This is the first article in a three-part series spotlighting careers. 

Everybody in Sarah’s life had an opinion about what she should be doing with her career, and her life for that matter. They all freely offered a perspective on why she was at a crossroads and what the solution was.

“Oh, I’ll tell you why you haven’t launched your business yet,” said her mother, “you would never leave your daughter at home.” She wanted to think that was a compliment about her commitment to motherhood, but it was more a view on her professional ambition.

“You don’t need to ‘work,’” said her friend, envious of her financial freedom, “just volunteer in the community more.” “Just get on with it,” chimed her husband, wanting to support and encourage her.

Ideas, she had plenty, but none of them were even getting to the starting line. She wished she could understand what was getting in her way. She hired a career coach. Within weeks, her long list of possible businesses and jobs transformed into a short, focused list of options — each with action plans to take them to the next level.

She now understood her stumbling block. She wanted clarity and answers before making a move. Her coach helped her understand that clarity comes through action. She was now making moves with confidence that she could redirect and change course with the momentum she was building. She didn’t have to wait. Answers came quickly and clearly.

Jeff was a very successful engineer working on the hottest technology products of our time. He was the best problem solver in his group. His boss and peers depended on him for the most complex solutions. He had gained more popularity and recognition in the company, this past year, than ever before for his top quality work. So why wasn’t he getting promoted?

In spite of his amazing work, he received an average annual review from his boss. Jeff believed his boss was an obstacle, getting in the way and favoring others personally over him. He just didn’t think they would ever make him a manager and decided to leave. So he hired a coach who helped him consider the option to stay, and turn things around using new self-management tools, building communication techniques, and improving his networking skills.

Within a year, he wrote to his coach, “Now I have been promoted to Senior Program Manager and I have direct reports. I can not thank you enough.”

Are you in your dream job? Is your current job not so dreamy? Have you taken a break and are now looking for ways to get back in the game? Do you just want to take it up a notch the way every top athlete in the world continuously gets coached to a better version of themselves?

I think of a coach like a personal trainer at the gym. I love going to the gym, always have. However, I commonly go through periods where I show up, but don’t really get stronger. That’s when I hire a trainer.

Sometimes, life gets in the way or I may just want to “up my game,” get refocused, re-energized, or learn something new. Trainer again. I may just need the trainer for a few months before I’m using my new tools myself, but that time and energy invested gives me a whole new skillset and attitude about fitness.

So how can a coach help your career and life?

1) They’re objective

Your coach is probably the only person in your life whose only agenda is your success.  Whether you choose A or B makes no difference to them.  All they care about is objectively guiding you through a process you can look back on with confidence and know you made the best of it.

2) They’re action-oriented

One thing you’ll never be able to do with a good coach is nothing.  As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed about the things you didn’t do than the ones you did […] Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”  A good coach will listen, understand and support you, but the real work unfolds when they ask you the right questions to engage you in your process of change.

3) They’re on your team

When you realize your coach is a trustworthy, credible and supportive ally, you will find the best partner your career has ever had.  A good coach can help you see your true potential and objectively guide you to explore opportunities beyond your comfort zone.  At other times, they can hold a mirror to derailing behaviors which can and will get in your way.  Keeping the train on the tracks is half the battle.

4) They hold you accountable

You may be able to bring the best out of other people, but you can’t bring the best out of yourself.  It’s like hiring a personal trainer for your career.  Knowing what to do is not enough. A coach with an open mind, a big heart, and a sound process can get you where you want to go, even if you don’t know where that is yet. That’s all part of the fun.