Friday, April 21, 2017

Coaching Niches: How I Came To Choose Special Needs/Abilities and Friendship (Part 1)

There are many coaching niches: career, ADHD, stay-at-home moms, relationships...on and on.  When I went searching for ideas, I couldn't believe the variety.  But none jumped out at me; none felt right.  So, I turned to myself and what I had experience in and a passion for.  First, I came up with special needs, and fitness, then fitness was replaced by friendship.  So, now I have two unique niches that I am knowledgeable in and passionate about.  Perfect!  Here's how I chose them, starting with special needs.  Friendship will be covered in part 2.

Special Needs/Abilities

As I've mentioned before, I was born with spina bifida.  I've dealt with health issues all my life.  I know what it's like to deal with the medical world.  It can be daunting and demoralizing.  It can also be inspiring and celebratory.  For example, meeting doctors who care enough to fight for you every step of the way, or those who celebrate your little victories to help keep your spirits up through the long process of recovery laced with setbacks.  And then there are the family members and friends who never give up on you, no matter how many times you are sick with an infection, or have to have surgery, or complain about the crappy hand you were dealt.  It is a tough road, no question about it.  But, I've been able to navigate the medical maze that is part of my lifestyle with a fair amount of success, and I wanted to help others do the same. 

I'd always wanted to help people in some way.  I started out with the idea of studying English with aspirations of being a writer.  I thought I would write articles that would shed light on the special needs community, point out where improvements could be made regarding perceptions of those with health issues, and write books featuring characters with special needs.  But I nixed that and switched to psychology, then I switched to developmental disabilities, then sociology.  Then I turned off that road to study business but always worked in offices geared toward helping others such as social service agencies and educational programs. 

 In the early 1990s, I started my own typing and design business (combining my two loves of writing and art) that I ran from home.  I was still helping people but in a different way.  For the first few years, I still worked in offices through a temp service, but then in 1996, I went home-based full-time, and that's the way it's been ever since.  It was so much easier to manage my health care schedule while working at home as opposed to having to trek to an office in the city each day.  I had moderate success with that business and had fun designing the products: resumes, manuscripts, note cards, address labels, and the like.  It wasn't until 2007 that I closed up shop on that venture.  That's when we moved to Utah.

That move spurred big changes in me. I learned to navigate the streets in a city bigger than any I'd ever driven in before.  A huge accomplishment considering I had always been petrified of driving even on country roads.  I also joined a gym, lost 25 pounds and was in the best shape of my life.  I was so impressed with the trainers, my experience, and my results that I decided to get certified as a personal trainer myself.  Many of the trainers at the gym where I worked out were supportive of my decision, helping me study for the exam, asking for updates, cheering me on.  It felt great.

Then I stumbled.  The manager of the gym seemed willing to hire me as a trainer there, but I hadn't applied yet. He kept asking me when I was going to apply.  I said I was going to wait until I got back from a trip back east to visit family.  Why I waited, I have no idea.  This had become a bad habit of mine over the years.  Well, by the time I got back from that trip, that manager was gone.  He'd moved up north to open his own business.  I didn't realize the gravity of my mistake until I applied at the gym and didn't get an interview.  I applied three different times at that gym and several others around town, got a couple interviews at other facilities, but was not hired.  I don't know the actual reason why I wasn't hired, but I have a feeling it was partly due to the fact that I didn't have experience and also didn't fit the cookie-cutter image of the svelte, young, healthy trainer.  Even though many people had told me they would rather work with someone who looked less intimidating and closer to their age, gym managers seemed to have other ideas.  The lesson I took from that was, never, ever pass up a reasonable opportunity that lands in your lap.  I did end up working remotely for that manager friend who had believed in me, blogging and providing customer service for his company. It was something fitness-related at least.

My final fitness position was as a coach for participants of a weight loss drug study.  That lasted almost three years.  I enjoyed coaching the participants who took the time to check in with me, but it was part-time and, honestly, not the type of thing I wanted to do long-term.  After five years of trying to establish myself in the fitness industry, I had had enough.  My heart wasn't in it anymore.  I gained back the weight I'd lost, I was discouraged that nothing I tried seemed to last.  Not knowing what else to do, I wrote content for websites.

Next, I looked into master's degree programs in psychology and certificate programs in play therapy, considering one of my original plans.  Well, the information I found indicated that I would probably have to take a heap of psychology courses to start, since I hadn't taken many in college years earlier, then I'd have to get my master's degrees in psychology or related field, and then get certified in play therapy, plus licencing exams, etc, etc.  It added up to almost 10 years of education when all was said and done.  I was 50 at the time.  There was no way I was going to invest all that time and money for a career that might last 10 years, tops.  If I had gone for it in my 30s, sure.  But I wasn't prepared to take on such a big project in my 50s.  It's doable, for sure.  There are people who tackle it in their 70s and 80s.  It just wasn't something I was willing to take on.  

Then in 2014, I heard about life coaching.  Curious, I did some research.  It sounded perfect for me.  I could get certified in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable fee, and work at home helping people!  I was over the moon.  I loved the study materials, the practice coaching, and meeting other coaches who had the same passion for helping others that I did.  

When it came time to choose my niche, one popped into my head immediately:  special needs.  I added "abilities" to it as well because I wanted to key on the positive; what clients can do, rather than what they can't.  By focusing on special needs/abilities coaching, I am able to bring all the knowledge and experience I've gained throughout my life to each session in order to help guide people with health issues as they navigate the sometimes confusing, sometimes frightening medical world.  But not only that.  I provide guidance to clients dealing with societal issues as well.  There are those in the world at large who sometimes forget that we're all human, including those with special needs; we're all able to contribute to society in a variety of ways, big and small, and we should be respectfully allowed to do so to our full potential.    

Always keep a look out for opportunities you view as potentially rewarding and fulfilling. Grab them, and hold on tight.

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