Transformational Leadership

The Making of an Idealist Life Coach–Bringing Powerful Tools to Those Working for a Better World

Dave Wheitner asked:

In its broadest sense, an idealist is someone who frequently entertains ideas about how our lives and the world around us might be different–possibilities of how things could be. Our thinking extends beyond current reality, as we spend significant time considering the “big picture” complexities of how everything fits together in the world. Because of this, we see many problems and many possibilities that others often miss.

In fact, we may spend so much time thinking about the issues of the world that we ignore ourselves–and the future. Because living authentically is also important to us, this can decrease our personal sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, and it can decrease the energy we have to create what we care about the most.

Idealists gravitate toward a number of causes: environmental sustainability, public health, animal rights, social justice, ethical leadership, labor rights, and world peace are just a few. In these areas we may take on very formal roles such as nonprofit executive director, political leader, advocate, educator, counselor, physician, or entrepreneur of a socially and ecologically responsible business.

We may also take on informal roles, occasionally volunteering or engaging in civic action. Or, perhaps we possess great concern about the issues of the world, but feel too overwhelmed to act upon our concerns. Whatever the case, some common issues tend to impact us and the causes we care about. This is where life coaching has an incredible amount to offer. Tools whose value has long been recognized by the world’s largest corporations can be particularly valuable to idealists.


As I rested my elbows on the handlebars of my touring bike, catching my breath from a lengthy climb up the mountain, I scanned the seemingly endless expanse of Colorado desert and the long, winding road below that would take us to the horizon. This was certainly one of the longer days of our 3,800-mile ride.

I couldn’t have felt better, though. I had just earned a degree in Psychology from Yale, and was now pedaling across the continent to raise funds and awareness for Habitat for Humanity. Not only was I helping an important cause, but I was enjoying a new and exciting experience every day. I had defied the odds of growing up in a “lower socioeconomic status” environment. I could conquer the world, or solve any problem. I was motivated, and anything was possible!

Further down the road, past that summer’s horizon, things began to change. Life as an idealist would not prove to be easy. Over several years, I dabbled in different social causes, moving on after I became tired or burned out from working on each. I spent a few years researching outcomes of families in poverty, and just over a year managing a multi-agency project on urban family health and well-being.

I returned to school to obtain a master’s in public policy and management, and afterwards thought, “Maybe now I’m equipped to change the world!” I then consulted on issues related to youth civic engagement and economic development, co-authored a substantial resource on environmental health, and volunteered for several social justice endeavors. However, I felt like I wasn’t really making enough of a difference, and again grew tired of thinking about so many problems, dealing with people presenting bleak scenarios, making little money, and feeling that “the rest of the world just doesn’t get it.”

Following some career counseling, I decided that I missed my original love of psychology, and also wanted more in-depth contact with people through my work. Thus, I began work on a second master’s in counseling psychology, and decided to seek greener pastures beyond the idealist world. I worked for a large private corporate leadership consulting firm as a “senior assessor,” determining the leadership competencies and developmental needs of high-level managers. The pay was better, and the people were just as friendly as any I had encountered in my other jobs, but the missions of some of our major client companies were quite out of line with my personal values.

Shortly thereafter, I began work in a vastly different world as part of my counselor training, providing therapy to previously incarcerated men recovering from addictions. It was challenging, and I enjoyed the process of seeing others change, but there was still something missing.


Amidst my “dabbling,” I had realized several things: 1) I wanted to have a positive impact on large numbers of people–that’s what I enjoyed about public policy. 2) I very much enjoyed the process of working one-on-one with individuals to catalyze transformational change–that’s where counseling came in. 3) I was most energized working with individuals who hold a shared interest in a healthy and sustainable world–and I felt conflict when building the capabilities of clients whose activities clearly clashed with that. 4) I was tired of dealing with problems, but had a lot of fun talking with others who had an interest in creating their future.

Through several conversations and a great deal of reading, I discovered the field of life coaching, and learned that this powerful approach would enable me to do all the above! Coaching as defined by the International Coach Federation is “A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual that supports the attainment of desired results, as defined by the individual.” Essentially, a coach’s job is to help you clarify who you are and define what’s important to you, and to support you in attaining your visions as you face challenges along the way.

I soon enrolled in a reputable training program to retool and enhance the skills I already had, hired a coach to get myself on track, and through these experiences defined my own life purpose: “To innovatively catalyze and create for a healthy and sustainable world.” From this, I developed my niche in coaching socially and ecologically conscious people to create the lives and world they envision. I realized that as one good person at a time learns to live their life more fully, they also impact others, creating a chain reaction of “exponential good.”

Around that time, this energy connected me to several inspiring individuals with similar values, which in turn led to an opportunity to design and teach a graduate self-development course to community leadership students. The course received great reviews, and motivated me to begin writing a book to reach even more people. I wished that I had discovered life coaching a decade sooner! It has benefited me as an idealist, and now I’m excited to be utilizing it to energize others as well.

I hope that my story inspires others to explore life coaching as a powerful tool for those who seek positive change and authenticity. It can indeed be beneficial in creating the life and world that we envision.


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