Coach Interview Series: Valerie Friedlander

by Brandon

Valerie Friedlander

Certified Life Leadership 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 Valerie Friedlander. Valerie is an iPEC-Certified Life Leadership Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner based in Chicago, Illinois.

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

Valerie: I typically work with women who want to make an impact in the world. Often they are entrepreneurs and frequently they are also moms because there’s high motivation behind, “I had kids and I want to do things differently than I was raised doing” or “I want to change the world to make it better for my kids.” I also sometimes work with couples to help them work together and support each other better.

I tend to work with them on becoming clear on their purpose, uncover subconscious blocks, and create aligned life systems. Doing this helps them bring all the different aspects of their life into harmony, so they’re not giving up on what’s important to them as a family to be able to pursue their work in the world and vice versa.

NCA: What initially got you interested in coaching as a career?

Valerie: I consider myself kind of an accidental but universally intentioned coach. [laughing] I followed all the rules. I did a lot of the self-work growing up — therapy, group support, just a lot of work on myself to get to a point where I could create the life that I wanted to live. I wanted to love life and be healthy.

I did so much work in managing my life and I followed all the rules: I went to college, I got married, I developed a lucrative corporate career, we got a house in the suburbs, I had two children. I thought to myself, “I did all the right things and I’m not happy. I actually feel like everything’s falling apart now that I have children. What did I do wrong? What’s wrong with me?”

So I started asking myself “What do I love to do,? What are my gifts, what are my passions?” and I found life coaching. I signed up because it seemed like a good fit but I had no idea how much of a fit it would be because I was still thinking I’d be a corporate coach. And when I got in there, I was like, “This is what I was looking for when I did all of that work in therapy, when I dragged my husband to therapy. I didn’t need to rehash things that I’ve already gone through. I needed to connect enough with myself to be able to choose how I wanted to move forward and have faith that I could do it.”

NCA: It turns out that what a lot of people are actually looking for when they seek out therapy is coaching. They just don’t know that coaching is a thing, that it even exists.

Valerie: I was actually just chatting with a colleague about that and how we seem to think that if we can just understand ourselves enough, if we can just figure out why we are the way we are, then we’ll do something different. And the thing is it’s not about that. It’s not about understanding. It’s about identifying what’s going on and doing something different.

You don’t have to understand why. You just need to know what the pattern is. Because that’s how we function as humans. We function in patterns. That’s the way our brains work. If you can identify the pattern, it’s a much faster transformation than constantly spinning and trying to understand why.

NCA: In practical terms, you’re right. You don’t always need to know why you behave the way you do when trying to make a change in your life. It shouldn’t really be an academic pursuit, right?

Valerie: Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total neuroscience nerd. I didn’t study it in school but I love reading books about how the brain works. And it’s very helpful for acknowledging and validating that yes, this is normal. Nothing’s wrong with you. Everything makes sense.

Then we get to “Okay, this is normal for you right now but where do you want to go?” And then we can work on new action to teach your brain something different. It takes awareness and attention and intention and then different action, which is hard to do on your own because of your brain. [laughing]

You don’t have to understand why. You just need to know what the pattern is. Because that’s how we function as humans. We function in patterns. That’s the way our brains work. If you can identify the pattern, it’s a much faster transformation than constantly spinning and trying to understand why.

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

Valerie: I would say the most rewarding part of my work is two-fold. One is seeing the shifts that happen. I love the “Aha!” moments during sessions. When we’re talking about something and I ask a question and they’re like, “I never thought of it like that before.” And that opens up a whole new door that we get to explore. Those are so satisfying.

I was trained through the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching. I do an assessment — the Energy Leadership Index assessment. It helps us see the perceptions: the way you’re perceiving life when it’s going normally and the way you perceive things under stress, and we can more clearly see patterns. When we can quickly see the patterns, we can more quickly shift the patterns because I’m engaging the patterns and not the box of stuff that my clients are looking at.

I’ve had several clients who come back and do the assessment later. To see the shifts that have happened. Even when it’s subtle, I can still see that there’s a greater consciousness and awareness even when they came to me fairly aware in the first place. Engaging their obstacles has become smoother because they’re more clear on the dynamics that are happening in their life at different times and they have the tools to engage them. That’s really fulfilling for me and satisfying to get to see.

I would say the most difficult part is starting as an entrepreneur and diving into a pool of my own self-growth to an extreme that I never really imagined doing. [laughing]

I don’t think I would’ve been able to sustain being an entrepreneur without being a coach. Because I have to walk my talk. I’m immersed in the work. If I’m doing my work then I’m naturally engaging that self-development to be able to grow and be an entrepreneur the way I choose to be an entrepreneur.

But I’m constantly running into my own limiting beliefs, my own desire for somebody else to tell me what to do, a lot of the old habits. So while it’s challenging, it’s been a huge opportunity for me to grow. I even see the ripple effect in my family in terms of their awareness engagement because we talk about it all the time.

I think this industry has taken off because there is a craving for that. A core component of why we’re struggling in our society as much as we are is this disconnect from each other but ultimately from ourselves. I think there’s a desire for it. There’s a necessity to create sustainability in the way we engage with each other and our world.

It’s hard because people are looking for the answers. They’re looking for the quick fix. We have a very instant gratification dynamic happening in our society which is counter to the actual work of creating awareness and joy and connection. It’s not something that you can do in a quick fix kind of way. A lot of coaches I’ve seen had to find ways of fitting themselves into a, “I solve this specific problem. I’m going to give you tangible results.” And it’s easy to get all caught up in that.

NCA: What is one piece of advice that you would offer to coaches in the very early stages of being a coach?

Valerie: Get a coach. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the belief that to be a good coach you have to have a coach all the time, but I do think that when you’re stepping into a new way of being in the world, it makes a big difference to have that kind of support. Because again, our brains are built on patterns.

If you want to make a big shift and step into coaching and/or entrepreneurship, it’s very tempting to look for someone to tell you the right way to do it because failure is scary — especially if it’s going to impact your financial stability and your family’s financial stability. It could be very scary. And when you are scared, that fear funk takes you into survival mode which puts up blinders to opportunity so you can’t see the myriad of ways that you could engage your business and your practice because of that fear.

It helps to have someone to help you see past that fear and tap into your wisest self to make choices, to experiment with what works for you. That’s the key word there: experiment. There is no tried and true way to grow a business or to have a coaching practice. It’s about creating what fits for you and the people that you want to serve.

Fear is going to block you from seeing. Your limbic system is taking over, your brain is in survival, so you’re not going to be as effective. It’s going to hold you back from growing your business quickly, from growing your practice in a way that works for you, to setting appropriate boundaries, to creating habits that will lead to success. All of those things get blocked.

That’s why I recommend having a life coach when you’re making such a big shift.

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