Right off the bat, let me be clear about the question we’re answering here.
Often, when someone asks whether becoming a life coach is right for them, they are given a description of what coaching is (in general) and whether becoming a coach (in general) is a good choice for them.
That’s not what this article is about.
Indeed, we’ve covered that in a previous article: Are You Ready to Become a Coach? Discover If It’s Right For You And What It Could Lead To
And if you’re curious whether coach training and becoming a coach in general terms is a good fit for you, that’s the article for you!
In this article, however, we’re going to take a look at whether becoming a life coach specifically is right for you.
Now, to the uninitiated, this might seem like the same question, so let me phrase it differently.
This article is about whether choosing to become a life coach, as opposed to, say, an executive coach or organisational internal coach, is the right journey for you.
Now, at their root, all forms of coaching share certain qualities, and demand certain characteristics from the practitioners – empathy, an ability to withhold judgement and assumption, an interest in people, a desire to help people progress and step further into their potential, a joy of seeing people grow and of growing oneself in return.
But, this doesn’t explain why life coaching specifically might be the right option for you.
And so that’s what we’re going to dive into here.
Other people may have different perspectives on this question, but for me, I’m going to offer an answer that boils down to the following areas:
- The issues you work with
- Who you work with
- How you work
- The context in which you work
- The values behind your work
- The possible add-ons to your practice
- How you get clients
But first, a caveat.
I am only offering broad generalisations here.
An executive coach might object that they too work in the same way or get their clients in a similar manner described here. Or an internal coach might protest that they too have added on this or that additional skill set, or work on a similar range of issues.
This article is about the differences in general rather than being a categorical definition of difference in which never the twain shall meet. There are often going to be crossovers.
With that said, let’s dive in!
The issues a life coach works with
The first major difference between life coaching and almost all other forms of coaching is that the life focuses on whatever a client wants to bring to the coaching.
Other than managing the line between coaching and therapy, no topic is off limits and nothing is constrained by a third-party contract from an HR department or line manager.
Life coaching could covers areas as diverse as:
- Purpose and meaning
- Starting a business
- And much more.
The precise nature and content of the coaching is entirely down to the coach and client to work out.
Now, a few things to bear in mind.
As a life coach, you may choose to specialise. In other words, you might only coach people on their life purpose or or on their money mindset.
However, as you move into such specialisms, it tends to be more normal to think of yourself as that kind of coach rather than a life coach – in other words, you might describe yourself as a purpose coach, or a money mindset coach.
Life coach, then, typically means a coach who works on whatever a client brings.
The next question, then, from someone who is a little unclear on what coaching is, may be:
How on earth can someone coach on ALL those topics?!
And, of course, this brings us back to one of the common elements of all coaching – namely, that coaching is not about the coach being the expert on the topic but about helping the client be theri own expert.
In other words, the coach is not giving ANY advice on these topics – they are facilitating a process of discovery and self-reflection in a way that would be less effective without such a thinking partner.
Who a life coach works with
The next question is who a life coach works with.
And the answer is: anyone!
Of course, as a coach you get to choose how much you charge, how you want to coach (in-person or virtually), what kinds of clients you feel best able to help in terms of your rapport, understanding and so on and all of these factors influence who will actually coach.
However, in terms of principle – a life coach can work with anyone: an inmate leaving prison, a new parent, a long-term unemployed person seeking work, an executive who wants to build their confidence, an empty-nester seeking new meaning, and anyone else you can think of.
The only criteria is whether they are functionally ready for change.
In other words, are they willing and able to reflect on their current state and make choices to move forward.
Some individuals may need some form of therapy if they are stuck in a traumatic state. Others may simply want to offload their thoughts and feelings through counselling. Others may require psychiatric treatment. It is likely that individuals struggling emotionally, stuck in the past, traumatised, in a state of survival, and so on, may not be ready for coaching.
Knowing the boundaries of life coaching is a critical ethical consideration for coaches who work on a broad spectrum of life issues as life coaches do.
How life coaches work
Whilst the fundamentals of coaching remain the same for life coaching, executive coaching and internal coaching, there are some clear differences.
With its focus on leadership, career development and organisational management, executive coaches tend to approach their work with these themes in mind and, frequently (though not always) utilise models that have been developed from management and organisational theory.
Executive and internal coaching also tend (though, again, not always) to take a performance or developmental approach to coaching, focusing on outcomes or embedding learning and competence.
Life coaching, by contrast, is rooted more fully in psychological (and sometimes even spiritual) approaches to change.
Given the broad nature of content that life coaches engage with, their work may bring up existential, psychodynamic and even transpersonal concepts and themes and, though life coaches do not need to be immersed in all these schools of thought, a good life coach will have an understanding of several psychological models that help the coaching unfold.
So, whilst the basics of asking questions, offering reflections, creating structure for the conversation, challenging limited thinking, etc, happen in all coaching, the precise nature of that inquiry will differ between each discipline.
