The Goal Keepers
Not your therapist, not your friend: What accounts for the remarkable rise of the life coach?

  • Words Lavender Au

In certain circles, life coaches are seemingly everywhere. Over the past year, for example, I have heard about their merits from sources including a New York gallery owner and a Filipino businessman in the shipping industry. Then, at a dinner party in Düsseldorf last month, I was seated across from a coach who coached other coaches to lead seminars. 

I was skeptical about this multibillion-dollar industry and the language of positivity that surrounds and fuels it.1 Critics of the self-improvement industry as a whole see it as born from the woes of late capitalism: With social mobility so out of reach, self-improvement creates a facade of progress. Obsessing about the self is easier than reforming society. 

But this truth, which is structural, doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t value to be found in life coaching on a personal level—if you can afford it. The gallery owner credited her coach with helping her feel lighter and happier, and being a better leader. She says ...

( 1 ) According to the International Coaching Federation (IFC), the estimated global total revenue from coaching in 2019 was $2.8 billion—a 21% increase since 2015.

( 2 ) In 2019, Condé Nast Traveler reported that “extreme life coaching" had become a travel trend for the world's one-percenters: “Players" are dropped into the wilderness with a team of life coaches for up to six months, and spend $265,000 in the process.

( 3 ) The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential was an early precursor to the HPM; it was founded in 1955 on the principle that “every child born has, at the moment of birth, a greater potential intelligence than Leonardo da Vinci ever used."

( 4 ) According to a 2020 study by the IFC, 74% of coach practitioners said they currently hold a credential or certification from a professional coaching organization.

( 5 ) CoachVille's website offers a pithier philosophy: “Any endeavor in life can be designed as a winnable game worth playing and coaches alone are charged with helping everyone win the game that matters most to them right now."

( 6 ) In North America, the majority of life coaches (53%) are from the baby-boom generation. Globally, millennials account for just under one in 10 coach practitioners.

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