Editorial Note: This is a guest post by Sweetney, a prolific writer and author to 2 blogs including Sweetney and MamaPop, and a column on Babble.com called Sweetney & Spice. She also happened to attend Velocity’s Life Camp and offered to write about it. Check out her experience, live and uncut…
As you might surmise from the title of this post, I’ve been a bit skeptical of the Life Coaching movement – in broad, undefined prejudicial strokes – since it began. As someone who considers listening to Radiohead’s “Kid A” to be the pinnacle of spiritual experience, and something of a confirmed cynic where anything that even vaguely smacks of Self Help is concerned, I’m the person you’d least expect to find at a Life Coaching retreat.
Which is why when I attended one hosted by Velocity a few weeks back, boy howdy, did I have a lot of ‘splainin to do, Lucy. Everyone I know just seemed… genuinely confused by this whole turn of events that was so out of character for me. Was I going to stop wearing deodorant and start talking about aligning my chakras, too? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS WHOLE LIFE COACHING BUSINESS? WHERE IS TRACEY, AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER SKEPTICISM AND SNARK, DIRTY HIPPIES?
Well I’m here to reassure you all that I’m still essentially the same person after this experience. I was not abducted into some kind of cult, I drank no kool aid, and my armpits smell like a field of wildflowers, thank you very much. Nothing of who I am was “lost” in this process – far from it. Rather, I gained a whole lot of useful insights into who I really am, what my strengths are, and what I want my life to be. It was hugely revelatory. At the risk of sounding cornball I’d even say life changing.
The first thing that surprised me about the whole retreat experience was the coaches themselves. In my mind, I’d pictured them as new-age guru-types — people who spent a lot of time talking in vague, spiritually-tinged mumbo jumbo terms about things like inner peace, and the enlightenment they’d gained by way of their strict raw food diets. Instead, I met three people who were just like me. But calmer. And less frazzled. And more… centered-seeming (yes I just made that term up – roll with it).
I liked them immediately.
The second surprise was my fellow retreat attendees – all perfectly lovely, utterly normal real people. No one smelled of patchouli or seemed like a lost soul. These were people who, like me, lived good, useful, productive lives, and had families and jobs. There was nothing “wrong” with them, except maybe that, like me, they felt a bit rudderless sometimes, and were overwhelmed by the stresses and strains of modern life (who isn’t, right?). They were smart and funny, and some admitted that they too had no idea what to expect, but had decided to attend the retreat with an open mind. These people – many of whom I’d have never thought of as potential friends had I seen them on the street because of our superficial differences – rapidly became intimates, as I found myself sharing things with them I haven’t shared with friends I’ve known for 10 years. The experience was just that powerful. It rendered all of my typical defenses not just inoperative, but honestly pointless.
It’s difficult to articulate in real terms what the weekend was truly like experientially – I know, because I’ve tried. Friends have asked me, what was so amazing and transformative about all of this? What did you DO? And I’d rattle off a list of activities: Well, we talked about intention, about our core values, about the stories each of us carry around about ourselves and our lives that hold us back, and about how to live a strengths-based life. All of which sounds great, but kind of broad and vague as well. And so my friends would do the typical Nod-and-Smile response in return, and we’d move on to some other topic with me never feeling like they understood how huge this had been for me.
So let me provide a specific example.
The idea that we all have Core Values seems like a simple one, but have you ever sat down and tried to write out what, say, your Top 5 Core Values are? I sure as heck hadn’t. And as the weekend progressed, I realized something startling: I honestly didn’t know what these were for me, not in any kind of real or articulable way. But eventually, after about an hour of brainstorming and discussion with the Velocity coaches, I managed to prune what started out as a mammoth list of values down to just a core five:
A few of the other things I’d originally had on this list that got the axe: loyalty, humor, intelligence, creativity. Which isn’t to say those aren’t important to me – they most certainly are – but rather that I see those now as being parts of the greater five values (freedom=creativity; fun=humor; loyalty=authenticity; etc). And really, how invaluable would it be for you to wake up every day and know, in the deepest parts of who you are, what your true core values are, and to be able to specifically name each them without a moment’s hesitation? Because it’s a roadmap for living your life, right there, in five simple words. BOOM! HERE’S WHAT’S IMPORTANT. So when you’re faced with any issue, large or small, you now know exactly what you should do: that which allows you to live and act in a way that conforms with and adheres to your five values. Because in knowing them, you know what it is you want from life. For me, that’s connection, authenticity, growth, fun, and freedom. Those are the stars I need to guide the ship of my life by.
This was, no kidding, a head-spinning, mind-boggling revelation.
And I sat in that conference room at the retreat for a long time looking at those five words, knowing what each of them meant to me and to my life and how I want to live it, and I felt so overcome with gratitude and hope that I broke down and cried.
Actually, to be perfectly honest, I cried A LOT at the retreat – almost an embarrassing amount, really – and found myself opening up to a bunch of strangers in ways I’d never have anticipated. At one point I asked the coaches what they thought the difference was between life coaching and traditional talk therapy, because in many ways, this experience felt therapeutic on levels I’d touched in therapy previously. And much more. I told friends afterward that far from being weirdo or new-agey, life coaching was, to me, like therapy stripped of what had always bothered me about therapy: the incessant looking backward, the constant dredging of the past. And listen, I’m not knocking it — I absolutely understand how sometimes historical surveying CAN be helpful to some. But speaking for myself personally, I’ve always been a problem-solver and a fixer, first and foremost. I want to know what I need to know in order to fix or improve what’s wrong or broken. Period. And based on my eye-opening weekend with Velocity, I truly and honestly believe that life coaching gives you the tools to do just that.
I came to Velocity’s life coaching a skeptic and left a believer, without question. So much so in fact that I plan to continue the coaching process with Velocity over the next several months, solo. I have a lot of work to do to get myself to where I want to be for sure, but I’m now confident that I’ll get there and that I’ll at last be able to live my best possible life with a sense of real peace. And, corny though it may sound, isn’t that what we all want? To live a full, contented life in which we’re able to use the things that are truly our greatest strengths and deepest values to guide us? For the first time in my entire life – and I’m a decrepit 42 now, mind you – I finally feel like I’m on the path to get there.
Still dubious? Have questions about my experience, or about what you could expect from a retreat like this or from life coaching generally? Hit me in comments and I’ll do my best to answer honestly!
Interested in attending Velocity’s next Life Camp? Click here for more information and join us September 28-30 near Washington, DC for a transformative weekend. And as a special gift to any Sweetney readers, use promo code SWEETNEY to receive $100 off the price. You can reserve your seat for just $50! Offer expires June 27, 2012 @ 11:59 PM EST.