Episode #40: How I Became a Coach
I had always been thinking about my career in fairly short term thinking. My purpose was very long term, but my career moves, I felt needed to be fairly short term. So I was thinking in kind of three month stints. And that’s kind of exhausting, right? It’s hard to find jobs that you could if you needed to or wanted to quit in three months. And that’s kind of why consulting was a good fit, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I wanted it to be. And so once I was holding my new baby girl in my arms, I was able to ask that question of what do I really want to do? And so my habit with founders and consulting work would be to say, “what are the unnecessary things you’re doing? What are the unnecessary features of this product? What are the unnecessary goals that are on your strategic roadmap?”
I was good at stripping out the unnecessary, and I found that almost the whole thing was unnecessary when you’re looking only at what’s the most important thing that I do, the most valuable thing that I do. And it was that one hour. It was one hour over lunch, one hour over coffee. Specifically, it was me connecting the mindset of the leader, the psychological past of the leader, to the way it was playing out in their whole organization. Because leaders, our psychology is evident in the organization all around us. And I said if I had to choose, that’s the one hour I would charge for, because that’s the most valuable hour. I know it because I hear back from people that I’ve had coffee with and they say how it completely changed their company. So that’s what I want to charge for, but I don’t even know what that’s called or if anyone would be willing to pay for it.
So I’m thinking to myself, what is that? Is that advising? Well, it doesn’t really feel like advising because I’m not giving advice. I’m asking questions, and it’s not coming from me having expertise in the nitty gritty of their company, it’s much more high level and it felt very soulful and very heart-centered. So what is that? I don’t know. I’m certainly not consulting. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, is it coaching?” And I have to tell you if you could see the look on my face, which you would, if you watch the video for this at allowedpodcast.com, I’m like, “Ooh, coaching.” I didn’t want it to be coaching. That word to me, especially after going through my PhD at Berkeley where there’s this very high emphasis on rigor and being analytical, coaching just sounds so fluffy and frilly and unsubstantiated. So I thought I don’t want it to be that, however, I couldn’t figure out how it was anything other than coach.
So I decided, “Okay, I think I’m a coach.” Now here’s the crazy part, the next day after I have this realization, I wake up and in my inbox are five different emails of people reaching out to me, “Hey, I’d love to just bounce something off you, could we grab coffee?” And they’re asking for coaching. So I’m thinking okay this is a sign. And it really gave me a lot of confidence that this is the thing that really felt right to me.
Hi, this is Caneel. Welcome back to Allowed. Today’s episode is a chance for you to get to know me a little better. I don’t really talk too much about myself on the show. I certainly haven’t really talked too much about what’s led me here to sitting in this chair and having this podcast and being an executive coach, and yet it’s something that I do get asked about a lot. So I wanted to give you a chance to get to know me a bit better so you can know who’s the person with the voice on this other side of the microphone. And hopefully this can give you a little bit of insight if you’re interested in the world of coaching in particular, about at least one person’s path in getting there. When people ask me this question of, “Would you share with me your journey? How did you become a coach?” I kind of laugh a little bit and I think to myself, one, it may seem I was a lot more planned out and specific and linear in my process of getting here than I actually was.
And number two, that there’s a massive barrier to being a coach. First off, I don’t think I really tried to become a coach as much as I found out that I already was one. A little bit of background on my career; so in my early twenties, I was really in a big identity shift because I thought for my whole entire childhood and young adult life that I was going to be a professional actress. And that had always been my plan, and I worked very very hard on that the whole time I was growing up. But then I just… I had a change of heart for a variety of reasons. I didn’t want to diet for the rest of my life. I noticed that success was not nearly as possible as I thought it was. And I really knew I had a lot of things I was interested in.
So I backed away from that. And I was trying out a whole bunch of different stuff. I was always really interested in technology, and so I moved myself up to the Bay Area as soon as I was done with college and graduated from UCLA. And I moved up to San Francisco just in time for the dot-com bubble to burst all over my face. And it was a really, really hard… I couldn’t find an apartment to save my life. People were lining up to interview to get to live in someone’s garage, literally. I was desperate, I tried even get a spot where I was going to get to live in somebody’s back house. It had no bathroom, and I thought that was going to be the best house ever.
