Coaching for That “Ah-Ha” Moment

During casual first meetings with people, the subject of careers often comes up. When people find out that I am a coach, there is invariably one person who challenges the need for coaching. “I can get free advice from my friends and family. I shouldn’t have to pay for advice.” My response: “Coaching is not about giving advice; it’s about guiding the client to their own, personal ‘ah-ha’ moment.”

It’s true that many people turn to trusted friends, loved ones, or family members to discuss their challenges and get advice on what they should do. There are a few drawbacks to that approach. First, often times the people you approach for counsel and advice are stakeholders; by that, I mean that they are directly or indirectly impacted by the decision or have a degree of influence over the successful outcome of the situation.

For example, let’s say that you approached your father-in-law to discuss changing careers or opening that brewpub you’ve always dreamed about. Any advice your father-in-law gives will first be processed through HIS filters: does my daughter know about this, how will this affect their financial situation, will they move further away with the grandchildren, will they ask me for money to support the project, etc. You can see how this advice would be tainted and come with strings attached.

Coaches don’t give advice. As a coach, we are taught to listen, ask probing questions, and challenge the client as they explore all the possibilities, potential outcomes, and rewards. We question to find out what barriers or challenges the client is facing and 99.8% of the time they realize that the challenges and barriers they face are of their own creation. That is what we call the ‘ah-ha’ moment. Let me give you a prime example.

I was listening to a radio talk show in Los Angeles years ago. On the air was Dr. David Viscott, a psychiatrist, and author and a professor of psychology at UCLA. He was the first psychiatrist to do on-air psychological counseling and it was fascinating to listen to. Dr. Viscott was talking to a man who felt his life was meaningless, directionless, and hopelessly in a rut. He was bored at work, at home, and with life in general. He admitted to sitting for hours on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and daydreaming. It was clear the man had no passion for life and no life-purpose.

Dr. Viscott asked the man several questions about his life and career, and then the subject turned to his returning to the ocean for solitude. What was drawing him to the ocean, Dr. Viscott asked.

“I’ve always loved the ocean” the man admitted. “It inspires me. I’m at peace there.”

Dr. Viscott asked, “If you could do anything in your life – and still have the money and lifestyle you need – what would you do?”

The man thought for a moment and said “I would be a marine biologist. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a child.”

Dr. Viscott asked “Why don’t you go back to school to become a marine biologist?” to which the man listed the barriers he faced: the money for school, the time away from family, and the biggest barrier: his age.

“What does your age have to do with following your passion?” he asked.

The man admitted, “If I go back to school now, I will be almost 50 when I graduate.”

Dr. Viscott paused for a moment and then asked: “How old will you be if you don’t go back to school.”

There was a brief moment of silence, and then you could hear the man’s breath catch as he choked back tears. That was this man’s ‘ah-ha’ moment. You could almost hear the walls coming down, the doors opening on this man’s amazing future.

For me, sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway listening to the radio that day, that became my personal ‘ah-ha’ moment. It gave me the courage to stop saying “no” to myself, to stop believing all the limiting statements I’d grown up with. It gave me the courage to follow my passion, to go to university, and to make my life what I wanted it to be.

Your ‘ah-ha’ moment is there, somewhere, inside of you. Getting filtered or tainted advice from friends and family won’t bring that out. It takes a coach, a trained professional to probe and question and challenge you; someone to help you explore all the options and the amazing possibilities ahead of you.

Find a coach and experience your personal ‘ah-ha’ moment.

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