I want to share a story with you that originates in Nepal, when I was here in the Fall of 1995, and a Tibetan monk taught me about the skill of choosing a teacher. I wanted to share this story with you because I feel the advice applies not just to selecting a teacher per se – but also to how one chooses anyone they invest time, energy and indeed even money into, be that a coach, a friend you trust your secrets with, a potential partner you want to move in with, or a mentor that you want to look up to.
Warning: this has a timed 5 minute read time, so kinda long when it comes to blog posts. But I couldn’t really cut anything out. Yeah. It’s that important.
Sit back with your favorite beverage and maybe light a candle. Take yourself back to Nepal in 1995…
After I completed a month-long meditation retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas, I decided not to become a nun after all (yes, I almost shaved my head and sold all my possessions – but that’s another story).
I asked one of my teachers, a well-respected Tibetan Lama, how to best select my next teacher to study with. I still loved the idea of attaining enlightenment – even if I didn’t think being a nun was the best path for me. I still wanted to strive towards enlightenment…but while having sex and drinking wine too;)
“Check your teacher” he said.
What the hell did that mean?
He said I should spy on them (he really did!).
Study them. See how they act when they don’t think anyone is looking. He told me that it was then that people’s true character came out. He also said that no matter what, they should be acting with compassion and kindness.
He told me that traditionally, people would follow around a prospective teacher and watch how they treated others, spying on them behind bushes and eavesdropping through shut doors. They would see how they practiced and how they lived their lives. Authentically.
Students would do this for quite a long period of time, because choosing a teacher was very, very important – and it was paramount to trust your teacher deeply.
If you didn’t choose an ethical and practiced teacher, you endangered your spiritual path, and even your life.
Holy shizzle – that’s serious.
I didn’t think of it that way at first, but then it made a lot of sense the more he spoke to me about this. I had actually almost joined a cult in college when I attended a free meditation class sponsored by a freaky cult trying to recruit college girls (yikes!).
Fortunately, this advice had stuck with me, and I saw through their smarmy tactics and was able to prevent several other women from falling victim as well. So trust me – this is good advice for anyone you are considering letting into your life. (I forgot to follow it when evaluating a few past boyfriends…like the alcoholic cheater…)
To truly grow in life, you need to deeply trust who you walk your path with – and I take this beyond your teachers or mentors. I believe this holds true whether they are your parents, your best friend you call in the middle of the night, your coach, or your spiritual mentor…Or your potential partner.
You need to trust. Not in the blind way that cult-leaders and charismatic faux-friends would like you to – but in a deep way that allows you to take the big risks when you are feeling like shying away from the edge.
And that trust is earned.
After all, that is where true growth happens – when you are living on the edge of your comfort zone. And if you are with a good teacher, you’ll go there. And when you trust your teacher, you’ll stretch beyond your comfort zone – because they’ve got your back.
Did I mention that trust is earned?
How to “Check Your Teachers” – and friends, partners, coaches…
Use these guidelines for evaluating whether anyone is worth your salt (or hard-earned cash) before committing to letting them into your life in any intensive way.
1) Are their values in alignment with yours? When I was looking for a coach, I found a lot of them telling me they created lives of “freedom” – but none of them traveled for 3-4 months a year like I did. Instead, they bragged about being done with work by 5pm, having one spa day to themselves a week, and escaping to a ski cabin each winter. They went on and on about having lots and lots of money.
They also bragged how they hardly ever had to coach – that almost everything was automated or delegated out to their other “head” coaches, and how they only had to show up to coach once in awhile.
Those things may be nice, and indeed those things were freedom for many people. But I wanted 3-4 months of true vacation. I really really like spa days, but I prefer them in places that required me to get a visa.
I wanted money too – but enough for me to do exactly what I wanted (not buckets and buckets of it but with no time to do anything with it).
Plus, I wanted to coach people. Not rake it in without having to ever connect with the people paying me good money to help change their lives.
It wasn’t all about the numbers for me – it was about the experiences.
My definition of freedom was not theirs.
What is your definition of freedom (or any of your other values)? Is your coach/friend/lover aligned with that?
2) Do they walk their talk? I go to a lot of conferences and gatherings where there are many high-profile coaches. I can’t tell you how disappointed I’ve been when I meet some of them in person. It was heartbreaking for me to see that someone I admired after reading their blogs or watching their videos actually acted like an asshole.
It felt like high school again: women boasting about freedom and sisterhood, then not giving the time of day to someone they didn’t think was an “influencer” when they were approached and tried to start a conversation. They would brush them aside.
And the ironic thing? Their “followers” would hang on to them tighter, feeling like they were the “special ones.”
The sad part was they were only treated like that because they paid.
Once they were out of that person’s Mastermind, their emails stopped getting answered or the other members stopped writing them or caring about what they were up to.
Just like the monk told me when I was 19 – your teacher should act with compassion and kindness. Even if you don’t pay them. And if it isn’t obvious, your friends and partners should treat you like the amazing woman you are too.
