Is that what you REALLY want to do? Or is it a way to defer what scares you?

A friend recently posted that she’s considering becoming a certified coach.

A few days later, in the “How to successfully switch careers” edition of her newsletter, she reflected: “I thought I’d have to return to school to get a job at a nonprofit and that wasn’t true. Rather, I relied on my transferable skills and my passion for the organization to sell myself as a desirable candidate.”

The back to back shares made me wonder if she could apply how she approached her nonprofit endeavor to how she can approach her coaching endeavor. Made me wonder about the word “certified”.

I have NO insight into why she wants to become a certified coach; we’ve never talked about the topic. Perhaps she found a program that checks all her boxes. Perhaps the knowledge, community, and tools she’ll gain are everything she’s dreamed of and more. Perhaps she needs a certificate to do what she wants to do.

But because I often see others use going back to school, professional development, and “advancement” programs as ways to put something off or as symptoms of “I’m scared”, I wondered if that was true in her case. I know imposter syndrome has been a thing in her life; she’s given numerous honest, insightful, and personal talks on the topic including one at Mac & Cheese.

I began to write her a note. Then because I’ve seen the power of realizing you’re not the only one grappling with something and because my fingers kept typing and typing and typing, the note to her turned into a note for all.


Have you ever had the thought: “I’m not really sure what I want to do, so I’ll figure it out in grad school. At least it’ll look like I’m doing something, that I have direction”?

Or “I really want to XYZ but I don’t feel qualified / I’m nervous people won’t take me seriously / everyone else I know is certified. So I’ll sign up for this program. That way I’m working towards my dream without actually having to live the (scary) dream and when I’m ready to actually live the dream, I’ll have a piece a paper that’ll make me real”?

Eep. That’s a really expensive way to put something off. Not to mention, waste of resources beyond money. Time! Brain power! Do you really want to expend those on a placeholder? On the result of your indecisiveness?

Also, nooooo on the dream deferment. The not believing that what you already have in your possession is enough. That breaks my heart. Spoiler: you’re never going to be “ready”. If ready means you feel 100% confident and sure of yourself and whatever leap you’re about to make. If ready means you have all your ducks in a row. Your website will always need tweaking. You could always use more practice. You’ll always need more time, you’ll always be busy. There will always be people smarter than you, with more clients, bigger clients, with skills you don’t have.

There are definitely some fields where I need my person to have a degree/certificate/some type of ‘expert’ designation. Ya know, like a doctor.

And furthering one’s education and development are wonderful paths to take. This is not to poo-poo on those life choices. I myself would looooove to be back in school — will Harvard Business School admit someone who refuses to take the GMAT or pay tuition?! — and I myself have taken actual steps towards advanced degrees in the past.

In my mid-twenties, I took the GRE and had Admissions Packets mailed to me. But then as I was stressing and dragging my feet, I realized I was considering grad school because I saw everyone else around me getting advanced degrees and because I was at a crossroads with Mac & Cheese, unsure my next move, how to “scale” (which all my peers were doing), where I wanted to take my baby. So I put the kibosh on grad school and simply continued to push forward even though I didn’t know where I was going and even though I wasn’t traditionally “qualified”. And things worked out pretty well.

Reflecting on that time reminded me that when I was a senior at Boston College, watching all my friends line up jobs and seemingly know exactly what they wanted post-school and how they were going to attain said want, I considered grad school. Not because I wanted another two, three, four years of schooling or because I wanted to enter a field that required an advanced degree but because I didn’t know what I wanted. Then an opportunity fell in my lap that was grad school’esque in that it was a structured, put off adulthood entity but non grad school’esque in price tag and same ol’, same ol’ in terms of research papers and tests. I applied to and was accepted into a program where I would teach English at a boys Jesuit high school in Kingston, Jamaica for a year. I had spent time volunteering in Kingston and had stayed at this school while a junior at BC. Yes, I wanted to do the program because I fell in love with the Jamaican culture. Because I wanted to do good. Because the idea of living in another country for an extended period of time was scary-appealing. But also because it would allow me to stave off making adulthood decisions in a way that wasn’t shameful or “She’s doing what now?”

