Coach Interview Series: Maria Sylvester

by Brandon

Maria Sylvester

Certified Professional 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 Maria Sylvester. Maria is a Certified Professional Life Coach & Founder of Ann Arbor’s Life Empowerment Coaching Center.

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

Maria: I’ve had a coaching practice for 13 years. I’m a certified life coach and I’m the founder of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Life Empowerment Coaching & Healing Arts Center. I’ve had the honor and privilege of helping many individuals courageously, confidently, and powerfully transform their lives. I work with teenagers, adults, and couples. The main focus of my coaching is to help people live from the heart of what really matters to them, because I believe that when we live from that place, we live a really expansive and vibrant and fulfilled life.

NCA: Can you explain how you got into coaching initially and some of the motivating factors for why you decided that this was the best career option for you?

Maria: For over 25 years before my coaching career, I worked as a psychotherapist. I provided psychotherapy treatment in hospital settings, as well as a private practice. I watched my patients have really amazing results. However, I always felt like the job was not fully complete. What I came to realize was that you could have all the insight in the world, which of course my psychotherapy clients did gain as a result of working with me, but unless you take action on that insight or that wisdom, I don’t believe transformation happens. I found this to be true in my own life as well. This, then, inspired me to get certified as a life coach, because coaching is focused on taking action – on helping clients go from where they are, to where they want to be in their lives!

NCA: In working with your clients, what would you say is the most rewarding part of that process and on the flip side of that, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Maria: The most rewarding aspect of coaching, for me, is the collaboration. As a coach, I believe that the people who are sitting with me are in and of themselves just fine—creative, resourceful, and whole- as we say in the coaching world. It’s my job to ask poignant, powerful questions to help my clients access the deeper answers to questions they might have about themselves, or about their lives, or about the direction they want to take their lives. For me, the power of transformation is in the coach-client relationship.

I’ve always been a relationship person. I believe that we are wired for connection and it’s within connection that we have our most profound growth and transformation.

The most challenging aspect of coaching, yet one I’m pretty good at, is that of honoring people where they are. A lot of times I might, after sitting with the person, have a sense of where they might go with their life. I can “feel into” a person’s potential and full possibility. But the challenge is to pace the coaching work, so that the client can access their full potential only as, or when, they are ready to.

It’s the challenge of practicing patience – honoring the fact that each person’s process is going to be different, and each person’s desires, goals, and dreams are going to be unique. It’s endlessly fascinating, and the journey for each person is unique, rich, juicy, dynamic, profound, and very personal.

NCA: Can you think of a mentor or coach or anybody in that capacity in your journey to becoming a coach who was the most vital to your success and in what ways did this mentor help you thrive in your own career?

Maria: In terms of my own evolving self, I have worked personally with two really amazing psychotherapists. This was before my coaching career. But that work in psychotherapy clearly helped me birth my most magnificent self and bring my strengths and talents forward.

In my coaching training program, I worked with one especially amazing coach. I also studied the field endlessly. There are many brilliant coaches to learn from. Additionally, I also love to dip back into the psychotherapy world for greater learning, because I’m guided, first and foremost, by my feelings. I’m a curious, open soul, and want to understand how other clinicians, as well as master coaches, bring key transformational elements into their work.

NCA: One of the most common challenges new coaches face is self-doubt. Some coaches call it Imposter Syndrome, where early on they feel somehow inadequate to take on the role of coach. What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is in the beginning stage of their coaching career and dealing with these doubts in their mind?

Maria: Self doubt is usually a thought that takes us away from what we really want. What I remind my clients, is that when you have a doubt, you have two options. You can either go down the doubt path, feel bad and continue to mistrust yourself, or you can attend, ever so briefly, to the content of that doubt is, and head in the other direction.

For example, I invite my clients to picture a trampoline with their thoughts bouncing on it. I encourage them to notice the doubt they are having, then picture bouncing off of the trampoline with it, asking instead, “That’s what I’m doubting, but what is it that I want?” From that point, you create a different thought pattern. “What is it that I want? I really want to be successful in my career.” Okay. Then the following question to ask is: “What’s my next inspired step?” Focus there. Focus on moving forward, instead of furthering any doubts. It’s a powerful process that is guaranteed to help individuals learn to trust themselves more and more.

Focusing on what we want, instead of what we don’t want, is a generative experience creating levels of possibility and probable success, while limiting the likelihood of heading further down the doubt path. It’s a great process and I use it with myself all the time. When you ask yourself “What’s my next inspired step?”, you’re harnessing your resilience, and your internal resources. You are channeling your power toward something constructive. Boom! Great things can’t help but happen from there.

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