and relating.

That’s when you know that coaching is a calling and not just a job.

Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.

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