If you're interested in training to become a Life Coach, you might be interested in my experience of the Life Coach training course run by Beyond Success.
I first heard Paul Blackburn from Beyond Success speak at a Think and Grow Rich event run by Stuart Zadel, back in July 2007. At the time, I had been suffering from Chronic Fatigue for about 4 months, and was feeling very anxious, agitated, exhausted, and desperate about my future. Having visited a bunch of doctors with no success, I didn't know why I was ill or what to do about it. I was beginning to worry about how I was going to be able to earn money again in the future. I had burned out rather spectacularly from my Engineering career, and although I had plenty of available job offers the idea of going back to a job in an industry I no longer found fulfilling while I was feeling so ill was very unappealing. Figuring I could make it through a three day seminar without collapsing, I turned up at the Think and Grow Rich wealth creation conference hoping for some kind of inspiration.
Various speakers talked enthusiastically about investing in shares, property, and Internet-based businesses. In theory with my background in Computer Engineering I should have been well suited to developing an Internet-based business; but my expertise was more about understanding how the protocols and servers that ran it worked, than how to make money selling things over it. All the presentations were very slick, giving enough details of the various business ideas to hook you in, followed by a sales pitch for some kind of information product or training where they slashed the prices and threw in a stack of bonuses, putting the traditional free-set-of-steak-knives to shame. Yet somehow none of the ideas on offer appealed to me.
Then I heard Paul Blackburn speak. He was tremendously funny, yet he spoke about things that seemed important: why we do what we do, and the emotions underlying everything that drives us. He spoke a couple of times, and his message about the importance of our subconscious mindset struck a chord with me. In his last talk he got everyone in the room to pair up and do an eye contact exercise which involved asking the question “What is love?” repetitively until we ran out of things to say; and then some. It was tremendously moving, with barely a dry eye in the place. I paired up with a woman around my age, and we both cried as we spoke about what love meant to us, and how badly genuine unconditional was missing in our lives. Given we were complete strangers at a wealth creation conference, it was pretty moving stuff.
After that came the sales pitch. Paul said he had a problem. His company worked in the personal development industry, and were in the business of helping people change their lives through Life Coaching. There was a massive demand out there, he said, and they were desperately needing more people to train as Life Coaches. So they were running a 12-month training course. This course would be different from most Life Coach training courses, because a major component of the course would focus on emotional healing for the trainees themselves. Paul figured that you've got to walk your talk. For him, dealing with emotional issues was central to everything, and if we were going to help other people offload their emotional baggage, we'd have to get our own houses in order first.
Fair enough, I thought. That sounded like it had integrity. I remembered back to when I had been a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline several years before, and how rewarding I had found it at the time. I'd pretty much burned out at that too, but it had been the one thing aside from Engineering that I'd found really rewarding. Coaching would be a bit different to counselling, but it sounded like a good option. I was looking for a short quick-fix escape from the anxiety and desperation of feeling ill all the time. Helping other people might even help me get my own life into order, but I didn't feel like doing a 3 year degree or diploma in counselling or psychology. Twelve months sounded nice and short; although I wondered if it was long enough to learn how to be a good Life Coach, start my own coaching business, and deal with my own remaining emotional baggage.
Up on screen flashed the details of the offer, followed by the price: $50,000. Gulp. I waited for the hefty discount... and there wasn't one. The payment structure was $25,000 now, and a further $25,000 when you make your first $100,000 per year as a coach. Ouch. If we paid the first payment up-front, we got a $5000 discount. It was still more money that I'd ever paid on anything other than my home, and certainly vastly more than any of the many personal development courses I'd done in the past. My car didn't even cost that much. But the course seemed to combine everything I was interested in, into one package: emotional healing, coach training bootcamps, how to write and publish a book, and how to become a public speaker to promote your business. I had been working on an autobiographical book about dealing with emotional baggage from my childhood before becoming ill, and knew that in order to promote it I would need to learn the art of public speaking. I'd even joined Toastmasters the month before the conference to get me started. Here was a training course offering everything I wanted in one package, but I was baulking at the price.
