Sarah: A Personal Coaching Success Story

A door in a simple, white, wood frame cottage opening on to a floral patterned chair

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

— Calvin Coolidge

When Sarah first came to me for personal coaching, she had been recently widowed. She’d quit her job in the city and moved to the mostly upscale island where I live.

She told me she thought personal coaching might help her to rebuild her life, and set up a home-based business. I suggested group coaching workshop and personal coaching combination.

During the workshop, Sarah listed results she wanted to produce including a writing space, a brochure for her communications business, and a circle of friends .

When gently pushed to stretch for what most mattered to her, Sarah added “A strong, fit and healthy body,” to her list of desired results.

A single person walking on a beach with waves lapping at their feet.

Stretching For What Truly Matters

Sarah also outlined detailed criteria for a long-term vision of what she wistfully called her “dream cottage.” Confessing that she didn’t really believe she’d ever achieve it, she told us she longed to live in a cozy, post-and-beam cottage by the edge of the sea.

As she reflected on her vision of the cottage, she realized she’d like it to have at least a 30-mile view, be situated on a roomy, beach-front parcel with space for an organic garden.

The site had to be rural, yet close to a well-treed, small town with ample cultural amenities such as a library, bookstores, coffee shops, good restaurants (at least one listed in Where To Eat In Canada), a thriving arts community, and sufficient population for her freelance communications business.

Other essential design criteria were her desire to spend no more than $50,000, and to be able to easily add a solarium and extra bedrooms over time.

Participants in the workshop were impressed with Sarah’s ability to visualize results. But they thought her vision was “unrealistic.” No one believed she’d create such a spectacular result on the modest budget she was working within.

As her personal coach, I pointed out the judgmental nature of the others’ comments. I urged Sarah to keep her vision bright and clear. I also asked her to observe and describe reality as objectively and accurately as she could.

With my encouragement, she worked on her dream cottage projec— in spite of her own and others’ doubts.

“I did the work,” she said, “more to learn about the skills and form of creating than with any real hope of producing the final result.”

She didn’t see herself getting close to achieving her dream for at least ten years.

“I did not, myself, believe success in this was possible,” she confessed to me in her delightful French-Canadian accent. “But, hey,” I thought to myself, what do I have to lose? Nothing. And lots, I thought, to learn.”

Up turned Scrabble pieces spell out VISION. The other pieces are blank.

Clarifying A Vision of Desired Results

Sarah’s first step was to clarify her vision.

To the above design criteria, she added other specifics such as hours of sunlight , average temperature, rainfall levels, and proximity to urban centers with large French-speaking populations to support her communications work.

She included an intangible sense of “comfort,” a sense of being t place, being deeply at home in her cottage and its surroundings. She also envisioned herself becoming a well-regarded member of the local community and creating a thriving, meaningful business.

As she added detail to her vision, and practiced visualizing her desired result as if it were fully completed, she said the vision got “brighter, more exciting,” and the creation took on a life of its own.

“It was so compelling,” she said. “It had a pull I could not resist.”

Sarah found it difficult, at first, not to let herself be overwhelmed by the brilliance of her vision. However, with coaching help, she faithfully followed the creating process, step by step.

Assessing Current Reality

Once her vision was clear enought that she’d recognize it if she created it, she grounded it in an accurate, objective assessment of current reality.

The most obvious aspect of her reality was a lack of funds. She was almost broke and lived in an area in which waterfront property started at $750,000. She liked the island, but noted that, as well as the cost of real estate, it failed to live up to some of the criteria she’d outlined in her vision.

“Winters are too wet, too grey, and too long,” she said. “There is no French population nearby. My village is nice, but it has none of the cultural institutions or activities I desire. I can’t afford a car to travel to the larger town, so I often feel trapped.”

The Creating Framework & Creative Tension

In spite of the gap between her vision and its current reality, Sarah practiced holding both in mind simultaneously for fifteen minutes each morning and evening.

She used the vision/current reality framework—and the creative tension that emerges out of the gap between vision and reality—to energize and guide her actions.

She began with small steps toward making her vision a reality. Current reality gradually became more like she’d envisioned.

Action Steps: Create and Adjust, Create and Adjust…

Sarah researched parts of the country based on the criteria she’d specified. She told me later that she hadn’t thought of research as an action step, but quickly discovered it was essential.

