How I became a life coach

I received a question on Facebook from someone I met years ago.  She reached out to me to ask the following questions and I wanted to share my response with all of you:

What were you doing before you became a life coach? And how did you decide that’s what you wanted to do? I realize it’s a simple question but probably a very complicated answer…

To answer your question (which, by the way, I LOVE how she knew the answer would be complicated), it all started with a magnet. I was dating a guy who was seemingly “more evolved” than I was and I liked something about the way he thought about and approached life. It turned out that he had attended this grad school out here in LA - The University of Santa Monica - that had a Master’s program in Spiritual Psychology. After very little deliberation, I wanted in. I applied, got accepted, then he and I broke up, I landed myself in the hospital with MAJOR anxiety. When I got out of the hospital I knew it was time for a change; I bought my plane ticket two days later. The magnet was on his fridge and it said, “Leap and the net will appear.” I leapt. Without him. 

I got out here, couch surfed for a week, then he called me and asked to get back together. During the interim, he moved to Austin, Texas, so I drove 20 hours out there to be with him to get broken up with again in less than 48 hours. 20 hours BACK to LA. That weekend I started my grad program. 

I attended USM for 2 years while latching on to an unhealthy “relationship” that I was enamored with throughout my time there. I had lots of jobs ranging from being an assistant to my friend who owned a gym, being a french teacher (which was my job in NJ before I left), working as an executive assistant for an engineering department head at USC, and then finally working at a loan company. I met my boyfriend, Billy, while I was at the loan company in March of my 2nd year at USM. I hated the job, but LOVED my boss. Due to the demands of my grad program, I had called out of work 2 days before one of my final exams was due. When I returned on Monday, he called me in to his office to tell me he thought I was amazing, but that they function as a team and I couldn’t do what I did and he didn’t think I really belonged there. He was right and I wasn’t really devastated, though my pride would normally have been CRUSHED. I just KNEW it was for the best. He hugged me and told me I would be successful at ANYTHING I did and I believed him. I left the office, called a buddy of mine who was going kayaking in Mexico 3 days later and I joined him. What the hell? I got back and filed for unemployment - another seemingly pride-crushing experience. Nope, I embraced it. (Not to mention, the weekend before I was fired, I was asked by someone, “What do you REALLY want if you’re being honest with yourself?” I said, “I want to get paid to do nothing.” Be careful what you ask for!)

So, while on unemployment, I half-heartedly looked for jobs and decided to fall back on the good old safety net of teaching. Instead of French, I thought I’d try out my other major - psychology. I applied for the PERFECT job. I was such a fit and they loved me so much I preemptively celebrated, buuuuuut….I didn’t get it! I cried for 2 days…NOW my ego was bruised! I went through a small bout of depression and moped around the house in yoga pants so often that one day when I put jeans and a tee-shirt on, my roommate looked at me wide-eyed and told me how good I looked. That’s when I knew it was REALLY bad.

So, I was really excited one night when I met Billy’s childhood best friend’s soon-to-be fiancee (now wife). She was SO interested in my degree and asked if she could call and talk to me about it. I said “SURE!” with the most amount of enthusiasm I had had in months. The night she called me, I flopped onto my bed with my feet in the air like a teenager on the phone with her super popular boyfriend. I felt alive for that brief moment.

We talked and decided that I would go hang out with her the next week and teach her some stuff - meditation, tai chi, chakras. She was eager to learn and I had nothing better to do. Plus, teaching has always been easy for me. So, I went. We enjoyed it so much that I went over each week. Tuesdays with Deanna. Not quite Tuesdays with Morrie, but still quite powerful. After weeks of going there to teach her about spirituality, I had NO idea that she was in this super dark place in her life (the dark night of the soul, we call it) and I had helped her through it immensely. I just really liked hanging out with her and I had fun teaching. But again, no clue on where she was with her life. She basically poured out her gratitude to me and told me that if I could help a friend of hers, maybe she would pay me for my services. I thought she was CRAZY. Pay me? For what? I obviously would do it for free. (Hmm, wait, isn’t that what people would ask me ALL through my 2 years at USM when I would cry over having NO idea which career I wanted? They would ask that annoying question about “What would you do for free that you love?” Maybe they were on to something!) 

