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How Do You Find Your Purpose

The following article was originally published in Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight, Canada's largest urban lifestyle and entertainment weekly newspaper.

By Charlie Smith

A life coach can help you ask the hard questions.

When many people hear the word coach, their first thought is of someone who advises an amateur or professional athlete. They’re unlikely to think of having their own coach, who can encourage them to achieve their goals in life.

But that is starting to change, now that Vancouver has become a hub in the burgeoning field of life and business coaching. There are approximately 200 members of the Vancouver chapter of the U.S.–based International Coach Federation, according to the local president, Ray Williams, with about half of them ICF–certified.

In her former job as an interior designer, life coach Joni Mar, who has helped clients discover the work they really want to be doing, was already acting as a kind of relationship coach for stressed couples.

Joni Mar stumbled upon coaching after working for several years as a television news reporter and an interior designer. She had no idea what coaching was until another practitioner told her that this was her forte. As an interior designer, Mar advised couples on how to build a dream house together, sometimes with several million dollars on the line. The coach told her that Mar was, in effect, coaching couples in relationships during a particularly stressful period.

“I discovered that instead of designing houses, it was way more purposeful for me to design people’s lives,” she said. In 2000, Mar enrolled in courses offered in Vancouver by the California-based Coaches Training Institute. She eventually achieved the highest designation: master certified coach. Now she’s on the faculty and trains other coaches. She describes herself as a business coach but says it’s possible to specialize in other areas, such as wellness coaching, life coaching, fitness coaching, or even family coaching.

“There is something called ‘relationship of systems’ coaches,” she added. “You can coach a whole team instead of one individual. I do that as well.”

Mar said that the essence of coaching is to connect people to their passion and purpose in life, which can be achieved through a series of phone calls, or in personal meetings, or even by e-mail. She specializes in working with managers and executives who are not only looking to achieve better results but also want to have more fun doing so. She claimed that the key is to help clients identify core values and strengths.

Mar said that her experience as a journalist taught her how to ask provocative questions. She added that she never tries to come across as an expert in her client’s field, which is a key distinction between coaching and consulting. “Coaching is not consulting or counselling,” she said. “Coaching is a very dynamic process that facilitates a person going deeper into themselves to get their own answers.”

When asked for an example, Mar described how she helped a CEO of a high-tech firm recognize that his real passion in life was to serve families. He had approached her to try to take his company to the next level, but through coaching, eventually decided to sell the business and buy a piece of property for disadvantaged youth.

Another Vancouver coach, Laura North, said her own experience as a cancer survivor “informs” the questions she asks during her sessions with clients. “I know for me, hope has been a huge piece of my life,” she said. “So I’ll ask the question, Where do you find your hope?”

North, who is also ICF–certified, said that one of the keys to coaching is helping people focus on who they are, what they want to become, and what their values are. She said she accomplishes this by asking questions that elicit this information. “So often in life, our troubles come, our conflict comes, our issues show up because we actually forget that we have courage, that we have perseverance, that we have integrity, that we actually are strong,” she said.

On other occasions, she thinks a coach should try to highlight the person’s accomplishments. “I often say to clients, ‘I want you to brag a bit,’“ she said. “Really, where in our lives do we get permission where somebody says, ‘I want you to brag. Tell me how courageous you were. Tell me how smart you were. Tell me how well you ran that meeting. Or how well you parented your child. I want you to brag about what a great mom you are.’“

North said that one of coaching’s hallmarks is engaging in a conversation without driving an agenda. She said that some people say this is like being a “paid friend”, but she thinks it goes much deeper than that. “I get to ask lots of questions that friends usually don’t dare to ask and I believe those are the questions people are paying me to ask,” she said.

Earlier this year in a report commissioned by the ICF, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers concluded that there were approximately 30,000 coaches in the world, and the industry’s global revenues were close to US$1.5 billion. Following a survey of 4,450 coaches who provided “valid data”, PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that the average salary of full- and part-time coaches was US$50,510. According to the ICF Web site, full-time coaches earn an average of US$82,671 per year.

“Coaches market themselves fairly competitively,” North said. “I would say a brand-new coach starting out will charge about $200 a month. That’s for about two hours of time, whether they break it up into four 30-minute sessions or three 40-minute sessions. It can go up from that. I charge $450 a month. With my level of experience, that’s pretty standard.”

She added that in the corporate world, coaching can easily cost more than $1,000 per month.