Using telephone, Internet, and government information offices, she gained valuable information, particularly about weather patterns and housing prices. Much of what she found out didn’t help her. She made mistakes, fixed them, and carried on. She eventually narrowed her search down to the western province of Saskatchewan or the Atlantic province of New Brunswick.

“I dropped the Saskatchewan sites pretty quick,” she said, “Although they get good sun, it can go down to 40 degrees below zero — in Fahrenheit and Celsius! That’s too cold for me.”

That left New Brunswick. Sarah focused her efforts more tightly and zeroed in on several small towns in that maritime province just above Maine. She researched each town in depth. What she discovered excited her. She felt enthusiasm for the project growing.

“Houses there cost one-fifth to one-tenth what they cost here,” she said. “I have to go there; I want very much to see those towns.”

Leveraging What You Have To Create What You Want

Although she had no cash on hand when she began, halfway through the six-week workshop Sarah received a severance cheque of $6,000 from her previous employer. A bank teller suggested she put it in an RRSP (the Canadian equivalent to a 401(k) retirement savings account) and borrow an additional $6,000 against it for that year’s contribution. Sarah took that suggestion and felt her confidence and momentum increase as she realized she now had, by her standards, a sizable stake of seed-money.

Several months into her project, Sarah used the frequent flyer points she and her late husband had accumulated to fly to New Brunswick. There she fell in love with one of the towns she’d discovered in her research.

“It met all my criteria,” she told me. “It even had,” she marvelled, “two restaurants in the Where To Eat book!”

Although she was unable to find suitable property listed in the local real estate offices, she was convinced she would live near that town, and refused to return home until she found the place she wanted. She searched the countryside for unlisted properties. One afternoon she spotted a piece of land that met all of her criteria.

“It was perfect,” she said, “Open to the sea, a spectacular site for a house, surrounded by colorful meadows of wildflowers and backed by a small, sweet smelling forest. Only one small problem. It was not for sale.”

Undaunted, determined to make her vision a reality, and emboldened by our long-distance coaching sessions, Sarah tracked down the landowner. She shared her vision with him and persuaded him to sell her ten acres. Luckily for her, the zoning was right. She purchased the lot with a loan backed by the assets in her new RRSP.

Before she left the area she made contact with a young designer/builder who had been seeking an opportunity to build an ecologically designed, solar-heated, post-and-beam cottage to showcase his talent as an eco-designer. He agreed to build Sarah simple, modular cottage for far less than a regular contractor would charge, if she would give him free rein to design it.

“He showed me several examples of what he had in mind,” said Sarah. “They looked fine to me. So I said ‘Okay’ and we shook hands and made a deal.”

She leveraged another loan from a local bank using the builder and landowner as references and the new land as collateral, and had the builder drawing up plans and ordering building materials before she left for the airport.

Building Momentum; Following Through To Completion

Sarah worked dilgently on this and other small practice creations during the months she worked with me. It wasn’t always easy, but she learned to see reality just as it is, and not get upset by it. That helped her persevere in the face of adversity.

Taking action, Sarah created small successes. Patterns of successess increased her competence and gave rise to authentic confidence. Both increased momentum and the energy she need to follow through to completion.

Close up of a woman with double-braided hair, with her arms and two fingers raised in celebration, as she approaches her new wood sided cottage.

Celebrating Success

When I last saw her, Sarah was in our local post office mailing twenty bulky, heavily taped cardboard boxes to her new address in New Brunswick. While we spoke, tears ran down both our faces.

“This was my greatest dream,” she told me, “my vision. Myself, I did not think success was possible, but I was so excited. I loved the idea of that house by the sea. I could feel the tension, the pull to make it happen. I could not stop myself from working on it even though so many said it was impossible. And, now, next month, I move in!”

The whole thing—her land, her house, her garden—cost her under $50,000. Not bad for just six months!

As I turned to leave the post office, Sarah grabbed my sleeve. With a grin on her face as wide as the ocean view she’d just bought, she said, “As soon as I get there, I’m gonna use the creative tension framework to start creating myself a nice little car.”

I had no doubt she’d succeed.

Bruce Elkin

Life Design Coach. Personal Life Coach. 25 years experience. Clients on 6 continents. Author of 5 books and ebooks. Cares about the Earth and living in harmony with its natural systems.