It is perfectly natural to have fears when starting out on a new venture, of any kind; whether it’s our first time in a kayak, first time ordering a coffee in a foreign language, or first time sitting in front of a client about to coach them. Whenever we stretch beyond the bounds of what is known or familiar we step out of our comfort zones and into new ground – and our brains are hard-wired to kick up a fuss whenever we do this!
The ancient wiring buried deep in our mammalian brain is scanning for dangers long before our human brain is aware of it and forming thoughts and words around that feeling of ill-ease. And yet, we continue to push ourselves through the fear because OUTSIDE of the comfort zone is where growth happens, where the magic happens.
When it comes to training and then working as a new coach, there are some common fears that people share. Here, we look at these in a little more detail and, more importantly, explain why they’re totally unfounded! (Do you hear that mammalian brain? Pay attention!)
1. I don’t know what I’m doing!
Ah, the terror! There they are, your client, looking at you all expectantly. You’re the coach. You’re the professional, the expert, right? You need to know what you’re doing and you need to start doing it now. Come on. Get on with it.
No wonder new coaches fear not knowing what they’re doing, if this is the drama that’s kicking off inside your head! But you need to right-size the expectation you’re placing on yourself to right-size the drama. You don’t need to know EVERYTHING. In fact, spoiler alert, no-one knows everything because there isn’t an ‘everything’ to know. And while we’re at it, you can drop the idea that you have to be an expert too.
Switching from knowing to being is the quickest and most effective way of getting back into your body, back into the room and back into relationship with the person in front of you. It’s when you’re in relationship with yourself – not worrying about doing – that you can be in relationship with the client. From that place, rather than fearing exposure as a fraud, you’ll find you’re able to connect to that natural curiosity that is the seat of all great coaching questions. And the client won’t know any difference.
2. I won’t know what to say
Call it brain freeze, call it the fog descending, call it what you will. There’s the great fear that a client will say something, look at us expectantly, and we won’t have a THING to offer. The cogs will simply…stop…grinding. Blank. Cue uncomfortable silence and tumbleweed. The stuff of nightmares, right?
However, in reality, there is always something to say. Our ability to access it though is impacted by whether our fight/flight response is jammed on or not. One simple way to combat the fight/flight is to trust the process, the client and yourself. You and the client are both creative, resourceful and whole. Coaching is a space that is co-created – the coach is NOT the boss, does not need to be wise, does not need to fix.
There’s a simplicity and elegance to trusting the process that means there’s always something to say when you don’t know what to say. How’s this for size:
And then, together, between you, the answer will come.
3. I won’t get any clients
A common fear for new coaches is that they won’t get any clients – and buried within this statement are other fears, lurking in the background, smoking cigarettes and kicking coke cans. Fears such as:
That’s a real smorgasbord of fear right there, a veritable buffet of doom! But, is any of that true?
Fears can be really helpful; they operate as little markers that we should pay attention to. The brain has flagged something as questionable, our physiology picks this up as emotion and we then turn that data into feelings and thoughts. Where we go wrong is to then take these feelings and thoughts as real and start basing our behaviours around them.
Fact is, we have a choice around how to behave, and the messages that we receive can and should be interrogated. This is the very heart of coaching, right? This is what we do when we work with others. So if we afford ourselves the same service, what do we discover? That fear will do anything to keep us in the comfort zone and would really rather that we didn’t take a risk and possibly make a fool of ourselves. And that on closer examination, that list of fears is unfounded.
Marketing ourselves can be exposing, but less so if we operate from a place of compassionate curiosity with ourselves. Less black and white thinking, more grey:
4. I can’t charge
Now the fear of connecting with clients has been conquered, clients may start trickling in. They may flood in. How exciting, to be off and coaching in the real world. But then a whole new kettle of trouble presents itself: money.
Charging real, actual hard cash for our services can open a Pandora’s Box of panic for new coaches. Giving our coaching away for free to practice clients is one thing, but charging money? Fear will object!
Again, if we can find a big mental broom to sweep these fear thoughts to one side for a moment, we’ll see that actually, rationally, there is nothing to fear; just choices to make.
5. They’ll reject me
Now you’ve actually got some paying clients, another juicy fear may creep in: what if they don’t want to work with me. What if they *shudders* reject me?
Here’s the thing. They might. And that’s ok, really. Because we’re not right for every client. And we can be not-right-for-every-client without that meaning that we’re wrong. Or not good enough.
Because coaching is so much about the quality of the relationship that we have with the other person – the source of the chemistry, trust and rapport – it follows that we won’t have the same relationship with everyone. Ergo, some people might choose to not work or continue to work with us.
And that’s not just ok, that’s great! Think about it. If a client votes with their feet and goes elsewhere it means they’re connecting to a want or need within themselves. It means they’re deploying a NO. These are things our clients often come to us for help with, so it’s a cause for celebration when a client is able to action their desires and go and find a better match for themselves. This is them truly being resourced. Better that, than they suffer with us, session after session, not getting what they need but not feeling able to say.
And equally, we may reject clients. Well, if not reject, either choose not to work with at all, or choose not to work with in an on-going way. That’s the thing with relationships – it has to work both ways. This mutual choice and free will is an example of the equality that forms the bedrock of a healthy coaching relationship.
6. I’ll make it worse
If only coaching were an exact science, a process of stages to be worked through, boxes to be ticked, certificates generated at the end. Imagine if humans were one-size-fits-all! That would take all the fear out of it. We could merrily deploy our coaching programme and then rinse and repeat until retirement.
But it’s not like that, is it. Humans are weird. Uniquely weird. All of our foibles and proclivities lined up in a slightly different order, meaning the coach needs to peel each onion as if it’s the first time they’ve peeled an onion, in a state of curiosity and wonder about what will be discovered.
But with that comes the perilous feeling that something BIG could be uncovered. Something frightening. Something that unsettles and disrupts the client, and we won’t know what to do and we could, in fact, just make the whole thing worse.
Fears like this first undermine and then invite us to reconnect to the fundamental belief that underpins our coaching practice: our clients are creative, resourceful and whole.
At times of the greatest fear, we need to connect to this belief the most. For if our clients ARE whole, not broken, not in need of fixing, then it follows that what they’re experiencing, they can handle. Our presence is supporting their work…and they are taking themselves to a place they can come back from.
In the rare instances when clients are, in fact in real distress, then we fall back on our contracting, step out of coaching mode, and start asking the direct questions that inform our safeguarding contract.
With a Plan A and a Plan B in place, we don’t and can’t make things worse.
7. I’m not perfect
Fear says: I have to have all of my stuff together all of the time in order to present myself as a successful coach to the outside world. I need to be on my game, on point with my messaging, I need to exude success and confidence. No one wants to work with a coach who’s uncertain or unclear or messy. I just need to be…perfect.
Rationality says: There’s no such thing as a perfect human. We aren’t and can’t be perfect, and our clients aren’t and can’t be perfect either.
If we get hoodwinked into selling perfect, we’re selling our clients short and setting up a pressure cooker façade that will stifle our authenticity.
So relax, fear. We’re not perfect. And that’s exactly as it should be. How perfect.