Life coaching helps you move on with momentum

by Angela Jeffs

“People have personal trainers to keep them fit and healthy,” says Wendy Kerr. “It seems perfectly logical to have personal coaches to keep life moving in the right direction.”

Wendy is director of Momentum, the company she founded a year ago to coach individuals — from expat housewives to company executives — toward specific goals either by phone or face to face.

Living in Tokyo’s Nishi-Azabu is a far cry from growing up in grazing country on New Zealand’s South Island. “Though we were surrounded by sheep, it was my mother’s idea to raise deer. Though deer are skittery and intense, she saw them as a new emerging market.”

At school Wendy wanted to be a vet, but in her last year decided she could not stand blood and guts. Looking around at options, she found marketing appealed. “As a country girl, it seemed fresh, exciting, full of promise.” So off she went to university and found everything she ever imagined about the subject was true: She loved it.

She heard about life coaching in the U.K., where she and her husband (who grew up in the part of the New Zealand where one of Wendy’s great-grandparents, a Maori, originated tribally) spent three years. But she only began training after he was relocated by his company to Japan.

“Many U.K. coaching schools operate distance-learning courses. I chose one in Australia. Graduating in January 2004, I began taking on clients. Now I have on average about a dozen, but I tend to be busier at those times of the year when many foreigners arrive from abroad, such as now and in September.”

Life coaching was initiated in the mid-1980s in the U.S. Coaches are not psychologists and therapists, which involve studying patients in depth. “People with significant issues may need clinical therapy, even drugs. I do not look for or attempt to treat root causes; I never cross that line. Rather, coaching helps people through transitional phases. Here especially I want to help foreigners get more out of their time in Japan. They may be doing OK, but more often than not they can do so much better.”

Wendy’s clients tend to fall into three categories. They may be about to move on from Japan and want to get their life sorted, so that they can leave in a good state, with open minds and well-defined strategies for the future.

Clients often want help with careers. “They may think they have a great career, which on the surface appears fine. But they have not bridged their expectations with what they are doing day to day. We look at their passions, what fires them up, then bring things down to earth and identify tools to help them go out and find their dream role.”

Then we come to those individuals Wendy was describing earlier, who are doing well but could do better. She helps them specify goals in terms of relationships, passions and dreams, then as their coach, prods them on. “It’s great to see people digging down inside, then starting to really believe in themselves.”

She sees a lot of people running small businesses. It’s easy, she says (and she should know, being an entrepreneur herself) to end up totally work-orientated. “You need to find a balance. Also, working alone can be lonely; it helps to have someone encouraging to listen, make connections, ask the right questions.”

Wendy recalls a client who sought more time for herself. Although the woman found it hard to put her needs first, coaching helped change her habits and beliefs; she found strategies for saying no without feeling uncomfortable or hurtful. Eventually she was able to follow a creative passion and develop it.

A client with a middle-management role felt unfulfilled and without direction. Here Wendy helped him understand what he wanted within the company goals. The special value of his coaching was in seeing how he behaved within certain environments of his weekly schedule.

“We identified his ideal week, then looked to see how realistically this could be made practical. He learned the importance of prioritizing. Once he got a better handle on time, it was amazing how his energy shifted. Since I know the cookie-cutter approach to time-management doesn’t work, it’s more a matter of changing beliefs about the importance of the time you have got.”

Normally Wendy works with clients in 12-week blocks. But different people have different needs, and she is flexible.

“I offer a trial session of 1 1/2 hours, in which we work toward identifying three goals to be achieved in the 12-week period. There tends to be a slump in weeks five and six, or six and seven, because after the initial analysis, changes are required. Once people get through that phase, they happily gain momentum as changes become apparent.”

Wendy can coach for longer — six months, even a year. But she thinks it important that neither she or clients become dependent on the other’s goals. “Goals must remain tangible.”

Right now she is very busy, and only slightly hampered by the fact that she has a 3-year-old at home and another baby due in June. “Also I’m helping my sister import her jewelry into Japan.”

She says she gets cranky if she is not going flat out, juggling work and home. “I love it that different issues come up with every new client. I am constantly extending my knowledge and experience. It’s such fulfilling work.”

She plans more executive coaching for 2006. And is also developing a workshop she calls “Seize the Moment” to help small groups make the most of their time in Tokyo and Japan.

“It’s important that people leave with good memories. You’d be surprised — shocked even — how many people spend their time counting the months until they leave. ‘Seize the Moment’ is a six-week action plan for turning such negative attitudes around.”