I don’t know anything

Jul 19, 2016

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There is this practice, this promise, that seems to be running rampant throughout the coaching community.


If dear old Facebook has flagged you as the sort of individual who is interested in personal development and growth, you’re likely to have noticed that your feed contains the evidence of the phenomena at hand.  It looks like this:

“10 Steps to (insert wild promise for life improvement here)”


“How I Overcame the Odds, Realized My Dreams, Used the Law of Attraction, Quit my Job to Travel the World (I could go on….) – And How You Can Too!”


and my personal favourite….

“Become a 6-figure (fill in the blank with location-independent, lifestyle-based occupation here)”


If you’re like me, you dutifully click on the beautifully designed ad with the carefully curated font and the photo of the Expert doing a yoga pose or romping in a sunflare-lit field.

It looks so good.  They make it look easy.

And sure enough, the workbook or checklist or webinar or ebook that you download makes the whole process look simple.  Like if you follow these steps, you too can achieve sunflare-lit success.

But this concept is grievously wrong.  On so many levels, my friends.

First of all, according to a little something called Complexity Theory, starting a business, making six figures, becoming happier, overcoming the odds, and realizing your dreams are complex processes.  And if we know anything about complex processes and problems, it’s that slapping a simple solution on them simply. doesn’t. work.

Complex processes are gnarly.  They’re scary.  They involve wrestling, triumph, disappointment, incremental progress, confusion.

Simultaneously, complex processes are often the most intriguing, the most rewarding to dive into and swim around in.  They are the test of our courage, our perseverance, our grit.

But I digress.

The real concern that I have with this method of marketing coaching is that it places the expertise, the solution

in someone else’s hands.


(otherwise known as:  fundamentally disempowering).

I come from a social science background, and in my graduate research, I was constantly reminded that

people are the experts of their own lives.

So, is that coach who is promising you the solution to all your woes an expert?  Yes.  Usually, they report having mastered the solution to the problem they propose to solve for you themselves.  They are earning six figures (where did that number come from anyway??) and now they want to show you how you can too.  This makes them an expert…of their own experience.

Not yours.

And here’s the other thing.

Getting in the tangly mess of people’s complex problems without any promise of a solution makes for

shitty marketing.

And also, it’s really hard.  And requires skill at holding space, being comfortable with the unknown, and resisting the urge to slap a simple solution on a complex problem for the sake of finality, client satisfaction, or a great testimonial.

Which brings me to my other point. 

You see, coaching is a completely unregulated profession.  There are many unregulated professions out there – for example, midwifery and naturopathic medicine are unregulated in many areas.  But you don’t often see people delivering babies because they’ve birthed one of their own and they figure they can help you birth yours…or prescribing you homeopathic remedies without an in-depth education of their benefits and drawbacks.  Coaching, however, seems to be something that people think they can do with no training other than, in many cases, their own life experience.

But sharing in people’s messy, complex life situations, holding space, allowing them to come to a realization of their own expertise of their lives, I would argue, requires some kind of formal preparation.  Coaching is not benign.  You can fuck it up.  You can fuck people up.  You need to understand the philosophies and methodologies that make a coaching relationship powerful.  You need to practice practice (practice practice practice) drawing people out, challenging people gently, asking shockingly insightful questions.

It can be a deeply uncomfortable, unsettling place to be:  the place of not knowing anything about the solution to a client’s quandary.  Of not being able to effectively slap a simple solution on their complex process.  Because ultimately the solution lies within the coaching client, waiting to be unearthed through a process of supported inquiry.  And a trained, qualified coach who’s worth their weight in gold cannot wait to get into that muck with you.  She cannot wait to support you to crawl around in the quagmire of your old stories, your beliefs, your strengths and limitations and help you find – for yourself – what you’ve been looking for all this time.  It is the mark of a great coach, and a skill that is learned, cultivated, practiced, nurtured.

I know the quick fix is alluring.  I find it incredibly alluring.  And like the dog who goes after the porcupine every. single. time, I can’t seem to resist the clickbait that promises to solve my mucky problems.  But it never does.  I, and every one of us, has to wade into the muck eventually, and to have truly empowering support in that process is thrilling, gratifying, exhilarating, a little bit scary, and so, so worth it.

The Becoming Podcast has been on a short hiatus while I focus on writing my book, but oh what a comeback episode I have for you!

This month, I spoke to Toko-pa Turner, who many of you may know as the unofficial patron saint of many of my circles and gatherings because of the sheer number of times I’ve quoted from the wisdom of her book, Belonging.

Toko-pa is a Canadian author, teacher, and dreamworker. Blending the mystical teachings of Sufism in which she was raised with a Jungian approach to dreams, she founded The Dream School in 2001, from which thousands of students have graduated. She is the author of the award-winning book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, which explores the themes of exile and belonging through the lens of dreams, mythology, and nature. This book has resonated for readers worldwide, and has been translated into 10 different languages so far. Her work focuses on the relationship between psyche and nature, and how to follow our inner wisdom to meet with the social, psychological, and ecological challenges of our time.

Here’s some of what Toko-pa and I talk about in this episode:

> The dream that changed Toko-pa’s life, causing her to question her career and, ultimately, her identity

> How we can court our dreams to support us during times of radical transformation – and the reasons so many of us have a hard time remembering and working with what shows up in our dreamscape

> Toko-pa’s perspective on the message of Belonging after the divisiveness our society has experienced in the years since it was published

> What happened for both Toko-pa and I when we fell out of belonging from the ideologies of the “wellness world”

> How to build community when you’re under-resourced

> “The Big Lie” when it comes to belonging, and how we can reclaim a sense of belonging to the greater family of things, as Mary Oliver so famously wrote

Listen to the episode on iTunes


Show Notes

Toko-pa’s Website

Belonging:  Remembering Ourselves Home, Toko-pa’s book

The David Abram video about animism mentioned in the interview

Toko-pa’s self-guided program, Dream Drops

Companion, the program that accompanies Belonging


Also, while you’re at it, if you enjoy The Becoming Podcast, I would be so grateful if you would rate and review, and even subscribe to it on iTunes.  That goes a long way to helping more and more people find and benefit from hearing these interviews!  Thank you so much!