Coach Interview Series: Michelle Kuei

by Brandon

Michelle Kuei

Author, Life Coach, and Speaker.

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 Michelle Kuei. Michelle is a Certified Professional Coach, dynamic speaker and author of Perfectly Normal: An Immigrant’s Story Of Making It In America.

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

Michelle: My specific coaching niche is helping negative self-talkers to discover their inner beauty and strength so that they can overcome their fear of judgment. Specifically, the client population I’m working with is transition: anyone who is going through life changes whether it’s minor or major, those are the clients I’m working with, and more towards the adult population.

NCA: What are some transition-related challenges that your clients have come to you for?

Michelle: I was just talking to a client over the weekend and she is someone who just got diagnosed with mast cell degeneration. There’s a lot of auto-immune response and eventually, she would be wheelchair-bound. She has very limited physical movement and she is in that transition of life. We’re talking about someone who used to be a massage therapist, so she’s very physical in terms of working on her clients and now she is completely immobilized and there’s no one helping her to even go back to her home. That is the most dramatic transition that I’m currently working with. The client who’s experienced physical changes from being mobile to someone immobile. That’s the biggest transition.

It’s about accepting where the client is and accepting your physical changes. The whole reason why I got into my coaching is because I was in that position where I had a car accident when I was 11 and I was homebound. I was in bed for the following three months as a child when you’re supposed to be walking outside, running and jumping around, but at age 11, I was physically tied to a bed to recover. Four years after that, I was going through this journey of recovering which is getting physical rehab. Then I ended up being primarily disabled because the way that I would walk is not proper, and I’ve never gotten the physical therapy to help me to go back on my feet.

Right now, I’m walking around with two crutches and I look very different. It’s about that big change of our lives being somewhere we used to be and now, here we are, we have to accept the fact that we no longer can do many different things. And that creates a lot of judgement, it creates a lot of fear, which is the whole reason why I picked my niche because it’s something so personally related to myself that I can empathize with the client and sit down and I can really learn a lot more about what they’re going through and what skills I can provide them to help them overcome those challenges that they’re facing. It’s not just about mindset. It’s about accepting who we are deep down inside and even in the chair, that we can still do so much and especially with technologies nowadays. There are so many different possibilities.

There’s a light that just turned on and I said, “You know what Michelle, this is what you are meant to do in this lifetime and this is how you are going to do it.”

NCA: Can you talk a little bit about how your career fell into coaching specifically?

Michelle: I had been a pharmacist for 20 years, actually. I call it my past life. [laughing] Through my pharmacist journey, I had to do a lot of patient counseling and talking to patients and it was really about getting the patient to be compliant with their medication. Someone can walk to my counter and say, “Oh, my doctor told me to take a blood pressure medication but I’m not taking it because I don’t feel like it.”, or “I don’t feel motivated to take it.” It’s about counseling the patient and helping them remove what it is that’s stopping them from being compliant to take their own medication. I was, in a way, using a lot of coaching skills already in my process as a pharmacist. I was applying those coaching skills in my own personal journey and I went through all of the skills that we learn in coaching on myself. Then I realized, “Oh, okay. I do have the ability of talking to someone.” It’s like suddenly, you have that “Aha!” moment yourself and you are thinking, “Oh yeah, this is what I’m meant to do.” It’s that “Aha!” moment that sometimes a lot of coaches will experience with their client!

I was in that tough space. I was really closing in, I would withdraw. I didn’t feel I was connected with the outside world and that’s how many other clients feel. They don’t feel connected to their outside world and they don’t feel that the other person who’s listening understands what they’re saying. But in that moment when they start working through all the challenges that they have, there’s like a light that just turned on. Same with me. There’s a light that just turned on and I said, “You know what Michelle, this is what you are meant to do in this lifetime and this is how you are going to do it.”

NCA: What kind of degree or certification did you need to complete to become a coach, if any?

Michelle: I enrolled myself into iPEC coaching program. It’s an amazing school. I really appreciate Bruce Schneider, the program’s founder. He developed the whole program. He put in a lot of work and it’s a great community. I enrolled myself into the coaching program two years ago. It’s a whole one-year program and we have live modules, we have classrooms, and we have online webinars — there’s also a big support system. Going through that entire year of the program, I got my certification as a professional coach and I’m working towards my ICF recognition, so I’m collecting all the coaching hours and I would like to get certified as ICF coach.

NCA: What is the most rewarding part of your career and likewise on the flip side, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Michelle: I think the most rewarding aspect of my work is really I get to speak to a lot of different people and whether they become my clients or not, just by exposing myself and introducing myself as a coach, I’ve started to learn so much deeper from another person. They may not feel comfortable sharing with their friends, their family. I ended up being in that person who they open up to. They become vulnerable in front of me and they share a lot of things that they would not necessarily share with other people. And I think that’s a talent that coaches have —to hold that space for whoever they meet and just allowing that emotion to flow through and just accepting it. I think that’s the most rewarding part I like so much about everybody. It’s just been amazing. I met a lot of amazing people, they inspire me every day and we’re inspiring each other.

