Coaching through life

In the olden days, if you had a personal problem you would go to your pastor, your rabbi, your guidance counselor, your gym teacher, your best friend, your brother or sister, your Scout leader and, in extreme circumstances, your parents.

Your parents, however, usually made the problem worse by beating the #%#$ out of you because, to their thinking, you were always to blame. But times have changed and now we’re more enlightened. Now, everybody has a “life coach.”

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what a “life coach” is, but I suspect it’s someone who helps you make it through life without too many breakdowns, too many breakups and too many bankruptcies.

The crazy thing is I already have my own life coach — someone who takes great interest in telling me how to live, what to eat, what to wear and how to spend my money. It’s my wife and there’s no charge for services.

One self-described “life coach” in her 30s was recently giving advice to 20-year-olds. This woman, who studied at an Ivy League college, was sort of a Martha Stewart/Sigmund Freud/Billy Graham for young people and offered tips like “100 reasons why you have to love yourself more,” “Eight reasons why you’re smarter than everyone else and deserve a promotion with a hefty increase in compensation,” “50 ways to love yourself” (48 of which involve bubble baths) and “13 ways to get ahead of other people who are trying to get ahead.” It’s the sort of stuff you find inside fortune cookies, which are considerably cheaper than professional counseling.

We never had opportunities like this in the past. There was no therapy, no medication, no positive reinforcement. Yes, there were a lot of troubled people walking the streets, but I think there are more today despite all the resources.

After seeing an ad that asked, “Want to be a life coach? Take this quiz,” I decided to reinvent myself and enroll in online courses, watch a few YouTube videos, open a few fortune cookies and come away with a certificate to hang on my wall that says “CERTIFIED BONA FIDE LIFE COACH.”

All I’d need then are clients, or patients, or whatever they’re called.

I have natural talents for this sort of thing because I know about success and failure (more about failure). As Confucius, the granddaddy of life coaches, once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”

The best part is I’ll be able to make extra bucks by counseling my coworkers on their careers, their marriage problems and their parenting woes. Financial planning would require an additional fee. (Actually, I better not enter that territory because I can’t even balance my checkbook.)

One challenge I face is that I’ve never been good at positive reinforcement, probably because I grew up in an alcoholic home and the compliments were few and far between. Also, I was raised in the era before “self-esteem” became a popular craze, and my father’s idea of “coaching” was to give you a slap across the head when you messed up.

If I made a mistake, he didn’t say, “That’s OK, buddy! No harm done!” “You’re smart!” “You’re talented!” “You’re YOU!” He’d say, “You nitwit. Why’d you do that?”

If I followed his approach, I’d be telling my clients, “Ralph, you’re a real jerk. Why’d you leave your wife?” “Jezebel, let Ralph go, he’s not worth it!” “Kent, it’s not good to embezzle. Don’t you know the difference between right and wrong, you sicko?” When I probably should be saying, “Kent, I can understand the stress you’re under and why you stole all that money from those little old ladies. Try better next time, OK, buddy?”

I should confess that once my father got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, he actually became a sort of life coach and would even say things like “A day at a time” and “Live and let live” and “First things first.” And, you know what? It made a lot of sense.

Joe Pisani may be reached at