Coach Interview Series: Mike Gittelman

by Brandon

Mike Gittelman

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 Mike Gittelman. Mike is a Life Coach based in San Francisco, California.

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

Mike: I don’t have a specific niche or demographic. For me, it’s more of a psychographic, if you will. I look for a specific kind of person. Usually, I like working with people who are creative, who are already pursuing some goal or dream that they want. I look for people who I find to be really interesting or inspiring or they’re up to something really challenging and they want help getting to that next level.

Sometimes I work with people who are entrepreneurs or business owners. I work with people who are in management. I work with people around relationships—both romantic and interpersonal in their own lives. I worked with somebody who was an alcoholic once. For me, it’s been a huge range of different people and what their problems are. The common thing is that they’re driven towards something and either they’re stuck right now or they recognize that they would get to where they want to be much faster if they had some extra help.

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?

Mike: The most rewarding thing is when you have somebody with you and through the work with them, they are able to gain some insight that shifts how they view the world and themselves. They are then able to take that out into the world and you talk a week later or two weeks later and all of a sudden, they’ve tried things out. Some things have happened, some things are different, and they come back and they’re ready to grow some more. To me, that’s one of the coolest, most rewarding aspects of it.

There’s also a bit of creativity in it for me because the way that I would try to help somebody, even given the exact same training as another person, is probably different than another coach. When I’m talking to clients and they’re able to get some insight out of it, it feels like we’re making this painting together. There’s my input, there’s their material, and we’re helping to create this new thing out of the conversation. I think that is one of the coolest parts about it.

Sometimes there’s that moment where I’ll ask a question or I’ll point something out, especially if it’s over video or in person and you can see them pause and the brain cells are firing and they’ll say, “Whoa, I never realized that. I never thought of it that way.” It’s like their entire world can change in that one moment. To see that and to be a part of that is super cool.

The most challenging is the people who are actually not ready and they’re fighting the process. A part of them wants to move forward and a part of them is too scared to let go of how things are now. It’s my job to help them with that, but sometimes I think that people are just not ready.

I’ve made the mistake of not digging in deep enough beforehand to really validate, “Okay, this is not going to be easy. Are you ready to make these shifts even if some of it is painful?” Sometimes I thought it was a yes and it turns out to be a no, and we really struggle to make any progress. Sometimes there’s a delay and you don’t know if that’s going to happen. All it feels like is you ended the session and you think to yourself, “Shit, they didn’t get anything out of that.” It turns out they did, but they didn’t want to admit it. And six months later, they call you and everything’s different. You’ll never know. We also get attached to that ah-ha moment. We want to see things change. It’s easy for us to start thinking, “Oh, did I not do a good enough job?”

When I’m talking to clients and they’re able to get some insight out of it, it feels like we’re making this painting together. There’s my input, there’s their material, and we’re helping to create this new thing out of the conversation.

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

Mike: Rich Litvin has been a huge influence. There may be other people who have said the same thing. One of my first coaches had worked directly with him. The way that he goes about it from a place of coaching through insight and also the way he does client creation from this place of giving is something that really impacted me and that I really appreciate. Whenever I’m feeling confused or I want to learn more, he’s one of the first people I’d think about to see what he’s up to.

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?

Mike: There’s a few ways that self-doubt shows up. One of them is self-doubt in your ability to coach, and there’s self-doubt around your ability to get hired to coach.

I definitely got through the self-doubt around my coaching ability a while back. I think it was just doing it, honestly. I’m not somebody who historically has had a lot of confidence in myself over my lifetime. Before I got into it, I was getting feedback from other people that I’m a good person to talk to and that they get something out of my conversations. As I went through training and learned how to do it in a more official capacity, I got good feedback on it. That helped me feel like even if something happens where it doesn’t work out, I know I have something to offer.

I remember I did have one experience in the beginning where I made the mistake of not taking a client seriously, and implied that his feelings were invalid. What I said was technically correct, but I was still new to effectively conveying my thoughts and feelings. It was a mean thing to do to someone not just as a coach, but as a fellow human. This guy paid me money and he was really, really angry at me and it was this whole thing. I really beat myself up over it. But I think it was one of those things where I’d had enough good experiences at that point and that’s the worst that could ever happen, and I lived through it. Literally, that’s probably as bad as it’s ever going to get. He didn’t trash my name online. Nothing really bad happened.

The only advice I can give is if it’s something that you are into, it’s probably because you’re already good at it. Remember why you got into it. If you got into it because you enjoyed it, you probably have a natural skill before having any training. People who suck at it don’t really want to do it. The fact that you want to do it is probably an observational bias, but you’re at least a little bit good at it. Accept that about yourself and test how good at it you are. You have to just do it and see how it goes.

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