Anyway, it was very hard to find a place, but it was also impossible to find or keep a job because every company was closing in the Bay Area. So this gave me a couple of things. I would say one, it put me in the right place, right time to get to know some of the ups and downs and the struggles of the industry that I had always been in love with, and always been in love with technology. So I was there and I got to go through that, which gave me some connective tissue, I think, to a lot of the people who would end up becoming the future leaders in the new wave of technology, Web 2.0 and beyond. During that time, everyone’s getting laid off, and so we would go to these layoff parties and… isn’t that weird? So when someone would get laid off, there’d be a party, and we’d go and we’d all drink together and celebrate that this person was getting a severance package, because I mean, that’s just literally how crazy it was. So I got to know a lot of people that way very, very quickly. That kind of set me up really well. Now these are not things that you can do on purpose, right?
Eventually I did get a job that I was able to keep for three years before that company tanked, and there I was running marketing and that was also a technology startup. It was venture backed, so I got to know kind of what it was like to work with a board, how to run a small team, how to grow a company, how to work with customers, and user base, and technology, and how to wear a ton of hats. I mean, I wore so many hats at this company. So that was really great too, from personal experience perspective, that from the beginning of my career, I kind of worked my way up and got to see what it was like at lots of different levels of a technology startup organization.
Now, for those who don’t know, that’s my bread and butter, that’s my audience, that’s my target market. Those are the types of clients I work with in my one-on-one coaching practice. So I have that personal experience to draw off of, and I think that, that is very valuable. It’s not what allows me to coach, but it gives me some shared language. Then when this company started going down, I decided to retreat from the totally collapsed dot-com economy, and go to grad school.
I ended up going to grad school. I got a PhD at Berkeley where I studied organizational behavior. And this is the social science scientific exploration of how humans interact in organizations when they are trying to achieve a goal together in short. And it includes social psychology, cognitive psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, and lots and lots of statistics and research methods. So I was kind of surprised that this is the place where I actually learned how to be a really great analytical thinker. It wasn’t just learning about how to boost employee morale and performance, which is what I was very interested in coming in, in fact, it was more about understanding the dynamics of what creates different types of behaviors and mindsets and emotions, and not necessarily how to shape them, which would be more organizational development. Organizational behavior is much more understanding how the mind works, how human systems work, what creates desired effects, what creates unexpected effects.
So that was a good kind of theoretical and scientific exploration of the subject matter that now is what I do. And it was really, really highly rigorous. So I think that comes into play in that, as a client is describing to me something that’s happening in their own leadership or in their team, I’m able to attach that to a lot of really solid decades and decades of research that give me a few different hypothesis about what might be going on. It doesn’t mean I can diagnose exactly what’s going on, but I’m able to quickly figure out what’s the question I need to ask to be able to see which of these hypotheses might be the most supported in this situation, which helps me to more quickly understand what might be going on, so I can help shape the person’s attention to what are they paying attention to, and what might be some dynamics that are important for them to get engaged in.
So that’s kind of my PhD background. Now, as I was doing that, I was thinking to myself when I leave here, I guess I’m going to be a professor. As you guys know from listening to prior episodes of my podcast, I ended up becoming a professor and I was one for three years. I was a professor at the London School of Economics, where I continued to be much more interested in teaching and mentoring and developing my graduate students, than I was in the actual work of researching and publishing. I love researching to death, I hate sitting in a chair all day long, and so that just did not work for me and my body. I had a lot of back pain because of it. So it’s kind of in a certain way… It wasn’t the right fit for me but I wasn’t willing to leave because I was too proud, until my body forced me to. And then, out I went. Came back to the States right after I had a baby, my first baby Soren. And then I got back I into high tech. I went back to the Bay Area. I got hired to run growth at a technology startup. We ended up getting acquired by Groupon. I didn’t end up going to Groupon. That was just was not my choice, and I began consulting at that time.
This was awesome because now, I got to do what I love. And I got to really engage with a bunch of founders. So in the background behind all of this academic work, I was really active on Twitter. It’s the place where technology people hang out. And I love writing and I love coming up with fast little things to say. And so you get into conversations and slowly, founders would… Either I knew them before from a prior life or a prior side consultant gig, or they just were reading my stuff on Twitter, and they would ask me to go to coffee and just bounce ideas around, or have a quick lunch.
