Getting a coach on life.

Imagine being in a film or book where every movement is controlled and every action is premeditated. Consider The Truman Show, where Truman Burbank’s whole life is a TV set and his every move is manipulated for ratings. Or 1984, George Orwell’s disturbing dystopian future where citizens don’t question the status quo for fear of dire consequences. They say fiction is only one step removed from fact. Are these creative works a reflection of the human desire to be guided and told what to do? After all, having someone give you all the answers is comfortable and safe, which could be why life coaching is in such high demand, with a revenue of USD1 billion.

Of course, humans have always sought to understand the meaning of life and want to be guided towards the answer. As early as 400 BC, Socrates ruminated on living well and virtuously. Even in modern times, spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama expounds the benefits of compassion and kindness. Humans have always been drawn to those who can help them lead better and more fulfilling lives. In the 1970s, sports coaches became all the rage after Timothy Gallwey’s book The Inner Game of Tennis hit the shelves. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to Control-C this useful technique into the corporate world.

Enter the life coach. A life coach helps clients achieve their goals. Goals are personal and can range from simple (exercise more) to the more complex (overcoming an addiction). Life coaching became a thing circa 2010 and is up there with the therapist, psychiatrist and counsellor as an accessory to make life a little better. Contrary to popular opinion, life coaches aren’t there to tell a person what they should or shouldn’t do, nor are they there to provide answers. Life coaches help clients achieve clarity on what they want to do with their lives. It’s not about picking apart issues from the past and correcting them; it’s about moving forward, and this is done through conversations and guided questions.

What is striking, though, is that life coaching seems to fall mainly under the purview of middle- to upper-class professionals. Those who are already successful and looking to inject a little more meaning into their lives. Or maybe they just need a push to make some changes. Ask the guy rummaging through the dregs of life and you can bet he’s fighting just to survive day by day, which leaves him zero time to ponder on the mysteries of life or achieve self-actualisation. It’s no big surprise life coaching is highly popular in developed countries and not so much in places where it’s a struggle to keep food on the table.

These days, you can throw a stone and chances are, you would hit a life coach; they’ve sprouted like cuckbois in the feminist movement. How does it all work, though? Do you pick a life coach randomly and hope for the best? The problem with the industry—popular and in demand as it is—is it’s currently unregulated. Do you really want to seek the advice of someone who probably only decided to be a life coach 5 minutes ago? I’m not knocking life coaches here—I’m sure there are many who are awesome and have helped countless adults be more adept at managing their lives. The problem starts when you have a rapidly growing industry with zero or no culpability if things were to go pear-shaped.

There are also those who choose life coaches based on what they see: so-and-so has the perfect life and that’s what I want, which is dangerous because people are buying into a good marketing strategy. We all know perfect only exists on magazine covers and billboards (and we also know these have been extensively airbrushed and photoshopped). It’s a classic example of selective perception: you see something because it appeals to you, ignore the rest because it doesn’t, and make a choice based on your perception. The problem is you don’t see the whole picture, only a curated version where half the meaning could’ve been lost in translation.

In the modern world, too much emphasis has been placed on leading the perfect life. Yes, we can all do with a little push in the right direction; however, do life coaches really have a place in our lives? Have we cluttered and junked up our lives so much we need a helping hand to do better than we’re already doing? If so, then it’s a sad reflection of the distance we have travelled as a society.




Yen Li Wong