Coach Interview Series: Allison Task

by Brandon

Allison Task

Career and Life Coach

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Allison Task. Allison is a Career and Life Coach based in Montclair, NJ.

NCA: Can you describe your company and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Allison: My company is my name, it’s Allison Task Career and Life Coach. There is one coach who works for the company and that’s me. I have been in practice since 2005, so it’s coming up on 15 years.

I see four different buckets of clients. I would say the overall theme for my clients is they are in transition.

I am a career and life coach. I have found that I am sort of a generalist, a general life coach. When people are looking to make an investment in coaching, they can very easily rationalize making the investments for their career and it’s kind of harder to rationalize a generalist for their life. So I find that people find me for career but then we end up talking about life.

As I said, there are four general buckets. Bucket one is what I call “Adulting”: people who are between the ages of 20 to 32 who are either in college and like, “What am I doing?” or they are out of college and they’re like, “How do I find a job?” or they have found a job and they hate it, or they found a job, hate it, left the job and are back home living at mom’s house and don’t like that. They’re in the various stages of like, “This is life, like what I’ve been working so hard for 20 years for, and this sucks.”

And we flip that pretty quickly into “What do you want to do, how do you want to do it, who do you want to do it with?” And then we start going there.

The second bucket are people who are just starting a family, maybe it’s a single woman, maybe it’s a young couple, but they’ve had a career and now with the addition of a child, they’re sort of rethinking their career and their life.

The third bucket is my group of 50-somethings. At one point half of my practice was either turning 50 or had just turned 50. People are dealing with a lot of change in that year and rethinking, “Do I like my life? Am I happy with it? I’m not working to 55 anymore, I’m working to 65, 70’s. Is this the path I want to be on? How can I redo what I’m doing? I’ve made plenty of money but I’m not happy” or “I don’t have enough money. Shit! What am I going to do?”

And then the last group is people approaching retirement. People who call me three to five years out and say, “You know, it’s coming and I want to think about how I retire.” And that’s like a kid-in-a-candy-store group because they are about to taste freedom and they’re old enough to know what they want to do with it. So a lot of that is building alignment with your spouse, partner, and really getting giddy and creative about your life in a way that doesn’t involve work.

So those are the four different segments within my transition practice.

NCA: What initially got you interested in this career path and what kind of degree or certifications did you need to complete, if any?

Allison: Sure, great. Let’s start with the last one. So in 2005, I graduated from an NYU Certificate Program in Personal Coaching. Since then, I’ve kept up my credentials with the ICF. I am at the PCC level and in the next few years I intend to — I hope to become qualified to be an MCC. So those are my current credentials.

I keep up with a lot of continuing education. I just finished the Happiness Class at UC Berkeley, I just took Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR Eight-Week Meditation Program with the University of Massachusetts. I just went to ICF Converge in Prague and I went to the one in DC two years before, so I do a lot to keep up with my credentials.

I think I’ve only have one real moment like that in my life where I was struck by like…“I must do this.” And that was it.

What led me to become a coach is sort of two stories converging. One is when I went to Cornell University I studied Human Development and Family Studies. People went into that program and went on two paths. Once we started to understand how people thought and why groups behaved in certain ways, people either became social workers or marketing professionals. So you can either manipulate people or you can help people.

I loved social work but it seems like “Are we really fixing a problem or are we just sitting in the problem?” And I didn’t like that. I didn’t feel a calling to work with people who were ailing nor did I like labeling people in that way. I far preferred coaching which is helping people do more, right? These people aren’t patients, they’re clients.

Coaching wasn’t available. It wasn’t a profession in 1994, and positive psychology was just emerging in the 90’s. To me the mental health way of helping people was very much expert/patients. I just didn’t like that model, so I went into marketing and I just didn’t really like that either.

After 10 years of dot com marketing, I went to culinary school and wanted to write cookbooks and host cooking shows and all that fun stuff, which I did eventually do and then I actually started my own cooking school where I taught people how to cook in their homes. I lived in Manhattan and I went all over Manhattan doing cooking classes. I do these three to four hour cooking classes and as you can imagine with a one-on-one, very intimate cooking class, we talked about life. We talked about real things and boyfriends and husbands and all kinds of stuff, and I realized that I liked those conversations.

I loved cooking, but I liked those conversations even more. One day I was flipping through the NYU Course Catalogue and they have this thing called Life Coaching and I was like, “I gotta do it! I have to do this! This is what I’m doing anyway but now I can really help people in a bigger way.” I think I’ve only have one real moment like that in my life where I was struck by like…”I must do this.” And that was it.