I pondered whether I was just running one of the subconscious programs that Paul had talked about, in my case seeing what I wanted in front of me but making some excuse for not going for it. I didn't have $25,000 in spare cash just lying around. I had enough in shares to cover it, but it would mean a years worth of living expenses gone in one hit at a time when I had very little income. “Bugger it... I'll just do it!”, I decided. So at the appointed time when most people left the room, I went forward with the faithful to find out more. The intake procedure involved Paul holding your hand, staring into your eyes, and somehow discerning that you were serious and ready for this undertaking. Just to be sure it was backed by a $950 deposit payable on the spot. It seemed a bit voodoo, but I was in.
The core of the course consisted of four 3-day emotional healing bootcamps spread out over the country, over a 12 month period. Trainees from every different state in Australia would fly in for the bootcamps. I was fortunate to be living in Sydney and since Beyond Success are based in Canberra, their events tend to be biased towards Canberra and Sydney. But I also went to bootcamps and other events in Perth and Melbourne.
Each emotional healing bootcamp covered a particular aspect of emotional healing. Much of the work revolved around talking about emotional issues relating to our parents, our siblings, our partners, and even God, as we worked on fear, grief, sadness, anger, anxiety and other troubling emotions. The basic philosophy behind it all was that “The healing is in the expression of the feeling”, and to ditch our emotional baggage involved allowing ourselves to express and feel all the painful feelings that we had been avoiding. Even after years of therapy, I knew I still had emotional baggage that I wanted to ditch, and welcomed the opportunity to do it in a supportive group environment. Plus the notion that we were doing it ultimately so that would could help others do the same seemed a little less self-indulgent than more navel-gazing therapy.
After each emotional healing bootcamp was a 2-day coach training and business development workshop, where we learned how to recruit clients, how to work with the, and how to use the Beyond Success coaching system. The system includes a home-grown personality typing test, and a series of units which we were to email to clients as homework exercises between coaching calls. The bulk of the work for the client involved working on these exercises, then sending them back for us to review. Most of the actual client contact work could be done over the Internet by email, with support calls every couple of weeks or once a month. There are hundreds of units in the system covering topics such as life management, relationships, self-esteem, assertiveness, finances, and more. At a suggested rate of one unit per week, a client could keep working (and paying) for years provided they felt they were continuing to get value out of it.
As part of the training, each of us was assigned a Life Coach of our own from Beyond Success's pool of master coaches. If we were offering coaching to other people, we needed to have our own coach as well. I liked the integrity behind this. It also meant that we experienced what it was like to have a coach, and as part of working on our own issues we would learn how to use the system to help other people work on theirs. The master coach used exactly the same system and process of homework units that we were being taught to use with our clients, so we got to see how it all worked in practise.
I have been interested in personal development for a long time, and had already read widely on the subject. There wasn't a great deal of new material for me in the units that I worked on, and I can't honestly say that I felt I got a great deal out of the unit work. The common underlying theme is that emotions are at the heart of everything that we do, and we need to learn to deal with how we truly feel by expressing it constructively. Coming from an emotionally shut-down family, it has taken me a long time to unlock my repressed emotions, and most of the action for me happened at the bootcamps rather than by doing the unit homework. I'd already read books like Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, and the like. I found that a lot of the material in the Beyond Success coaching system is derived from popular personal development best-sellers. What they have done is structured it really nicely into a system that's easy to deliver and work with clients with. It's a little like buying a franchise where you get access to the business system; and looking at it this way, the cost of the course is a little more palatable. That said, one friend I met on the course was cured of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and years of depression, by a single powerful psychodrama exercise Paul conducted on one of the bootcamps. To him, that one experience was worth the $25K alone.
One of the things I liked about the course was the sense of community surrounding the trainees. We were all from diverse backgrounds, but we all came together for the bootcamps and other events during the 12-months. So we would meet up, and check in with how everyone else was going. It was amazing seeing how much the other trainees I met grew during the period.
In addition to the bootcamps, the course also offered free access to all Beyond Success's other events. These include The Mental Toolbox, which is like a lite emotional healing bootcamp; Mouthing Off For Big Money, which taught public speaking and selling-from-stage skills; Resolving The Money Riddle, which taught financial management and wealth creation; and Your Book In 90 Days, which taught how to write and market your own book. All are based on the same core philosophy of dealing with emotional baggage in order to be successful. There was some overlap between all of these, but Paul always seemed to be coming up with something interesting to say, or a new way to say it that reinforced the idea. We were also given free tickets to events run by friends of the Blackburns, such and Darryl and Andrew Grant's Internet Secrets workshop.
