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Not my kind of coaching

This week's story is about two themes: one is a reflection on today's coaching industry, the other is the self-doubt many gifted people struggle with (incl. the 'Am I not actually very dumb?' thought). A few weeks ago, I joined an online 5-day Challenge organized by two of the world's leading coaches. The Challenge was geared towards people who want to prepare for the oncoming recession by starting their own businesses in the knowledge industry. Every day, there was a livestream hosted by the two coaches, with a series of guest speakers. Nearly one million people from around the world participated. How to sum up the event? Picture this: a huge screen as backdrop with thousands of people's zoom cameras displayed live onto it. Blasting music as speakers entered the studio, delivering speeches filled with sentences like: 'It's NOW or NEVER! It's YOUR life and now is the time to take control of it! Are you going to sleep on this opportunity and be left behind, or will you change your life forever? You have only TWO OPTIONS: to be a leader or a follower. Which one will you be? Make up your mind, and JUST DO IT!!!' *Apologies for the all-caps and the excessive use of exclamation marks, but there was a lot of yelling. And the sentences in their emails almost all ended with at least one '!' The sessions were filled with power poses, deep throat roars, and flashing lights. Music blasted both during and after sessions. There was also a remarkable amount of fist-pumping, both from the coaches and from the audience on the screen. Whenever the coach said something that *landed deeply*, the production team would press a button to create an artificial 'WOAH' sound. Whenever they made a joke, they played the sound of sitcom laughter. They also picked people from the audience 'at random' for hot seat coaching, which was visibly the most rehearsed thing ever. I watched the whole thing in a state of bafflement. I observed the thousands of people joining from their offices or bedrooms, wildly pumping their fists, screaming 'I choose NOW!'. I watched them enter into a state of euphoria, glued to each word the coaches uttered, as if they'd all magically seen the light. I too found myself glued to their words. Not because I had seen the light. But rather because I didn't get it. 'What am I missing here?', I thought to myself. 'What am I not seeing that all these other people are? Why is everyone so enthusiastic? What's wrong with me that I don't get this? Am I really that dumb?' It made me think of the confusion that a client once described of being in a work meeting, and seeing everyone around you busily taking notes, and wondering: 'What are all these people writing down? What's there to write about? What's so illuminating about this meeting that I don't seem to get?' I caught myself doubting my intelligence, and took a step back. Then, I engaged myself in an exercise of summarizing what the coaches were actually saying during their 3-hours-long livestreams. I wanted to get to the essence. Guess what I came up with? Nothing. There was an astonishing lack of substance. I couldn't distill any value from their speeches. Nothing. Just bombastic gestures, empty rhetorics, and cliché calls to action. Once I realized this, I could observe what these 'star coaches' were really doing:

  1. They were putting on a staged show. With actual entertainment biz elements, incl. music, sound effects and flashing lights.

  2. They were skilled at creating hype. They hyped up the audience with physical practices, creating lots of adrenaline and endorphins, and then threw clichés at them with clever rhetorical techniques that made their statements land as if they were the most original truths ever.

  3. They didn't actually coach. Rather, they engaged in motivational speaking. Which is a different thing. (The staged hot seats definitely don't qualify as coaching).

  4. They encouraged herd mentality. They used quantifications to convince you that everyone was wildly impacted by their challenge, almost as a form of social pressure (they sent emails with titles like: '52,000 comments within MINUTES after I said this!'). This strengthened the self-doubt I experienced, as everyone seemed to be so enthusiastic about something I didn't see the value of.

  5. They removed all nuance and simplified gravely. Things like 'You have two options: EITHER you succeed OR you fail'... They also made generalizing statements like 'The education system is BROKEN [raise your hand and scream 'AYE' if you agree]. The self-help industry is the future!'

  6. They turned self-development into a spectacle. This is the worst one, if you ask me. There was nothing genuine, authentic, or unique about this. Just plain performance.

As I write this, I am still not quite sure if I attended the biggest scam ever, or if most people actually were genuinely impacted by this (and that it just didn't 'work' for me). Perhaps, for many people, this hyped up energy is just what they need to take transformative action. And if that's the case, then it's great that such events exist. But I personally felt like a total alien. As a gifted person, I couldn't switch off my critical thinking, and the lack of nuance was a big turn-off. I couldn't not see through their staged transformation and strategic use of psychological tricks to sell their products. And as a coach myself, I felt embarrassed to see this spectacle being labeled as coaching. The whole thing was so cringe. I totally get why lots of people are so sceptical about coaching. The contrast with the work that I do couldn't be bigger. Three take-aways for you:

  1. Remember that this feeling of 'dumbness' is actually your giftedness. So next time you doubt your intelligence, like I did during this event, take a step back. Observe. Analyse. What's really going on here? Because what makes sense for others, or seems totally illuminating to them, often won't be for you. That's not because you're 'dumb'. It's because you're smart.

  2. If you want to receive coaching, find a coach who is gifted themselves. This makes all the difference when it comes to the depth, speed and intensity of the coaching. Don't be discouraged by an industry dominated by simplistic distinctions and overt generalizations. There are great coaches out there for gifted people, but they are a rare breed. Check out this article for finding a quality coach.

  3. When you get stuck in an unstimulating environment, make it interesting yourself. Switch to 'anthropologist' mode. I hated the whole Challenge itself, but I found it fascinating to analyse the psychological, sociological and marketing dimensions of this event. I got a lot out of the experience in the form of critical reflections (that I now get to share with you ;))

Hope this helps!

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