Ironically, the program got cancelled a month before I was supposed to leave, due to violence in the area, and I moved home with my mother and worked at a coffeeshop. Every twenty-one year old’s dream. Especially as your friends are decorating their first apartments, heading to office happy hours, and getting paycheck paychecks. Needless to say, that was a stressful summer. Enter the “everything happens for a reason” and “things work out” clichés. The August after graduation, I got my first real-world job, downtown, and a Wrigleyville apartment (don’t judge; I didn’t know better at that tender age), and bought a couch!, a car!, and a gym membership! I was adulting. While I’m sad that Jamaica didn’t work out, a) it’s never too late, b) though not as imagined, I loved my post-college journey, and c) I love my life right now and who knows how different it’d be had things not happened as they did.

Anyhoo, back to my wannabe certified coach friend.

Life coaching is a very popular field these days. I think I see three on the loose coaches peering in my window as I type this.

When I’m considering hiring or referring a coach, the letters after their name, the framed paper on their wall, and the title in their email signature mean nothing to me. What matters is their demeanor, values, and level of professionalism (in the “Are you on time? Do you respond to emails? Did you make it easy to collaborate with you?” vein).

  • Do I enjoy them as overall human beings?
  • Do they make others feel comfortable and at ease?
  • Have I seen them bring joy to others?
  • Have I experienced that joy myself?
  • Do they have something to share and do they share it in an effective manner?
  • Can they offer something I can’t?

If my friend started offering life coaching as a service today, I would refer her today. She is authentic, transparent, kind-hearted, intelligent, innovative, reflective, organized, responsive, motivating, and inspiring. She is the consummate cheerleader yet also a realist. She is what I would want in a life coach. Certificate or not.

I’ve had many people say to me over the years:

  • “You should be a life coach.”
  • “Thought you’d be interested in (insert name of coaching program).”
  • “Are you a life coach?”

I don’t know, am I?

Many would say I help others. Feel better about themselves, find community, find fulfillment, figure out career paths. Ya know, life coach’y stuff.

But I don’t have any official designation as such. I certainly did not drop almost $12k on any training.

This brings up the gray area of what makes a person a title.

One can’t just claim “I’m a doctor” if they didn’t in fact graduate from medical school and become licensed to practice medicine. Same for a lawyer, financial advisor… But professional speaker, chef, plumber? What makes you a speaker? A speaking gig? A paid speaking gig? Being someone with something to say and a desire to say it publicly? For any field or title — is it training? Paying clients? Experience?

I don’t have an answer. But I do have a thought.

If you want to XYZ, and can XYZ legally and safely, both personally and for clients, I say start XYZing. Don’t put it off in the name of further development. If you can and want to swing it, do the development concurrently. Be a life coach while also getting certified. But also consider just being a life coach. Now.

As it always seems to happen in my Life of Yes℠ universe, after ingesting my friend’s two shares and mulling over this topic of fear, the insightful and timely article Growth happens at our edges and by facing our fears appeared on my radar. In the “Fear is my teacher section”, the author states: “I spent much of my life afraid. Not necessarily afraid of bad shit happening but what psychiatrists call little traumas (failure, acceptance into a group, making mistakes). But our fear is rich in information content. If we lean into it, not only do we realize that it isn’t as scary as we think, but it also opens us up to possibility, creativity, and resilience.”

Lean into fear. Learn its lessons. Listen to its whispers. Strip its power.

All this is to say, if you find yourself considering school or another type of personal development investment, ask yourself:

  1. What is my end goal?
  2. Do I need this to reach that goal?
  3. If I don’t need this, do I truly want this, or am I using it as a procrastination method?
  4. Why am I considering this as an option?

Then truthfully answer and take stock of your answers.

If the answers lean “I’m doing this because it excites me” or “I need this to achieve my dream”, make it happen. If the answers lean “I’m doing this because I’m not sure what else to do” or “This is less scary than doing what I actually want to be doing”, step back. Re-evaluate. Choose a different choice.

To my friend considering becoming a certified coach, I wonder what would happen if tonight, when you get home from work, you spend fifteen minutes and add a “Coaching” button to your website. Right next to the “Speaking” button. Which, if I remember correctly, you hesitated to add. And now you have four speaking gigs this Fall.

What would happen if you listened to a wise woman’s wisdom and relied not on a piece of paper but on your transferable skills and your passion?