Over the course of the 12 months, I had two different coaches. I got on really well with the first: a married woman about my age and married with kids. We related well and she was very supportive. The coaching relationship is more two-way than a traditional counselling relationship, and it was very much like having a friend who you paid for advice. When she went on maternity leave I switched to another coach: a country guy who was also married with kids. I didn't feel like I connected with him very well. He was generally pretty supportive, but I seemed to grate on him. Both coaches were very receptive to talking about emotional issues, as they saw this as key to what a good coach should be working on. Towards the end, my second coach seemed to run out of ideas and become frustrated with me, although he didn't really let on. I can well understand that working with a client with chronic fatigue would be frustrating, because our energy is so limited and our frustration level off-the-scale. Also, his goals as a married man and my goals as a single playboy-wannabe were rather divergent. Although he was married, I didn't get the impression he was brilliant when it came to women. One thing I learned from all this was that if you are going to have a mentor, you want to make sure they've already achieved what you want to achieve.
Part of the course involved setting up your own coaching business. They recommend you start off by recruiting at least 5 pro-bono clients, offering them an introductory 3 months of free coaching, and converting them into paying clients at the end of the 3 months if possible. We could do this at any time after the first bootcamp, when we got access to the full set of homework units. I had no trouble recruiting friends and associates as clients with the offer of 3 months free coaching, although I had difficulty converting them into paying clients at the end of the 3 months.
My clients all had self-esteem issues, and one said he “wanted more energy”. That seemed ironic given that I had chronic low self-esteem myself, and chronic fatigue. Apparently a coach tends to attract clients with similar issues. My health was really getting me down, and I wondered whether I could actually help these people. Focusing on someone else's problems gave me a break from my own, but I wasn't all that excited about making coaching calls and answering emails. Some days I felt inspired, but on others I just didn't have the energy or motivation to help them. I can't say for sure whether it was the emotional gunge dredged up by the emotional healing work, or the chronic fatigue but I found myself becoming increasingly depressed. Who wants a depressed Life Coach? That sounded ridiculous, and by the time my pro-bono clients were coming to the end of their free 3 months, I was happy to let them go. I was relieved that none of them wanted to continue coaching, although it would have been nice to have someone say they wanted to pay for my services and I felt pretty terrible about giving up.
For the later bootcamps, the company mailed everyone on its database with an offer of 3 months free coaching for anyone who was prepared to fill in a preliminary assessment and travel to Canberra and meet up with a trainee. Potential clients flew in from all over the country. The director of coaching paired all the clients and trainees up in advance, and let the trainees loose on the clients armed with the information from the client's preliminary assessment form. This seemed to work really well, especially for coach trainees who were having difficulty sourcing pro-bono clients. Even though the offer was for “free” coaching, the fact that people were prepared to travel to Canberra to get it indicated a reasonable level of commitment and showed that there really was a lot of demand out there for coaches.
If the clients sourced by Beyond Success converted to paying clients at the end of the 3 months, the agreement was that Beyond Success would take a rather hefty commission of the ongoing payments. Whereas for clients we sourced ourselves, we kept 100% of their payments; there is no ongoing license fee on the Beyond Success system. Unfortunately by this stage I was too depressed to want to coach anyone. I ended up working with one of the other coaches, who helped me to put together an action plan for digging myself out of my hole once I got home again. Looking back now, the plan appears to have worked.
Most of the people I met on the coach training programme were intending to start their own coaching business, but some where there purely for the emotional healing aspect of it; and probably the sense of community. I'd estimate that only about half the people I met on the course have actually ended up starting a coaching business at the present time. I don't know of any who are earning the big dollars over $100K. At the minimum fee of $440/month, it would take a client load of 20 clients in order to do so; which would keep you pretty busy answering their emails. Most of the people I know working as coaches after completing the program also had previous training in counselling, NLP, voice dialogue or some other form of healing therapy. My 9 year stint as a part time volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline helped me enormously in talking about emotions. I think a random person with no helping background who did the course would struggle to become an effective coach on such a short, intense program. I'm sure it's been done, but they'd be the exception rather than the rule.