So, I went with it. I felt SUPER awkward taking money from someone to just TALK to them, so I only charged $30/hour. She seemed to be okay with that. Then, she told someone about me and I started working with him. He told someone about me and I started working with him. After a while, I raised my rates…slightly. I got more clients, I raised them some more. Years later, here I am. I didn’t have some magical moment to decide to do this, it sort of just fell into my lap and I followed it. I DID have magical moments after deciding to pursue it. Not at first, though. At first, I had MAJOR judgments. “I’m from the east coast. I should be a doctor, or lawyer, or teacher - something RESPECTABLE. How am I going to tell people I’m a LIFE COACH? I won’t. I’ll tell them I’m KINDA like a therapist who doesn’t take insurance.” Yeah, I was super embarrassed. Then, I had some altering moments that helped shift me.

First was when I talked to my eldest brother, Joe. I’ve always looked up to him, admired him, and respected him. I started talking to him one day about the judgments he had against the men in our family. I worked with him through his beliefs and irrational beliefs and got him to a place where he felt at peace with things. He told me I was AMAZING at what I do. THAT was the moment I felt the courage to call myself a life coach. The next moment was an evening in Vegas where Billy found himself at a poker table with an oil man doubling as a defense attorney for Northrup-Grumman. He was throwing down chips for his entire family and when Billy had lost his chips, he began throwing down $100 hands for him as well. I came over to the table, we got to chatting, and he asked me what I did for a living. I reluctantly told him. I’m sure he sensed that, so he probed deeper. He asked me to “summarize what you do in ONE sentence.” I took a breath, thought, and blurted out, “I give people permission to be happy.” He laughed and said, “Why would anyone need permission?!” Moments later, the cocktail waitress had come by for the third time, this time apologizing profusely about the rich guy’s nephew’s drink. He didn’t like the first, they ran out of Bombay for the second, and the third was too strong (or something like that). She kept apologizing and the nephew, being so caught up in his drink order, dismissed the girl so many times that she looked sullen. I pulled her back over, looked her in the eye, and explained to her that it wasn’t her fault and she needn’t feel so bad or be so apologetic. He would be perfectly content with this new drink order he had just placed to make up for whatever was going on with the Bombay drink. Then she took a breath and her shoulders went back and I asked her, “Now, do you feel better? You happy?” She replied, “Actually, yeah, I feel a lot better, thanks!” I looked over at the oil man and said, “See? YOU may not need permission to be happy because you are a man of power and you hand out the permission, but others…for whatever reason, they need permission.” At the end of our evening at the table, we had all become friends and upon departing, he pulled me in for a hug and whispered in my ear something along the lines of, “I may not understand what you do, but you’re good at it and you’ll be successful. Keep up the good work.” THAT was “Sign from the Universe #2.”

From there, it’s just been a matter of building and growing. I have to do my work as much as I encourage my clients to do theirs. Part of that, for me, has been constant personal development, both personal and professional. I’ve always been enamored with business (my initial degree at Penn State), but knew the way it currently works is ineffective. I did my undergrad research in Industrial/Organizational psych and that’s where my interests still lie. I’m fascinated with how our business can function on what seems to be archaic thoughts, impersonal relationships, and detached purpose. It just boggles me! I would LOVE to be able to get into businesses and restructure them. I want to show people that it’s possible to do work they love AND get paid for it (money is a BIG reason people feel held back). While I feel capable of helping people work through their obstacles individually, I would like to aid MANY people. 

I keep reminding myself that I am always exactly where I’m meant to be.  I look back on all those jobs that seemed frustrating at the time and see how they gave me necessary experience and connections that serve me now.  Those relationships with those two men, though not meant to be for the long haul, both served me in getting to where I am today.  At the time, ALL of those things had some pain attached to them, but every rose has its thorns.  That pain blossomed into who and where I am today.  And I’m grateful for ALL of it.  I know the path ahead will also present challenges for me.  I look forward to turning them all into my greatest learnings.  Light ahead to that and to YOU in all of YOUR endeavors.  <3

Deanna Danski