I literally could fill up my entire day with eight meetings. And I happen to live right in the center of everything in a neighborhood called Portrero Hill, which is right in the middle of all the different neighborhoods of San Francisco where tech startups live. And it was also in the same neighborhood as Caltrain, so I could get down to Silicon Valley very easily. I could get down to Menlo Park and Palo Alto and all that very, very easily. So that was [inaudible] again. Right place, right time for my particular industry. We paid pretty for that and it paid off. So I noticed, I wouldn’t always need to have a long consulting project with a founder, let’s say, to make an impact on them, to help them to realize something that might be going on inside their company or with their plans that had a deeper level of meaning that connected to them psychologically as a person, and also would have big business or organizational implications.
So often this would happen in the first meeting. At first, we’re just going to coffee, we’re chit chatting. I don’t know you, we’re not talking about being a client. And then they’d be off on their merry way, and they’d get back in touch in a year like, “Thank you, you made such a difference in my life.” I was like, I really like those one hour meetings. And there’s a lot of value in that one hour. But the thing that I was earning money from would be multi-month consulting projects that were more strategy based. I was doing growth strategy, product strategy, marketing strategy. And the way that I was approaching all those was very organizational in practice because that’s just my own personal orientation. I was looking at how are the people working together and the mindsets and the psychology of the founder? How is that shaping their business outcomes?
And what can we do there to subtly shift it by working with the human system and working with that psychology. So even though I was selling these consulting packages based on outcomes that were related to strategy work, my value was coming from this much more psychological organizational human systems’ orientation that I had. And like I said, the leverage wasn’t in multiple months of me hiring a team of other contractors and really attacking a project, it was really from this one hour. I also noticed this one hour is the thing that gives me the most life and energy. And I noticed when I fill my week with those one hour meetings, I make zero money because I wasn’t charging for it, I didn’t think it was a thing worth charging for, I thought, well, anybody can just go to coffee in the Bay Area, people do it all the time. And I would love to keep doing it, but I just can’t afford to.
So fast forward, and I took some maternity leave when I had my second child, Arrow. Just for background, we did move down to Los Angeles a few months before she was born. I was maybe five months pregnant when we moved down there. Took some time off, a couple of months off and pretty early into that maternity leave, I remember feeling really surprised and I felt like I was kind of ready to go back to work soon. Not at all full time, but I knew that I was done having babies at that point. And it was the first time in my whole entire life that I ever felt like I had my whole entire life to work with, my whole entire life ahead of me. Because I knew that as a person who wanted to have children, I wanted to have the space to be able adjust my lifestyle and make some choices based on what was going to be best for my kids and myself and my whole family.
So I had always been thinking about my career in fairly short term thinking. My purpose was very long term, but my career moves, I felt, needed to be fairly short term. So I was thinking in kind of three month stints from the time I first was born until my daughter was born, which is a span of four years. And that’s kind of exhausting, right? It’s hard to find jobs that you could if you needed to or wanted to quit in three months. And that’s kind of why consulting was a good fit, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I wanted it to be. And so once I was holding my new baby girl in my arms, and feeling like I’m really… I feel pretty sharp. I feel kind of like, I’d be interested in going back and doing some work.
I was able to ask that question of what do I really want to do? And so my habit with founders and consulting work would be to say, “what are the unnecessary things you’re doing? What are the unnecessary features of this product? What are the unnecessary goals that are on your strategic roadmap?” I was good at stripping out the unnecessary. So I said, I’m going to apply that same thinking to myself, what are the unnecessary elements of what’s been my coaching offering? and I found that almost the whole thing was unnecessary when you’re looking only at what’s the most important thing that I do, the most valuable thing that I do. And it was that one hour. It was one hour over lunch, one hour over coffee.
Specifically, it was me connecting the mindset of the leader, the psychological past of the leader, to the way it was playing out in their whole organization. Because leaders, our psychology is evident in the organization all around us. And I said if I had to choose, that’s the one hour I would charge for, because that’s the most valuable hour. I know it because I hear back from people that I’ve had coffee with and they say how it completely changed their company. So that’s what I want to charge for, but I don’t even know what that’s called or if anyone would be willing to pay for it. And certainly I don’t know what to charge for it.
So I’m thinking to myself, you know, what is that, is that advising? Well, it doesn’t really feel like advising because it’s not, I’m not giving advice. You know, I’m asking questions and it’s not coming from me having expertise in the nitty gritty of their company. It’s much more high level. And it felt like very soulful and very heart centered.
