Why I Coach Instead of Play Golf

Pay close attention here—especially if you are not schooled in the terminology of golf: Par is the designated number of strokes it should take to reach the next hole. A scratch golfer is someone who constantly scores at or near par (within 1 stroke) every time they play.  I humbly admit that this is a fantastic thing, and a ball sailing through the air after being hit by a scratch golfer is something beautiful to behold. 

That pretty much describes my friend Jim, though he is actually a +2, which is even better than a scratch golfer. Sadly, it does not describe me.  I am what I call a divot golfer—a deep divot golfer.  A divot is a piece of turf cut out of the ground by a golf club in making a stroke.  Basically, it's a hole.  I'm really good at making divots.  So good, in fact, I make divots even without making contact with the ball. This talent has resulted in strange looks from golfing companions who get a good laugh and tell me that I should be banned from golf courses.  I don't get invited to play golf a lot.  

So why am I telling you this?  Well, when I retired from my last career I looked forward to catching up on my reading, my yard work, and yes, perfecting my golf game.  Some things just don't work out.  After two months of being retired, I felt like something was missing.  So, I did some soul searching, some reading, and a lot of thinking.  Now I'm going to get serious.

First, I gave thought to what I had done in my life that came closest to being my purpose, my talent, or my usefulness to society.  Essentially, I sought to pinpoint from my past exactly what made me feel like I made a difference.  That's a tough one for a guy who never really answered the basic question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  I thought back to my Navy days and to my business career.  I read self-discovery books—lots of them—and sought guidance from on high.  I garnered advice from friends and former work colleagues.  My answer?  Throughout my naval and business past I was known as a helper to others.  One of my naval charges said to me once, "Mike, you're kind of like everyone's father.  We come to you for advice, and we get it. And you always respect confidentiality."  

In business, I didn't always demonstrate that, but I felt it.  I wanted to help others succeed—really succeed.  I wanted them to let go of self-inflicted or other-inflicted blocks to fulfilling their own full potential.  Like those negative and repetitive thought patterns that keep reminding you that you're not good enough.  Like most people in business before the advent of career coaching, I had to wing it.  I didn't know I could get help.  In my role as SVP of Human Resources in my last company, I had hired coaches for some of our execs.  I even coached some of them myself, or at least I thought I had.  What I had done was to tell them what I would do if I were in their place.  How I would solve problems and meet challenges, and so on.  Basically, I had adopted a consultant's role, and I thought that was coaching!  When I retired and worked as a coach for a short while, though, I soon discovered that there was a major difference between consulting and coaching.  And I wasn't a coach!  I needed help and lots of it.  I knew there had to be a science or art to it.  Advising others from my own experience wasn't the answer.

My next step was to read all I could about coaching and to analyze the various training schools and colleges that offered "how to" courses.  I liked what I read and I started believing I might be able to do it. Then I analyzed course lengths, course contents, and prices.  The first realization was that I had to dish out around $20,000 for tuition, transportation and hotel stays during the training. Wow!  And the best training could take up to a year, with on-site interactive learning, books to read, workbooks to complete, and mandatory phone or Internet continuing education between the on-site sessions. And then there were the certification tests, peer coaching sessions, and coaching a Master Coach to round out the qualification process. It was a major time and money investment.  I was really happy to know that the certification training that surfaced as the best, offered a great deal: I could attend the first 3-day on-site training free of tuition if I chose not to continue.  It was a chance to put my toe in the water, and that appealed to me.  Clearly, my mind was not yet fully made up.  So, off I went to my introductory course in coaching as conducted by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, or iPEC.

