Corrections or additions?

This article was prepared for the February 6, 2002 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Coaching Can Lead to Career Nirvana

The controller for an Internet company whose offices

were in the World Trade Center is leaving town. A lifelong New York

City resident who chose his work based on what he thought he should

be doing, the controller is heading to Westchester to open a hobby

train shop.

"He has loved trains his whole life, and this is a way he can

make money from them," says Ron Paxton, the former

controller’s

coach, who is helping to make the dream a reality. Paxton says demand

for business and personal coaching is up, way up. Life reassessment

following September 11 is an impetus. ("How many people called

their brokers from the towers to check on how their stocks were

doing?"

he asks.) Downsizings, often complete with substantial severance

packages,

are another. From his office in Oakland, Paxton is seeing "an

unprecedented rate of downsizing." Many of the recently terminated

had been with their companies for 20 or 30 years. The upside for some

is a chance to think about doing something different.

Paxton speaks on "Professional Coaching for the Individual and

the Small Business" on Tuesday, February 12, at 11:30 a.m. at

a NJ CAMA meeting at the Doral Forrestal. Cost: $35. Call

609-799-2000.

Paxton’s background is in consulting. He received a bachelor’s degree

in electrical engineering from Pratt Institute (Class of 1965) and

a master’s degree in computer science from NYU, but says "I never

did any programming." He studied computers because he decided

that was the way he could make the most money, and money was his

ticket

out of a life he wanted to escape. His father was a bus mechanic and

an alcoholic. His mother worked as a seamstress part time. He

characterizes

his childhood Brooklyn neighborhood as a "slum." In his first

job out of school he immediately made twice his father’s salary.

There followed jobs for IBM, Coopers & Lybrand, Unisys, and Digital

Equipment. Paxton gravitated toward the people side of the computer

business, working with senior executives, often chief information

officers, on aligning their organizations with business objectives.

After decades of working for large companies, he took on the challenge

of helping a small business add software development to its service

business. His job was to take over the service side while helping

the company’s CEO move into software.

"It was a major transition for me, a different culture,"

Paxton

says. "They put a lot of trust in me, and I wanted to do the best

job I could." So he hired a coach to help him. A coach is

different

from a consultant, he says. A consultant is an expert who sets up

a plan to move a person or an organization forward. A coach is a

partner,

providing context, perspectives, and a framework. His coach helped

by uncovering areas where he could improve, and by providing the tools

to make the improvement happen.

As an example, he says, "I was going to a conference with the

CEO. He was looking forward to it. I wasn’t. I listen and learn. I’m

not a master networker." He discussed the upcoming event with

his coach, who encouraged him to experiment with networking, to try

out different approaches. She express-mailed him a copy of Power

Networking,

a book her own coach had written.

"I read it on the plane," Paxton says. "I realized, 80

percent of what’s in here, I know how to do. I felt confident. I got

more out of that meeting than any other. She empowered me to think

`I can do this.’ And she gave me just the right tools at exactly the

right time."

A year or so into his own positive experience with working with a

coach, Paxton attended a workshop at his church, the Community

Presbyterian

Church of Ringwood. "The minister asked, `What is it that you

love to do, that you’d do for free, but could make money doing?’"

In that instant, Paxton knew he wanted to be a coach. And, right away,

he became one.

"The U.S. is so screwed up," he says. "We’re told we need

to get training. We need to get certifications. We need to buy a big

house. Then we’ll have the freedom to do what we want to do."

Skipping the formal steps, and seizing on what he wanted to do, Paxton

asked a fellow workshop attendee if she would like to hire him as

a coach. She said yes, and just like that, his new career was

launched.

His first client owned a marginal gym. Her husband was

an Olympic gymnast, but neither knew anything about business. Paxton

worked with her at coming up with ways of growing her business.

Business

at the gym increased so much that his client moved to a bigger

facility,

and is now preparing to buy it.

For two years, Paxton, who did not have the luxury of a big severance

package, coached part time. Three years ago he had built up enough

of a coaching practice to coach full time. He does most of his

coaching

over the phone, charging between $400 and $750 a month for once-a-week

sessions. For corporate clients, he sometimes goes on-site, often

shadowing executives through their workdays to observe their habits

and interactions.

While clients’ circumstances vary, Paxton says all need to work on

at least one leg of what he calls an "ATM model." The acronym

refers to the machines from which bank customers withdraw cash. This

cash, he says, buys a lifestyle, but not a life. The "ATM"

concept he promotes, dispenses a better life through alignment,

transition,

and mastery. Alignment involves finding out "what you love to

do, who you are meant to be," and then matching that knowledge

with work that is a good match. Transition is the process of moving

from an unsatisfying life to one that brings joy. Mastery involves

"being the best you can be."

Before starting on ATM adjustments, some clients need to get their

lives in order. This was the case for Paxton. While some people can’t

move ahead before fixing relationship issues or resolving personal

problems, the crack in his foundation involved what he calls

"financial

integrity." Translation: He spent money as fast as he earned it,

and the spending brought little satisfaction. "I had a 12-cylinder

BMW," he says, "but I was thinking about what it would be

like to have a 12-cylinder Mercedes. It never stops." With

perspective

gained from his coach, he got rid of his "fun car" and his

"drive to work car" too, and bought one all-purpose car,

thereby

cutting his monthly payments from $1,600 to $600. In all, he cut his

expenses 20 percent without feeling any pain at all.

Getting expenses under control buys the freedom to choose a job

because

of its appeal, rather than for the salary it brings. "I had to

keep taking the highest paying job," Paxton says of his

pre-coaching

life. His expenses left him no choice.

By contrast, a potential client called him from Oregon this week.

"She told me she can live on $8,000 a year, so she can do anything

she wants," says Paxton. "That’s freedom."

Few of his clients can make that claim. One of Paxton’s clients, for

instance, is a lawyer. His firm follows a pattern common in the

profession.

Associates have to work monster hours to stay on staff, and have to

work herculean hours to make partner. "He hates the

profession,"

Paxton says of this particular over-worked attorney. "He wants

to get out."

The guy has a problem that is far more difficult than that faced by

a downsized executive drifting to earth on a golden parachute, or

even on a sturdy nylon parachute. "He has to carve out time to

make a change," says Paxton. This is a crucial element in moving

from one profession to another. "If you’re working 60 or 70 hours

a week, you can’t make a transition," says Paxton. There is no

time for the spade work, the client wooing. And there is no energy.

Paxton did work with the attorney on cutting back his hours, and they

have shrunken a little, but not much. "When he cuts back, people

notice," says Paxton.

Making the transition even more challenging is the young attorney’s

family situation. He has small children, so there are lots of bills

to be paid, and lots of bedtime stories to be read.

Still, there is hope. Paxton is working with the lawyer on building

up financial reserves. They have discussed the possibility that he

work as a contract lawyer or a teacher, and he is looking for clients.

Paxton brings him along when he gives speeches, giving the lawyer

an opportunity to network. Given enough time, the lawyer may escape

his big-law-firm trap, but it isn’t going to be easy.

"He is putting himself out there very gently," says Paxton.

"If people at his firm find out, he’ll be fired."

Paxton is happier than he has ever been. His wife is still working

as a guidance counselor, but when she retires, he is thinking of

taking

his business on the road. Retirement isn’t in his future, he enjoys

his work too much. But he plans to blend that work with travel by

moving his business into a motorhome. "They even have satellite

dishes now that you can put on top of a motorhome," he says.

"You

can get the Internet even while you’re driving.<17

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