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Last Updated on April 22, 2022

Becoming a Life Coach: How I Turned Life Experience into Coaching

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Becoming a Life Coach: How I Turned Life Experience into Coaching

It wasn’t until much farther down my career path that I figured out how to turn my life experience into life coaching…

Many years ago, I remember walking into my second-grade classroom after lunch to see the words “What do you want to be when you grow up?” written on the chalkboard. It was a question that hadn’t crossed my mind at the age of six as I was more focused on which hot wheels car I wanted to add to my collection. Nonetheless, it was the question Mrs. Laub, our teacher, wanted us to answer for our English writing assignment.

I remember racking my brain to think of a creative answer as I watched my classmates begin writing away while I sat there stumped. While I can’t recall exactly what I was thinking at the time, I remember that I wanted to pick something creative.

Sure, there were the usual answers, like a professional baseball player, president, or astronaut, but those seemed to be cliché (even if I didn’t know what that meant). They were the stereotypical cop-out answers that every kid deferred to when they chose what they felt the teacher wanted them to say.

That wasn’t me. I was always a bit different and out of place from the other kids and tried to keep it that way in my future career choice. I ended up doodling for the rest of the period until Mrs. Laub said we could have till the next day to complete the assignment as part of our homework.

Whew, I thought as I put my blank paper into my PeeChee folder and backpack. I would have more time to think about it to develop a good answer. Little did I know that years later, I would still be making “career choices,” although under much greater circumstances than a second-grade writing assignment.

My Journey to Becaming a Life Coach

I know for a fact that when I was six years old, I didn’t know what a life coach was. Heck, I don’t even think life coaches existed in the same capacity that they do now. The only type of coaches I was aware of were those in sports, and most of them were either really mean or cool. They let you do whatever you wanted or were more like a drill sergeant.

Luckily, I was exposed to various coaches being involved in many different sports. I could always tell the ones I liked the best, and it wasn’t the ones who let me do whatever I wanted either. It was the coaches who made me better in some way—better as a player, a teammate, or simply better as a person most often.

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Once I entered college, I continued to evaluate my future as I moved from wanting to be a pilot to aerospace engineering to becoming an undeclared major for a couple of years. It wasn’t until the beginning of year three that I realized I needed to declare a major or risk not graduating in four years as I had always planned, partly because I wanted to “get out into the real world” and partly because I had a four-year academic scholarship that I didn’t want to jeopardize.

At first, I looked at becoming a marketing major because I had worked in sales for a few years and had a knack for it. The problem was that I didn’t have all the business pre-requisite classes under my belt, and there were too many to make up in the time I had. My next option was communications because I thought it would be interesting, and I had already taken some courses within that area of focus.

So, I chose Social Science/Communications as it provided a well-rounded mix of Sociology, Psychology, and Communications. Little did I know that this would benefit my coaching skills many years later.

Life coaching is about helping guide another individual on the fantastic journey of life which is a complex mix of thoughts, emotions, decisions, challenges, and successes, among other things. It can be difficult to navigate and understand, which is where drawing on your various skills can benefit you and those whom you coach.

I feel having an understanding of people, their emotions, and how they communicate is essential to understand and relate to them. There are many times that I draw on my knowledge of human behavior, psychology, and communication to help guide a client. I continue to study these areas and more because school knowledge is only one part of the knowledge equation.

Life Choices Can Lead to Life Coaching

I made choices in college based on what I enjoyed and found interesting, not choices on what I felt I was supposed to do, what my parents had pre-selected for me, or the ones that would make me a lot of money.

Unfortunately, I think many young people settle for a career because it’s a path that they think they need to choose for these or similar reasons. The reality is that you create your path and purpose in life. As long as you are open to learning and growing, you will gain something from every experience.

This is the mindset I had way back then, even though I didn’t realize it. It wasn’t until I looked back at the various life experiences that I saw how each played a role in my success as a coach. One of my favorite quotes is from the late, great Steve Jobs.

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“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

This quote embodies what I have learned along my journey to get to where I am today. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always educational. There were plenty of ups, downs, successes, and most significantly, failures because this is where the majority of my growth came from.

Failure is the greatest teacher we have in life, so when it teaches us something, we owe it to our future selves to pay attention and learn. This life journey is also where I acquired numerous stories, lessons, and wisdom that would benefit myself and every other individual I have coached over the years.