My iPEC class consisted of twenty-two students and two instructors.  I would like to state that I was overwhelmed with the magnificence of my first day and found it to be, well, wonderful. But, alas, that would be a lie.  My first day, Friday,  was a downer.  They actually wanted me to be open and "share" things about myself.  Talking about my feelings. Sharing. For a guy who had done an excellent job of building invisible walls around himself, I could intellectualize all day long.  But, I was no good at "sharing."  My feelings?  Frankly, I wasn't fully in touch with them.  And then they wanted us to meditate.  Meditate!  During the first meditation, I snuck a peek at the group and discovered that everyone was into it.  I thought—and told them later when I was learning to "share," that I thought they were all friggin' nuts!  My decision at that point was to come to terms with my lack of suitability for coaching.  It was time to return to the real world, sign up for some lessons, and perfect my golf game.  But, whereas I had already paid for a three-day stay in the hotel, I decided to play along for the next two days. I had fought the valiant fight for coachdom and lost!  No, I made the decision that it wasn't for me.  That's more palatable.  I felt good.  It makes you feel good when you have made a well-thought-out and firm decision.  Right?

In all fairness, I have to admit that the instructors were very good.  Karen was a former law enforcement officer, which impressed me, and the other, Jen, was nice and borderline shmaltzy, which scared the hell out of me.  No way she was going to get my walls down!  On the first day, I followed along in the manual as if I had no option, and passively learned about the energy that defines everything we do, from walking to thinking.  I learned about different approaches to coaching, different levels of leadership—which did impress me—and how the energy levels linked to the leadership levels.  Academically, it was fascinating.  I decided to read up more on the subject because as you know, I had made a firm decision not to continue after the tuition-free 3-day introductory workshop.  

The next day, Saturday, started with meditation.  I did the peek test again and confirmed my aforementioned diagnosis of the class.  Yea, they were out there!  So, I pretty much took a light nap and opened my eyes when it was over.  Jen and Karen really got intense on Saturday.  The had us coaching each other and doing some group coaching where everyone in the group chimed in and openly assessed you.  They weren't messin' around!  I really got challenged and, I don't know how it happened, but late in the afternoon I started—get ready—to share!  I knew I wasn't' going to continue in the profession, but gradually I decided to get as much benefit from the first go-round that I could.  After all, the price was right!

On Sunday, we learned about the dynamics of energy interplay, practiced coaching and took deep dives into the fundamentals of coach-coachee relationships.  It would take pages to describe everything I learned in the 3-day introduction to coaching as a profession, so I won't reproduce a curriculum for you.  What's most important is what happened throughout the entire process.  Slowly, I did start to open up.  So did others.  Friendships formed on deeper bases than I had ever experienced.  I can't say that the walls entirely came down, but I can say that they began to crumble a bit.  No, not a bit, but a lot.  By late afternoon on Sunday, I was volunteering to be coached whenever I could.  I wanted to grab that stuff!  Oh, yea.  I had become so psyched that I would have paid more than the tuition asking price to continue.  I knew there would be two more 3-day on-site programs, books and workbooks to complete, weekly reinforcement sessions, and coaching and being coached to deeper and more meaningful levels.  I could see how this would be a great way to help others, especially in the business community.  I wanted to tell the world what I had discovered.  Yea, I bought in.  And that was only the beginning.  I went back for more specialized training after my certification, and I still take continuing education classes in coaching and assessment interpretation.  I love this stuff.  I'm really into it, and I've got 1,280 hours of coaching experience since I started.  And I'm grateful for all of my clients.  In coaching, there's a payoff for the coachee and the coach.  What a deal!  As one of my iPEC classmates said after completing the entire course, "This training was so valuable that even if I never coach anybody, it changed my life forever."  I couldn't have said it better. 

I've had many coaches myself since I signed up, but one will always stand out.  It's Jen, the one I suspected was schmaltzy.  Jen has her feet squarely on the ground.  She's great.  I wonder if she plays golf?  

My friend, Jim, tells me that it's an open secret that golf caddies call people like me "diggers."  I guess I am.  Yet in a spirit of kindness or plain pity, Jim went on to qualify it: "Mike, you are a digger, but a digger with hope.  We're going to work on that!"

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