3) Do you feel uplifted when you are with them? Not from a star-struck perspective or because of who they know or the name-dropping of who they hang with. Rather, when you are with them, do you feel seen, heard, and understood? Do you feel inspired to take action in your own life? Do you feel hopeful about your future and have actionable plans to make it happen? Do you feel better about yourself and are more proud of how you show up in the world when inspired by them?
I know there are many of you out there who have friends or partners or mentors that you feel less-than-worthy about yourself after you spend time with them, You feel drained. Not enough. Not pretty enough or wealthy enough or smart enough. Time for that to change.
4) Do they offer real value? I am all about the “pricelessness” of true freedom and happiness. But there’s a point at which learning how to create your own freedom in life shouldn’t cost you your life savings, and you should definitely not be convinced to tap into your 401k because someone’s Mastermind would “totally be worth it.”
Yes, I feel this way even if you freely choose to do so.
In my opinion, using the excuse that people freely do so is just bullshit. And many people blow off their clients going into serious debt because they claim that client had a choice.
Fair enough. They did. But coaches also have a choice in how they select their clients.
Any responsible coach would not take your money if it caused you to tap into your life savings – even if it was your own choice. There are way more affordable ways to learn some of these skills before you can afford a high-level Mastermind.
It’s one reason why I offer my crazy-affordable options as well.
In terms of friendships, what do they bring to your life? Or are they just energy vampires?
4) Do you see growth and evolution over time when you implement their teachings or spend time with them?
If you’re with a smarmy teacher or friend, they’ll encourage you to always need them and to give up things important to you to be with them. They have a tricky way of making you feel small so that you don’t quite feel worthy unless you are one of their inner circle. And you won’t learn anything that would allow you to not “need” them anymore.
This reminds me of the classic tale in Chinese medicine about the old wise medicine man who had met a young and talented new practitioner. The young new guy said, “What have you cured? I have cured so many diseases like the horrific and persistent x, y, and z diseases. What have you treated?”
“Well,” said the elder practitioner, “I admit I have not cured any of those fancy diseases you speak of. You see, my patients don’t get sick.”
A good medical practitioner helps you to not get sick so that they don’t make their living off of curing disease after disease in their patients. Similarly, I believe an excellent coach helps you learn the skills to be able to implement on your own and over time, so you “need” them less and less.
Let me be clear about something here: personally, I always have a coach. I like having a coach. I work well with coaches and it’s a huge reason why I am as successful as I am. However, I need my coaches less and less as I learn how to do things on my own from them.
I have learned how to discover what I need to do to succeed, and I choose to have coaches to help make it easier. But I do not need them to move forward because I have learned what it takes to do it myself. My coaches taught me well – and so should yours.
Similarly, you can choose to work with a coach over time year after year – but know that you should also be growing over time, learning new skills and seeing real change.
This goes for friends and partners too – do they encourage you to grow, or do they want you to feel small so they don’t feel threatened?
5) Who are their teachers? Before every traditional Buddhist teaching I have attended, there is a large portion of time – an uncomfortable portion of time, if I have to say so myself – where you are fidgeting for the “real teaching” to start…but it is stalled while the monk or nun teaching goes on and on about where the teaching came from, ultimately ending back at the Buddha himself.
You see, in traditions that have been around for thousands of years, they know that where the teaching came from is just as important as the teaching itself.
You don’t want to invest precious time and energy (and these days, money) into following a spiritual teaching that someone pulled out of their ass. Same goes for coaching. It’s one reason I am not totally opposed to coaches being required to be Certified (FYI most out there aren’t).
I do believe you can be a really talented coach and not be certified. I also believe it’s a lot harder to be a crappy coach if you are certified than if you’re not.
Who did your coach study with? Who did they learn from? We often practice how we were trained, so make sure your coach got into the trenches with some real masters of the craft so they can share their precious nuggets of wisdom with you!
Who are your friends’ mentors and guides?
6) Do you relate to their story? A coach who has walked your path – or at least the path you want to walk – will be a better coach for you than one who hasn’t. Simple as that.
If you want to learn to create a life of unconventional travel and adventure, you won’t work as well with a coach who perhaps travels, but chooses to “adventure” only in the fancy hotels and spas in the countries that they visit.
If you’re trying to lose weight after a baby, you won’t work as well with a weight loss coach who has never struggled with weight to begin with.
If you want to work on your fear of being alone and can’t stand the idea of being single, you won’t work as well with a coach that has always been in a super cozy relationship than with a coach who has had a fear of becoming a spinster after a divorce at 37 years old.
A friend that has passions and ambitions like you (not identical goals, but with the same mojo and inspiration) will help you feel understood and seen – and will help uplift you. If they don’t relate to your big dreams at all, they will likely weigh you down and dampen your light.
So there you have it, amiga! 6 points that I think would serve you well to consider before choosing to work intensively with a coach. Or choose a friend. Or let a lover move into your house.
If you get anything from this message, please remember this:
You are worth every bit of discrimination that you can muster when choosing who to let into your life.
And if you’re ever not sure, please, sister: listen to your gut. At least pause.