Consulting vs Coaching

Years ago when I was in high school considering college options and thinking about career choices, I knew I wanted to do work that benefited people and the planet. I was good at math, science and art. I was more attracted to being outside than spending time indoors. And, I seemed to enjoy figuring things out on my own. My dad was an engineer. My neighbor told me about civil engineering (engineers solving people’s civilization problems). So for me, it was a decision between architecture and engineering. Within 4 years of graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in engineering (civil/structural), I was a professional engineer working with architects on building design projects. Within a few years, I was an associate and by the time I was 30 years old, a principal (part owner) in a top-ranked structural engineering firm in New York State. I was on a fast-track for sure.

My work gravitated to project management, client relations, and more and more, human resources and staff leadership. I enjoyed being a mentor. I enjoyed exploring personality styles to consider ways to improve office communications. I enjoyed building a sense of team and improving the quality of our services by taking advantage of multiple talents and areas of expertise.

All during these years, from the time I was a sophomore in high school, I taught skiing on weekends. I became full-certified as an instructor while still in college. My spirit has always soared outside, in nature, in the mountains, in the trees… skiing, riding, hiking, biking, camping…

After more than a dozen very successful years doing engineering work, I decided to take a year away. I felt the desire to take a time-out. I had never really taken an extended vacation before. Things in my personal life were in a bit of an upheaval as I went through a divorce, and I just knew inside that there was something more that I was destined to do.

During these years of renewed career decision-making, I rode my bicycle around the south island of New Zealand; I competed in triathlons and bicycle endurance events; I took a month-long NOLS course in the Washington Cascade Mountains; I led mountain bike tours. I was offered full-time employment in a ski school as a manager. I met Jo and Alex and Natalie. I moved to Vermont.

Since that time, my life has been in a continuous state of change and exploration, exploring consulting engineering work and outdoor education work, being a step-father, and learning more and more about myself as I was thrust back towards my original childhood vision… helping people.

My consulting work in Vermont is a little bit more hands-on and directed more towards earth-friendly pursuits- timber framing, sustainable design, community revitalization projects, home design. In Southern Vermont, however, people don’t often value the services of structural / architectural engineers; the people of Vermont are little bit more hands-on and self-empowered to do their own design and construction work.

My coaching work seemed to build more and more upon my strengths-based perspective learned first during my engineering work, later magnified when leading a snow sports program founded on strengths-based principles, then ultimately coming to fruition while coaching adaptive sports later on.

I’ve learned also that if we want to ultimately live in a more sustainable and earth-friendly way as a society, it is going to start with an aware and motivated society. It seems to me that I may be of more value to society (and the earth) helping coach people to be more aware and motivated to take care of themselves (which in turn necessitates taking care of others and the world they live in) than waiting for the aware and motivated client to look my way for sustainable design services.

So, more and more, I try to limit the consulting time I spend on design projects that are not complimenting my idea of a healthier society, and more and more time coaching people towards a healthier state-of-being. For me, it’s similar work in that I try to “connect the dots” (figure out solutions to client goals), whether for people-coaching-type work or for building-consulting-type work. For me, it’s also interesting to reflect back on the choices I made, and the paths I followed, and how they all tend to fit together. Original childhood dreams and talents… discovered strengths and abilities learned through many career paths and personal explorations… tough times and more joyful times… logical choices and intuitive choices… all have unfolded in mysterious and magical ways. There has been something learned, something valuable, from each step of my life.

The NOLS educational experience was a game-changer for me; people having heartfelt, team-building experiences in nature, then going back to their own real worlds inspired to make positive nature-sensitive and people-helping-people changes in their local communities. It seemed like a good model to me! I feel like since that time, I’ve been pulled towards creating similar-type educational experiences for people.

Maybe my consulting will be more and more about coaching. Hmmm.

Time for another time-out? After all, the learning is in the reflecting…

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