So what is that? I don’t know. It’s certainly not consulting. And the complexity of consulting was just kind of not something I had had space for, especially when I had a newborn and was breastfeeding and up a lot of the night. So I didn’t want to be on the hook for returning a lot of emails and doing project planning and giving reports and all that, so it was not consulting. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh is it coaching?” And I have to tell you, if you could see the look on my face, which you would, if you watch the video for this at allowedpodcast.com, I’m like, “Ooh, coaching.” And I didn’t want it to be coaching. That word to me, especially after going through my PhD at Berkeley, where there’s this very high emphasis on rigor and being analytical, coaching just sounds so fluffy and frilly and soft and unsubstantiated.
So I thought I don’t want it to be that. I even reached out to some people who I knew who did some coaching, and I asked if they thought that I was a coach or consultant or advisor, and no one said coach. However, I couldn’t figure out how it was anything other than coach. So I decided, okay, I think I’m a coach. Now here’s the crazy part. The next day after I have this realization, I wake up and in my inbox are five different emails of people reaching out to me, “Hey, I’d love to just bounce something off you, could we grab coffee? Or “I’m going through some career change.” And these are people that either, I didn’t know them, or they were a friend of a friend, or there are people that I hadn’t talked to in seven years, and they’re coming back and they’re asking for coaching.
So I’m thinking, okay this is a sign. Now pretty soon, I started being able to fill up my calendar with these conversations again, the little time I was giving to it with my baby. And it really gave me a lot of confidence that this is the thing that really felt right to me. So then my task was, how do I get some practice, and how do I build my practice? So I needed to learn, right? I needed to learn some skills and I also needed to learn how to build a coaching practice. I dove in and I started doing some coach training. I did some training with the Coach Training Institute. I also was founding a women’s group at that point called The Trust. And for that group, I wanted to get better in my facilitation skills. I had already had a bunch of facilitation training, but this was a different format so I did some training with the Center for Council.
I did several other trainings. I can’t even remember all of them, but I’ve got them written down somewhere. And that kind of gave me enough of a framework for me to be able to distinguish what’s coaching, and what’s not coaching. What’s coaching, and what’s advising, what’s coaching and what’s consulting, because I think it’s important not to blend them until you’re very, very sophisticated and you’re able to call it out for your clients, like I just did yesterday. I said, “Okay, we’ve now been coaching for 45 minutes on the phone, I’ve got some advice. This is not coaching, I wanted to just share with you my advice based on my experience, based on my expertise.” That’s more advising, right? So I decided to start… The people who would approach me for consulting rather than trying to engage them in a multi month tens of thousands dollars project, I’d see how short can I get the engagement? Can I reduce it down to a one day deep dive? Can I be that, I’m really there just to help them get clear, and we’re going to whiteboard some stuff together for a couple of hours, and then they’ll be off on their merry way. How small can I make it?
And then I was able to get it down to just an hour, and then I was able to start charging for it. And that was a big leap to take. I was like, “I’m going to charge for this.” I didn’t even know how to charge for it, but I was charging very, very little compared to what I charge now and being shocked that people were willing to pay it. I also worked with a coach who was recommended to me by a friend of mine who’s a great coach. And he helped me learn how to structure my time and how to structure my what essentially are my offerings, how to set my rates. Great advice he gave me is he asked, “What’s the highest amount that somebody’s ever paid you for your coaching work?” And I was like, “Well it’s this.” And he said, “Okay, just don’t accept anything less than that from now on.”
That was the scariest thing I ever did. It’s not a rule I abide by anymore. I guess I have a different philosophy on it now. There are some things that you do more to be of service. But at the beginning, especially for a lot of us Bleeding Heart coaches, it’s really hard not to just keep giving it away. And then it’s not sustainable and you can’t do it. So it was really key in me filling up my calendar in a way that made my practice sustainable. From there, I was able to invest in having a coworking space that I could go to, and upgrading my computer, and having a good webcam if I was doing virtual coaching, for doing more trainings, all these investments that I would make that would make me a more powerful coach.
It also gave me the ability to say, “What’s one of my hours worth, and how can I boost the value of that hour for my clients?” And one of the ways was, I can arrive clean. So I really invested in my personal practices, my meditation, my exercise, my own mindset, my personal growth. And, I removed friction from my life that would have me arriving a little bit less than clean into that session. So my goal was to be the most present person you’ve ever experienced in your whole entire life for that one hour that you’re with me. And that’s when I hired Heather. Actually I hired a couple of other EAs before I hired Heather, and Heather used to be my EA. She’s now our head of operations. But that’s when I began investing in having some support for me in showing up in that way.
