I didn’t want to sign up for a tennis class. Frankly, I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person. I didn’t want fitness advice from a tennis instructor. The thought of hiring other people makes me wince. “But I can just do it myself,” I think. Or I think about the money. Or I think about how they invented the Internet for a reason.
But something occurred to me this year: maybe I can’t do everything on my own.
Why did it occur to me? Probably because it occurred to Penelope Trunk, a serial entrepreneur and career blogger whose advice I take seriously. And she wrote a post about how she swears by coaching. Wait, a dynamic entrepreneur (and someone who IS a coach for a living) hires coaches? Yes she does. For everything.
So I joined a tennis class. And it was great. My coach pinpointed what was wrong with my serving technique—the one I’d spent hours watching YouTube tutorials and practicing my swing against a brick wall trying to fix—in about 3 minutes.
What Comfort Zone?
Here’s something I quickly learned about coaches: They do things to you that you wouldn’t do to yourself. That coach who corrected my tennis serve in 3 minutes? He did it by making me toss a ball up in the air above my head with my eyes closed 56 times in a row. And on the 56th time, it didn’t hit me in the face—I served it. The overhead serve has come naturally to me ever since.
This was great. So I decided to hire a private Russian language tutor. Maria from Murmansk promptly corrected things I’d been doing wrong for 7 years. 7 YEARS. Imagine my surprise to find out that all those years of self-study in one of the most difficult languages in the world (clever me!) didn’t render me as fluent as I thought. (You can’t learn a language by reading it, by the way.)
Next I signed myself up for aerial yoga classes. During my first session, the instructor noticed that I was doing the poses funny to avoid knee pain which I hadn’t even been aware of until she pointed it out. Then she showed me how to do the poses differently. I’m still taking the class—and trust me, we do things in those hammocks that I would NEVER dare to do at home alone.
DIY or DYI?
If you’re stuck at a roadblock or want to take your skills to the next level, ask yourself whether going it alone is Doing It Yourself, or Doing Yourself In.
In my case with tennis, Russian and yoga, it was the latter. Not only was I not getting further ahead on my own, but I had settled into well-worn grooves in the wrong direction. I was actually causing harm.
Penelope Trunk attributes her success to a willingness to get help. In fact, so do MOST people who are in the top of their field. Coaching isn’t just about having someone to pinpoint your mistakes. They can also help you recognize your strengths.
The creator of The Art of Manliness wrote this post about words from his high school football coach that changed his life: his coach told him that he wasn’t a natural athlete (something he felt bad about) but that he more than made up for it in athletic “hustle”. That drive became his secret weapon and he’s been hustling to new heights ever since.
Books Don’t Slap You in the Face
You know what else? Books let us off easy. There’s something about face-to-face, personalized advice that we just can’t ignore. Probably the fact that we literally can’t ignore it when someone’s talking right at us.
“Anything good an expert has to say, they’ve already published in their book or blog” I used to think. But I will never forget interviewing Dr. Pam Peeke for a U.S. News story about aging. I’d read her book “Body for Life for Women.”
But it wasn’t until we talked on the phone and she told me to pull my head out of my a** and start taking exercise seriously that I was really shaken out of my stupor. (She was speaking in general, of course, not specifically to me, but that’s what she said. And her voice has been reverberating in my head ever since.)
Books don’t plant voices in our head. When we’re searching for motivation, we rarely visualize a string of words we once read in 12-point Times New Roman. And the personality of the expert usually gets edited right out of the page or webpage anyway. So not only do we miss out on personalized advice, but we don’t get their energy and enthusiasm. We don’t get their real hard-hitting smacks in the face.
That’s the stuff that sticks.
At least it is for me. What about you? Do you work with coaches or experts to help you improve? Let us know in the comments.
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