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"My family thinks life coaching and the whole industry is a joke. Are they right?"

You can predict it like clockwork: When you consider taking a big step like becoming a certified coach, people will come out of the woodwork to ask questions and offer (often unsolicited) opinions.

I was chatting recently with a new iPEC student who was coming up against one of the more difficult (but common) pieces of feedback new coaches get: Her family thinks life coaching and the whole industry “sounds like a joke.”

It’s disheartening when people close to you don’t take you seriously or offer unconditional support. And it’s difficult to know the best way to respond, especially when other people’s doubts start making you feel doubtful about the path you’ve chosen. It’s natural to start secretly wondering, “Are they right? Am I going to be a joke??”

So, I’m sharing with you the same guidance I passed on to the iPEC student who’s trying to persuade her family (and herself) that her choice was solid.

Related: Four Mic-Drop Responses to Critics of Professional Coaching

Start with a few facts and figures.

For better or worse, people often respect data and clout! A quick foray down the rabbit hole on Google will show you just how many influential people have worked with coaches. The list includes U.S. presidents, world-renowned athletes, and top executives of international businesses.

And there are many Fortune 500 companies and other well-known entities (think Target, Capital One, Shell Oil, the NFL) across any industry you can think of that have brought coaching into their organizations to enhance results. And why wouldn’t they? Most companies see a return of about six times what they invest in coaching.

Coaching is also a field that isn’t slowing down any time soon. Twenty-five years ago, there were only a couple thousand coaches across the U.S. Now? There are hundreds of thousands (and counting)—the demand keeps on growing. 

The job security makes sense! Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, or something in between, there is always going to be a need for a well-trained person who knows how to access and unleash the potential of others. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that coaches can easily start out charging over $100 per hour if they choose!

And if part of the skepticism is emanating from how many untrained people are out there calling themselves “coaches” with no education or experience, that’s understandable. In that case, you can share that the International Coaching Federation is the accrediting body of the coaching world and that ICF credentialed coaches are the most respected and legitimate of the bunch! 

Remember where the pushback is really coming from.

You’re welcome to throw a few numbers at people if it helps you make your case! But it’s not my most recommended course of action. Why? Because when you get defensive about the legitimacy of coaching you’re allowing the other person’s misconceptions about coaching too much significance.

So, instead of immediately hitting back with “well, actually...” you might pause, put on your coach hat, and ask: 

  • “That’s interesting. What makes you say that?”
  • “What exactly do you think life coaching is?”

It’s easier to know how to respond when you understand what someone’s interpretation is! And you’ll likely hear a lot of false (and slightly ridiculous) interpretations based on TV shows they’ve watched, stories they’ve heard through the grapevine, and conclusions they’ve made with no real foundation.

No matter how they respond, you’ll have the opportunity to educate them about what coaching really is: It’s not about giving advice, and it’s not about solving surface-level problems. It’s about helping other people get to the root of where they’re blocked, so that they can get unstuck and create momentum, direction, clarity, and fulfillment in their lives. And it’s hard for anyone to deny that that’s needed in the world.

Know that their feedback might be a misdirect.

Sometimes people are questioning you not because they really believe your choice is a bad one, but because you’re triggering their own fear. 

Maybe they’ve got some misinterpretations about what coaching is, and are needlessly fearing that you’re going to end up struggling and suffering. They talk down your goal, probably unconsciously, to keep you “safe.”

Or maybe they’re a bit jealous you had the courage to pursue something you’re deeply interested in and wish they could do the same. They cast judgment on you and your choices because otherwise, they’d have to examine their own lack of direction.

Ultimately, being a coach means that you have the power to interpret and respond to other people’s feedback in a conscious way. You can either join them on their level and get scared, doubtful, and defensive, OR you can take a step back, get curious, and remember that nothing anyone else says—even when they’re talking about your choices—is really about you. It’s always a reflection of that person, their worldview, and what they value.

When you get curious and don’t take feedback personally, doubt dissipates and other people’s opinions become irrelevant. That might not be a joke, but it’s certainly something to smile about.






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