The most challenging aspect of my career would be the marketing. [laughing] Getting seen and being known. There are so many different coaches out there and there’s so many amazing coaches. My most challenging thing is how do I stand out? How do I make myself known? How do I express in the way that it shows who I am, how unique I can be — and I am — in this coaching world?

I think that’s a talent that coaches have —to hold that space for whoever they meet and just allowing that emotion to flow through and just accepting it.

NCA: Have you, in your own practice, found any one particular marketing method to be more effective for you than others?

Michelle: There are different platforms of marketing but I think what it comes down to is really, “Who are you?” You have to really go back to who are you serving and with what. I have new coaches that come to me and they say, “Wow, Michelle you’re doing so great. You have a lot of social media, you post regularly on Instagram.. How do you come up with all your content?” And I’m sitting around thinking I don’t really come up with my own content. You are already creating your content on a daily basis. You are your content. You are your brand. Whatever the niche that you decided to pick, I’m sure it’s something that’s really relatable to yourself, whether it’s work or your personal life. It’s something about you.

What will make it successful in marketing and branding is you have to mark it and brand it in a way that is speaks you. Just like Nike — you see the sign and you know immediately, “Oh, that’s Nike.” And coaches will have to understand that they are the brand themselves. When people see you, they will recognize, “Oh, Michelle. She’s a negative self-talker helper.” I’m going to relate that message to her, her image, so the next time I’m having a conversation with someone about negative self-talk, I’m going to think about Michell right away because she is an expert in doing negative self-talk. That’s where the success is in marketing. No matter what platform you use, that is the main message. It’s about you and who you’re serving and with what.

It also allows the niche to come. I didn’t pick this niche initially when I came out of coaching school. Initially, I would just tell everybody I’m a life coach and I help people in transition. And that’s very general and people had no idea what that meant. What does life coaching transition mean? How is that related to me? When people are buying stuff, they buy it based on emotion and we all know that. We buy things based on emotion. Even with coaches, you’re selling your clients, selling people with the product and that product is your service. How do you sell it to them? You have to sell them on their emotional spot. Where is that pain of not moving forward? What is it about the population that you’re working with that needs your help?

Eventually, I discovered that what I had gone through and with the people that I’ve been talking to whether clients or peers— it came down to a common theme. It was negative self-talk. We talk to ourselves a lot and there’s a lot of judgement behind that negative self-talk. So how do I release that judgement? I have the skill I can provide you. There we go. There’s your niche. It’s a process. It doesn’t come just right away. It’s through months and months of experiments and just trying it out. If that doesn’t work, go through something else. It’s about experimenting with different things that speak to you.

Honestly, it didn’t come to me right away. I needed a coach to first of all establish my business and also to help me unblock some of my personal stuff and so I ended up hiring a coach. That’s another thing I always tell my new coaches. It’s that if you value your service so much, if you believe in yourself, then you have to be okay and be happy to invest in hiring a coach yourself.

NCA: Can you think of a mentor in your career or maybe even before your career or officially got started, who is the most vital to your success as a coach and in what ways that this mentor helped you thrive?

Michelle: The person who really affected and gave me a lot of positive influences is my personal trainer. I was in the that stage of not feeling good about myself. I didn’t have a lot of confidence about my body image, so I decided to do something very different: hiring myself a physical personal trainer. As I was working with the personal trainer, he’s very inspiring, he’s very encouraging, and he helped me go back and reflect on a lot of my thoughts and how I feel and how I express them. I would say in my coaching journey, he is the biggest influencer in my coaching life.

There’s no one else who knows better than you do, whether it’s your niche, how you want to structure your business, what kind of clients you want to work with — any of it.

The other thing is that I see a personal trainer as kind of like a coach-like mindset. It’s more health-focused but in a way, they’re really helping the clients to move forward in their physical aspect and our physical can be such a big influence on how we show up every day and for me, physical influence was such a big thing.

NCA: What’s the one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is just really in the beginning of their career, like somebody that’s just starting out. What is the one piece of advice that you would give them?

Michelle: I would say trusting the process. Starting a new business or shifting to a different career or even if you were in the coaching world before and now you were thinking about expanding it, any transition in our lives, any changes in our lives is really about trusting the process and knowing that you already have the answer. There’s no one else who knows better than you do, whether it’s your niche, how you want to structure your business, what kind of clients you want to work with — any of it. You already have the answer within you and it’s about putting yourself out there, being vulnerable and sharing what your knowledge is and sharing your experience. And just trust the process that everything will unfold before you and things will fall into place and you’ll be able to live the life that you’ve been wanting. All the things that you teach your clients, you have to live through it, walk through it and trusting that you got this.

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