NCA: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

Allison: The most rewarding moment is when I get the note from the client that they did the thing they wanted to do. I had a woman I worked with — I will tell you the story because it’s in my book. Her name is Saily Avelenda and she was working in New Jersey as a lawyer at a bank and she was like, “I’m meant for more. I want to change the world, like, I want to have an impact. I am meant to do so much more.” Trump was elected. She got really, as so many people did, upset. She became a big part of this group called New Jersey 11th for Change that helped kick out an embedded congressperson who had been there for 30 years as a second-generation congressperson and helped vote in Mikie Sherrill.

I just got a note from her that the Democratic State Committee has tasked her to take on this really big initiative. So that’s crazy. But there we were saying she’s meant to do more and here she is doing significantly more, and I just wrote her back and I said that really fits you much better than the desk job, and she’s like “That’s the understatement of the year!”

In my book there’s a Yiddish concept I described called shepping nachas. When something really good happens to someone you love and you have this great feeling of joy. I just feel this secondhand thrill when someone else does something that they’re very excited about.

NCA: What is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Allison: Well, I enjoy the challenge. If I didn’t it would suck, but I do, so it doesn’t.

The most challenging is finding clients because I’m not a therapist. I’m not going to see you for 10 years. I’m going to see you for two, three, or six months. So that means I find between 80 and 120 individual clients a year and I want to have the project and then I want you to move on. Some of my clients are like “I want to keep working with you.” And we work on project after project. But I can count on one hand the clients that happens with. Coaching by nature is designed to be finite. So it is quite a challenge to find 120 clients a year and schedule them and find the right time slot and meet them where they are and have the first session and have it go well.

It’s a tremendous amount of marketing effort, but I enjoy the marketing work, so it’s a challenge and if I didn’t like it then I would work for an agency and have someone else book my sessions but I enjoy it.

NCA: Can you think of one client or mentor who challenged your beliefs or made you rethink the way you approach your clients or your work?

Allison: I’m always growing with my clients. If my clients give me a book recommendation, I’ll read it. If they want me to watch a video, I’ll watch it. I’m always learning with them and if they’re going to take my recommendations, I’ll take theirs. So I’m always growing thanks to the lead of my clients.

One thing I have recognized is sometimes people use coaching for mental health when they should be in therapy. Whenever I’ve had a gut instinct about a client, like, “No, this client belongs in therapy and not coaching.” First of all, if I have that instinct, I will require that they see a therapist as well as me. If they really want to see me, I’ll say “That’s fine but some of these issues go beyond coaching and I want you to be supported by a therapist.”

And almost 100% of those cases will end up stopping the coaching. I can feel it in the sessions, I could feel that the energy isn’t there. I could just tell it’s not a fit.

I am also happy to collaborate. So if someone tells me “My wife doesn’t really get what we’re doing here” and I’ll say, “Great! I’ll be happy to have a 15-minute phone consult with her or bring her in.” Or my — “I don’t know, my therapist is saying…” so I’m like, “Can I have your permission to reach out directly to your therapist?”

All of that triangulating with he said/she said, all of that nonsense, I just go directly and have the conversation. And I find that clients are like, “Wow! You talked to my mom?” I’m like, “Of course I talked to your mom. We’re working on this together. This is a project that we’re working on.” Come on! We gotta work with the whole system. I talk to husbands and wives and mothers and, I’ve never spoken to a child but I presume someday I will, therapists and psychiatrists…everybody.

The most challenging is finding clients because I’m not a therapist. I’m not going to see you for 10 years. I’m going to see you for 2, 3, or 6 months. So that means I find between 80 and 120 individual clients a year and I want to have the project and then I want you to move on.

NCA: What advice would you give someone looking to get started in the career path that you chose?

Allison: The first place I tell people to go is the ICF website. Go look at ICF approved training programs.

A lot of training programs — and right now I’m thinking about iPEC because someone I know just started at iPEC — will have a consultation with you. They also will be happy to talk to you about coaching for an hour, so if you’re thinking about being a coach, in my opinion, you must have a certificate. You must do the work. If you’re going to call yourself this thing, at least do the work or earn a certificate to further the industry, so that means you’re going to want to go to school.

So find a couple of coaching organizations and call them, speak to them. Find out about their training programs, maybe even audit a class. There’s so many ways to become a coach. It’s significantly less expensive than becoming a social worker. Start looking into training. And if you are worried about hanging out a shingle and “How am I going to find business?” what I learned, as I said I was just at Converge in Prague last month, and I was the only coach there that I met out of a thousand people who was an independent coach practitioner. Every other coach there that I met, every single one, worked inside a company or for an organization that books them inside companies like Microsoft, Bank of America, or whatever.

So if you’re worried about the business part of it, there’s lots of ways to do the work without running your business, so to speak, and it behooves you to get an education in this field and you want to get something that’s approved by ICF because they’re the standard setter, they’re the leader right now. So that’s what I would say.

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