The context in which life coaches work
This next heading, though very dull sounding, is actually one of the more critical differences between life coaching and executive or internal coaching.
Again, speaking in general terms, most executive, and all internal, coaches work within an organisational context in which the employer is paying for the coaching.
No matter how much freedom the coach is given, this still brings a certain degree of constraint to the coaching.
Indeed, it would be fair to say that most executive and internal coaching is, quite rightfully, focused on work issues – that is (generally) its purpose. Within that, there is a lot of scope for what is discussed and how but that context sets the scene to a greater or lesser extent.
Life coaches, on the other hand, are in a position where their work is unmediated by any other party.
It is the coach and the client making all the decisions and contracting one-on-one for the work that needs to take place.
This can be incredibly liberating for a coach since they feel able to go wherever the work leads so long as they and the client collaborate on it.
Another contextual difference, though far less pronounced nowadays, is that life coaching takes place away from the workplace. Life coaches may have their own coaching room or may meet their clients in suitable venues, or they may coach virtually, by phone or Zoom and similar platforms. With the advent of the new norm of virtual, of course, the vast majority of coaching of all forms takes place this way now.
The coaching may also take place in the evenings or weekends so as not to disrupt the client’s work, though, of course, that would be down to the coach and client to agree.
What’s clear in all this is that life coaching offers the greatest flexibility in terms of the context for client work.
The values behind a life coach’s work
This is probably my most controversial (and potentially even utterly wrong) point of difference.
That is that I think there are some subtle differences in the values that underpin life coaching to other forms of coaching.
That is not to say that executive coaching and internal coaching have markedly different values but rather, given their contextual setting as already discussed, the values that underpin them tend to be organisationally focused – effectiveness, wellbeing in the workplace, progress and so on.
Now I will say, categorically, that these forms of coaching frequently transcend these values and there are numerous stories of clients of internal or executive coaching who realise, as a result of the coaching, that they are in the wrong job or the wrong place. That unpredictability is part and parcel of coaching.
Life coaching, however, inhabits a different space with values centred deliberately on fulfilment, potential, purpose, meaning and happiness.
The very fact that the client individually seeks out, and pays for, the coach tends to make this a stronger aspect of life coaching to other forms of coaching.
The possible add-ons to a life coaching practice
Another area to consider when thinking about life coaching versus other forms is what additional services naturally work with life coaching.
If we think of executive coaching, for instance, you might naturally choose to add organisational psychometric models such as DISC and MBTI to your skill set. Equally you might build in 360 feedback processes and even interview role playing.
For a life coach, these tools may be far less relevant and, instead, a life coach may add on NLP, hypnotherapy, somatic practices and other approaches that allow for the client to deepen their self-awareness and stretch into their potential.
The life coach may also decide to offer workshops, either educational or facilitative, that allow potential or existing clients to engage in group activities around life coaching themes.
For instance, a life coach may run a session on vision boards, goal setting, accountability or any number of such workshops.
You may notice how this last point runs the risk of the coach becoming an expert in a topic – eg. teaching how to set goals. In this instance, they have moved from coach to teacher/expert and this is fine – it just becomes an addition to the coaching work that blends well with the purpose and intent.
How life coaches get clients
A final area of difference between life coaching and executive and internal coaching, is how a life coach gains their clients.
Whilst internal coaches are typically allocated clients from within the organisation, executive coaches and life coaches both face the challenge of finding clients.
Yet even here there is a difference.
Executive coaches tend to find organisational clients rather than individual clients. The organisation then provides several clients within the one contract and, given the nature of the work and organisation, this may roll on for many years.
An executive coach, then, needs less points of contact in terms of the paying client even if, within that, they have many individual coaching clients.
The life coach, by contrast, needs to find each client one at a time and, in this way, they operate far more like a psychotherapist or counsellor.
That said, the opportunities for life coaches to find clients are vast. Whether in running workshops, giving talks, advertising online or in print, networking, seeking referrals, or any number of other approaches, life coaches are able to seek multiple routes to gaining their clients.
I hope that this short article has given you a better idea of why life coaching may be the right (or wrong) route for you.
It goes without saying that the logical first question is whether coaching in general is a good career choice for you. You can answer that without knowing whether you would be a life coach, executive coach, internal coach or specialist coach (ie. career coach, wealth coach, etc).
Once you know that coaching in general is for you – if the values appeal, the ways of working, not being the expert but the midwife to someone’s thinking – then you might ask whether life coaching is the right path.
That’s what I hope to have helped you gain clarity on here.
Animas offers broad spectrum coach training on our Accredited Diploma in Transformative Coaching is particularly well suited to life coaching given the depth of work it opens up and the rich psychological perspectives and models it offers.
If you think you might want to become a life coach, we’d love to have a chat with you or see you at one of our free introductory events.