How You Can Turn Your Life Experience into Life Coaching

These treasures I have accumulated along my path are what I now share with everyone I impact or work with to guide them in their journeys. I feel this is something I owe them to pay forward to what I have learned and give them a better journey—not an easier journey, mind you, but a better one.

What I mean by this is that many things in life we have to experience on our own so we may take something away from the experience.

Experience Your Own Challenges

We need to have our challenges to grow. My role as a coach is not to take away the challenges. It’s to make them more evident so they can add to the entirety of the journey leading to more significant learning and success.

I also had to learn this over the years as a coach because early on, I tried to make things easier for others. This stood out in the most important coaching job of my life: being a parent.

When my wife and I had our first daughter, we wanted to protect her from anything “bad.” So, we sterilized all her baby bottles, made sure her blankets were immaculate, and tried to keep her on a strict sleeping schedule.

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Fortunately, this didn’t last long as my mother-in-law stepped in to provide the wisdom of her many years as a mother and grandmother. She forced us to let our daughter cry herself to sleep rather than pick her up after the first peep and showed us the benefits of dirt, falls, and failure.

These things helped mold our daughter into an intelligent and independent woman who has traveled to more countries than me (many on her own) in her short adult life. She is learning from her experiences and putting them to use in daily life—which is the big takeaway for anyone reading this.

Be Willing to Share Your Life’s Experiences

If you desire to be a life coach, to help guide others on this journey we call life, then certificates or courses are not required. You only need to be willing to share your life’s experiences as they relate to what your clients may be going through.

Our stories connect us all, and it is through the sharing of these personal aspects of ourselves that we gain connections and insight into the hearts of others. In doing so, we can support them as a friend, mentor, or life coach.

Now please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there is no value in courses and certificates. Many beneficial life-coaching programs are available that can help prepare you to get started as a coach and support you on your continuous journey.

You can learn a lot about processes, systems, and techniques that you can use each day. I’ve personally invested in at least one course per year to hone my skills to better serve my clients for the past decade. In the last couple of years alone, I’ve taken a dozen courses as I push myself to become better every day in the service of others.

What Past Stories Do You Have That Can Benefit Others?

Each of us is a product of our life experiences. These stories are what make us who we are. As you share stories with others, they often relate and learn from them just as you did from the original experience. This is the essence of life coaching.

I’ll bet that if you were interested enough to read this article then you have coached others and not realized it, and I’ll prove it to you. See if you’ve ever found yourself in any of these or similar situations:

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  • Ever been there for a friend who was going through a breakup?
  • Helped a co-worker decide on a project?
  • Given a pep talk to someone who was feeling down?
  • Talked a friend through a difficult time?
  • Provided your opinion on something important to someone? i.e., a term paper, career, or relationship

My guess is you were able to relate to at least one of the examples above. You see, we are all life coaches for one another at different times. Some of us just enjoy it enough to make it a career.

How Did I Become a Life Coach Eventually?

You may be wondering how I got started as a coach. After I graduated from university, I transitioned from job to job, always looking for fulfillment in my work but constantly feeling something was missing.

I went from sales, management, training, and executive leadership before finally figuring it out. It wasn’t until I helped grow a startup company from $1.5 million to $25 million in under eighteen months, only to see it all come crashing down in two years, that I decided to begin my coaching business. It was then that I finally figured out how to put all those life lessons to use as a coach.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned on how to turn life experience into life coaching.

  • Create your own path and purpose.
  • Learn from everyone you come in contact with.
  • Look at every life experience as a source of wisdom.
  • Understand the challenges you had to overcome in various situations.
  • Failure is the best teacher you will have in life.
  • Utilize the stories that make up who you are to connect with others.
  • Share stories of failure and vulnerability so your growth can spark development in others.
  • Allow time for growth on your journey.

My path was not the most direct from Mrs. Laub’s second-grade class, but it was the path I needed to travel down to get here. Sure, my journey took many turns along the way as most of ours do, and this is what became the most valuable to me and others.

By the way, after playing with the hot wheels cars all afternoon, I hastily picked “doctor” as my future career in a scribbled essay that I handed in the next morning. Not exactly coach, but we both help other people, so I’ll say I was pretty close.

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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Rick Ornelas

Rick Ornelas is an Ultimate Success Coach™, speaker, and author of 12 Hours of Heaven; Lessons for a Better World.

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