Now I had used support like an EA before, EA/VA, when I was doing consulting work, and it was a lot to deal with, kind of tactical arrangements and booking meetings and things. And here’s where I really went big into, they’re not just helping support me and my calendar, but they’re really going to help support me in showing up present, whatever that looks like. So I gave myself that gift, that luxury, that affirmation, that my presence is my value. Once I started organizing my life around presence, that’s when I would say my career really, really took off. And as a mom, that is and isn’t easy. That’s probably a story for another time. And in the meantime, what I want to draw you all back to is, I don’t have a coach certification. I’ve done tons and tons of trainings. I do the ones that I feel will be most valuable to me. I don’t feel the need to go through the entire program at this point. I think it’s interesting, and the coaches I know who have done it are absolutely fantastic top notch coaches.
That may be a coincidence, but it’s not a prerequisite. So a lot of people ask me, “Do I need to get a certification?” Or they just assume they do. And you don’t. Right now, you don’t. Some clients will not hire you if you don’t have a certification like the bigger corporate clients. I’m not concerned with that, that’s not my bread and butter, and I’ve still had tons of work from a lot of big corporate clients. And there are a lot of the coach trainings that I have liked to do aren’t part of that certification world anyway. So I feel like I have enough education. I blend all of it. I bring a lot of experience and expertise and I have a good track record.
So if your coaching practice is not growing from word of mouth, that’s really what to work on is increase the value of the coaching practice. And you can ask people, “Who else could I speak to that I could be helpful to?” Usually they will refer you on their own. Where I see a lot of coaches get really lost is, one is this certification thing of putting all these roadblocks in front of yourself. The most important thing is to get out there and start practicing.
A book I read that I really feel increased my value is called The Prosperous Coach, and I will link to it in the show notes. I’ll also probably link to a few of my favorite coaching resources. But this book talks about how your only job is to create value, and you do that through conversation. And so whether you’re in an intro call or not, you are always coaching. Coaching, coaching, coaching, and that’s putting in your hours, putting in your practice. Doing that from a place of you know what coaching is, is really, really important. So definitely make sure that you understand what it is, and the basic skills of coaching. And you can do that with a training or a book. You can do that by listening to podcasts or doing training videos. But please don’t go into the world telling people you’re a coach if you’re actually a person who just wants to give advice, or have people listen to you. You can start a podcast if you want to do that.
Okay, second mistake I see people make is they think it’s all about marketing. And they think I need a website before I can be a coach, no you don’t, no you don’t. Do you know a human being? You can be a coach, that’s how it works. You can offer it to coach. Now you don’t sloppily inject coaching into every conversation without labeling it. You say, “Would you like to receive some coaching from me? May I coach you right now?” And you’d be surprised, people will say no if they don’t want your coaching. So making sure that it’s a really clear kind of de-marked session is important for that conversation piece. But conversation is the tool, that’s what you need. Later on, you can have a website. I have a website. I’ve had a website since 2007, because I like having a blog and a place where I can put stuff in a place that helps me remember who am I? What am I doing in the world? Okay I’ve committed to the world this is what I’m all about. I’m not going to keep changing it around.
It is a useful tool. If it’s useful to you fine, but don’t get hung up on… Certainly don’t invest in a bunch of marketing courses. Don’t get all tied up in that whole world. This is an industry of coaches who sell coaching services to other coaches, and there are a lot of pyramid schemes out there. It doesn’t look like a pyramid scheme, but ultimately, if it’s not about you coaching, first and foremost, it’s not a good thing to invest in when you’re starting out. Until you have a full book of business, you’re not really ready for big time marketing, you’re not. Now, if you want a podcast because that’s your craft and you love that, great. You don’t need a podcast to be a coach. You don’t need anything but a human connection.
It’s all about presence. It’s all about conversation. It’s all about being of service. So if every day you wake up and you ask yourself the question, “Who is somebody that I could really serve today?” You will be well on your way to being a coach. Ask me any coaching questions that you have. I’m happy to share with you more things about my journey, anything you’re interested in. There’s just so much I’ve learned along the way, so, so, so much. A lot of it is very tactical. I think tactics are really fun. And then a ton of it has been much more my own internal work, and I have done a lot of it. So very excited if this is a path that you’re interested in. If not, and you’re just getting to know me a little bit, great. No matter what your career path is, don’t expect it to be a linear path. If you feel lost, you probably are. It’s okay. Keep going. As long as you’re being of service and that’s what you’re interested in, you’re on the right path.
Thank you for joining me this week. I’ll see you next time.