Most women know how to invest in self-care — like a glass of wine after a long run or a leisurely Sunday cozied up with a good book — but some of us still pause at the thought of prioritizing self-help. Even if it seems like we “have it all,” many struggle with feeling like that’s enough — which is where a life coach could come into play.
We spoke to Jen Wille, a Chicago-based life coach, to answer all our questions about what exactly a life coach is and the top issues she sees.
What does a life coach actually do?
Essentially, when I think of a life coach, I think about holding space for people to unravel and totally open their heart and their mind. It is all about meeting you where you’re at and exploring certain moments versus having expectations or trying to solve your problems.
And there’s kind of this idea that a life coach will help fix your problems. Yes, there’s accountability in terms of helping you achieve your goals and move toward where you want to be in your life — but a really good life coach walks alongside you while you’re living your life. They help you explore and tap into your intuition to navigate your life.
How is a life coach different than a therapist?
A therapist holds space, and will equally listen to you and show up where you are. The parallel I draw is this: imagine having a health concern. You’ll probably go to the doctor, but you may also work with other professionals, like a personal trainer.
In terms of therapy and life coaching, a therapist is more like the doctor; they will diagnose you and treat your issues. Life coaching is more like the personal trainer who will condition you and help push you toward another level of strength regarding where you want to go in life.
A life coach is all about meeting you where you’re at and exploring certain moments versus having expectations or trying to solve your problems.
Why did you personally decide to pursue a career in life coaching?
During my twenties, I was an elementary school teacher and I absolutely loved working with kids. Though after a few years in, I realized I wanted to help people on a deeper level than what teaching could provide. I craved more freedom in my day and more personal interaction with people.
Fast forward a year later, and I found myself at a conference all about looking at your life through a visionary lens, where I happened to be sitting next to a life coach. The moment she told me about her work, I knew in an instant that life coaching was it — that I, too, wanted to become a life coach. So I started the process of getting certified that very month! That was back in 2014. I stayed in education a little longer, and even tried out a coaching role in the school system that I deeply enjoyed. However, when coming back to the big picture of what I saw myself doing in five, ten years, I saw myself working full time as a life coach. Once I cultivated enough courage to fully walk away, I officially resigned from education to start up my own life coaching practice.
What are some common issues or problems you encounter as a life coach, and how do you offer help?
The biggest thing people want is more time for themselves. Many women really want to slow down and feel a sense of calm and peace during the day. The first marker is always, “I feel drained, I feel tired.” And so we work on creating a daily routine to create space without any interruption. A lot of my clients wake up to challenges like the sound of a screaming kid, or a puppy vomiting in its crate, stuff that can’t be controlled, so I help them build a mindset of, “When I do have five minutes of space, here’s what I’m going to do with it.” We talk a lot about getting out of your own way, and not self-sabotaging yourself by constantly thinking, “I never have time for myself.”
Another common issue is self-doubt. A lot of the women I work with have something in their life they’re passionate about, and they want to show up fully for it, but there’s a complicated layer of taking care of themselves and others first or not knowing where to start. Also, figuring out how to practice accountability, if you’re feeling stuck and want to get something off the ground in terms of a project. Finally, many women deal with their inner critic; they can’t get out of their own head and feel like they’re constantly combating negative thoughts. With every single woman I’ve worked with, the remedy for that one is self-care and a lot of self-love.
What should you keep in mind if you’d like to hire a life coach?
Here’s the thing: right now, the life coaching world does not have a recognized body to control the industry. You can’t go to college and get a degree in it, like you would to become a therapist or psychologist. There are institutes and wonderful training programs to help coaches land in their lane, but this is not necessarily a career with clear success or accolades where you receive certificates and honors and badges and degrees.
A lot of the women I work with have something in their life they’re passionate about, and they want to show up fully for it, but there’s a complicated layer of taking care of themselves and others first or not knowing where to start.
I don’t say that to undercut my profession, but to help people understand there’s a little more accountability on the individual level when you seek out a life coach or aim to become a life coach. You can’t necessarily Google a life coach the way you would a therapist; you have to kind of do your own homework. I personally enjoy finding coaches through social media, because most good ones are transparent on their platforms. Then, once you find someone you’re interested in (sort of like dating!), reach out for a conversation. You can definitely ask if they’ve gone through certain programs and training, but know it’s ultimately about whether or not they fit your vibe. My work is all about intuition and trusting yourself. Let that be your governance. If you don’t get a good feeling about someone, don’t work with them.
Finally, I think it is important for people to know insurance does not typically cover life coaching. If cost is a major factor, I always suggest reaching out to the life coach directly to talk about the possibility of a payment plan to make it affordable for you. A lot of coaches recognize it can be too expensive to pay for out-of-pocket, but any good coach will want to make it feasible for you.
Does it make sense to have a life coach and a therapist?
I believe we all need to have people in our corner to hold space for us in a non-judgmental way, to keep us accountable and help us become the kind of people we want to be. I personally utilize both, because my work is rooted in self-care.
My therapist is the person I go to when I really need to come to terms with things that have been stewing, or I need to emotionally ground myself and talk about things weighing heavy on my heart. My life coach is someone who creates a comforting space for me to check in on specific goals or to remind me of where I want to be on the days I’m struggling.
It’s a personal choice. Some people have a little bit of a rub about hiring someone for emotional well-being, but for me, it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself. There’s a coach out there for anything you need. To do the work of self-care, you have to live it and breathe it.
We all need to have people in our corner to hold space for us in a non-judgmental way, to keep us accountable and help us become the kind of people we want to be.
How do you know if the support of a life coach is actually working?
You don’t want to go to a life coach with the expectation they’ll fix you. This is your life, and a life coach is not the expert on your life. We’re all on the journey of self-discovery, however, and a life coach should be committed to listening and hearing what you need.
It is also important to maintain an attitude of being motivated or willing to do the work needed to evolve. A therapist may provide tools and action steps, but with a life coach, you’re not just paying for the one-hour call. You get support, guidance, and love all the time, and you can contact your coach whenever you need to. With my clients, they know they can text, email, or call me on the fly.
When it is working, you’ll likely feel an overall sense of, “I’m moving forward, this is what I want and where I want to be.” Progress will ebb and flow, but so does life, and on the whole, you should feel like you’re moving forward with energy and showing up as a higher vibration of yourself.