At the time I finished the course, I felt like a failure because I hadn't managed to get my coaching business going. I lacked the motivation and follow through to do it. I was struggling health-wise, and was actually relieved when the course was over and I no longer had bootcamps to attend. I chose not to go on with the follow-on Coach Pro programme which would have extended the training for another 12 months, as I wanted a break from the emotional roller-coaster I was on and paying more money on coach training didn't seem to make sense to me if I wasn't actually committed to getting a coaching business of my own going. I lost contact with most of the people in the community as they were spread all over the country, and didn't even stay in regular contact with those based in my home town of Sydney.
At times I felt I was pretending to want to be a Life Coach. I had been lacking a career path and felt anxious about that. Coaching seemed like a good option, sometimes. At other times, the whole idea of Life Coaching seemed a bit dicky to me. I didn't feel like I really got all that much out of having a coach of my own. By far the best part of the training programme was the boot camps, and we couldn't easily offer them to our clients. If a client asked me if I had a coach, I could say “yes”, but if they asked if I found it good value for money, I would have to have said “not really, I don't feel I get that much out of having a coach to be honest”.
Beyond Success have been around for a long time, and have networked with other people doing similar work. One such person is Nicholas de Castella, who now runs his own healing program after being introduced to emotional healing at a Beyond Success event. I heard about his Passionately Alive workshop and went down to Melbourne for it, still suffering with Chronic Fatigue and the associated frustration. I found it even more powerful than the Beyond Success bootcamps. If you want access to emotional healing group work but aren't interested in training to become a Life Coach, I recommend you look into Nicholas's programs instead.
It's now almost 12 months since I completed the Beyond Success Life Coach Training course. My health is slowly on the mend, and I'm going back to working on the book I put aside when I became ill. I'm doing an acting course based on emotional truth to further unlock my emotional repression, and I'm quite involved at my Toastmaster's club learning the public speaking skills I'll need to promote my book. There are common threads between all these things and what I learned on the coach training programme. I liked the fact that they were explicitly validating of emotions, and most of the trainees had a sense of unconditional acceptance about how I felt. Occasionally I came across coaches who appeared judgemental of my chronic state of ill health, but most people were supportive and empathic.
I haven't done a great deal of research on how this course compares to other Life Coach training courses. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the most expensive. For your money, you get some life changing emotional healing, a network of supportive people to work with, and a system to use with your clients. In some ways it's a bit cultish, but in Paul Blackburn's words “yes, but it's a good cult”. One thing I found frustrating was that venues and dates of components of the course tended to be organised at the last minute. I didn't mind this too much as I had few other commitments, but if there was one thing I'd like to see Beyond Success improve it is their forward planning. It seems to be a pattern; their recent inaugural coaching conference sounded excellent, but came with only a couple of weeks notice. When the actual events came around though, they were great at communicating about getting to the right place at the right time with a diligent office worker calling each time to confirm that we were on-track to attend. But when forking out that amount of money, I expect the programme for the next 12 months to be nailed down with venues and dates. I know event management is a bit of a nightmare and things go wrong, but I heard Mary Blackburn apologise for unforeseen circumstances many times and wondered whether that would happen if things were planned further in advance.
Despite my reservations about the cost, the brevity of the course, and the health difficulties I was experiencing at the time, I can definitely say that the course helped open my eyes to the importance of developing my emotional intelligence and dealing with my emotional baggage. It also linked me up with a network of new friends who also considered this important. I see my future in public speaking and story telling on this very topic, rather than coaching, but will more than likely be mentoring other people as I go. The skills I learned in the Beyond Success Life Coach Training course will be invaluable.
If you're interested in becoming a Life Coach and you like what Paul and Mary teach, chances are you'll get a lot out of this course. The best way to find out if you resonate with Paul's core message is to hear him speak, and the best place to do that is by going to The Mental Toolbox when it comes to your town. Even if you're not interested in Life coaching, The Mental Toolbox has some great material that is definitely worth checking out.