Lessons from a Life Coach: Addressing the Emotional, Professional, and Social

by Amanda Abrams

Kyle West was feeling down. He wasn’t depressed, exactly; he just knew that he wasn’t living up to his potential. So one night last summer, the Bethesda-based tech guy turned to his most trusted source of information, Google, and found a website for Jim Weinstein, life consultant.

And things haven’t been the same since.

“If I had to say a single, major, lifechanging event that’s had an impact, it’s going to Jim,” West said, adding that his satisfaction with work and his relationship with his girlfriend improved significantly. Those are strong words. But what’s just as surprising is that the techniques Weinstein introduced don’t sound particularly complicated or time-consuming; West didn’t spent hours lying on a couch detailing his childhood, for example.

“The single biggest thing he said is that you just have to shift your focus,” explained West. “You get stuck in something, but then you can have this conscious dialogue with yourself, saying, ‘I don’t want to be in this bad mood anymore; let’s shift it to a better place.’ That’s what’s worked best for me.”

The concept of a life coach might seem like a luxury: After all, it’s essentially hiring someone to serve as a personal advice giver. But it’s not too different from seeing a therapist, something that’s long been considered a useful way to improve one’s life. To boot, a life coach offers an added benefit in a culture that favors immediate results: a focus on doable actions and concrete outcomes.

At least, that’s how Weinstein, a Dupont Circle professional who prefers to call himself a “life consultant,” sees it. “A traditional therapist only deals with emotional issues,”he said, sitting in his modern, peaceful Q Street office. “They don’t help with rewriting a resume or deciding whether someone should leave the city. Being a life consultant is more practical.”

That doesn’t mean psychological elements don’t enter the picture. Weinstein has a degree in counseling that allows him to address issues that have an emotional component. For instance, a senior executive might come to him and complain that he’s unhappy at his job. But often, said Weinstein, the real problem is a personality conflict with someone in the office — which can be approached very differently than simply encouraging the executive to find a new job.

But while he advises clients about personal problems, traditional employment-related issues of the “I’m ready for a career change” or “I need to find a job” variety dominate.

“For example, someone came in yesterday who works for the federal government and has hated her job for 15 years,” said Weinstein. “So I asked her, ‘What do you like?’” Before an hour was up, the life consultant had suggested she start a business that would bring together her favorite activities.

Urging his clients to move in entirely new directions in response to work woes isn’t unusual for Weinstein, but the suggestion itself is only a first step. In this case, he sent the client off with homework, asking her to investigate potential competitors and write a paragraph that would persuade someone to use her services. “That’ll be the kernel of a website that I’ll help her with,” he said.

Job changing is something with which Weinstein is intimately familiar. After years as an advertising executive, he hit his forties and began to question his career path. “I knew I wanted to work with people, I wanted a flexible schedule and I wanted to make decent money,” he explained. He noticed psychology kept coming up, so he enrolled in a course. That was more than 15 years ago in Los Angeles. In the ensuing years, Weinstein, a native New Yorker, felt an itch to come back to the East Coast. You could say all that travel and transition has earned him the requisite skills that make for a good life consultant. Weinstein says those skills include wisdom, creativity and practical experience with starting over — activities like writing aresume, developing a networking list or making use of the best online resources in a given city. Weinstein points out that there’s a final qualifier to look for in a potential life coach or consultant: what they’ve done in their lives, and whether they’ve been successful at it. In Weinstein’s case, it’s hard not to admire the man. After only five years in D.C., he’s got a thriving practice, seeing 25 to 30 clients a week and charging $125to $300 per 50-minute session. And in a busy city filled with ambitious, stressed-out professionals, he clearly provides a key service.

Kyle West, the tech consultant, feels he still benefits from Weinstein’s counsel, though the focus has changed: These days, it’s less like therapy and more like business advice. And that’s useful, too, West added. “I’m not going to phase out anytime soon.”