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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
"He has loved trains his whole life, and this is a way he can
make money from them," says Ron Paxton, the former
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
he asks.) Downsizings, often complete with substantial severance
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
A year or so into his own positive experience with working with a
coach, Paxton attended a workshop at his church, the Community
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
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.
at the gym increased so much that his client moved to a bigger
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
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
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,
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
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
gained from his coach, he got rid of his "fun car" and his
"drive to work car" too, and bought one all-purpose car,
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
of its appeal, rather than for the salary it brings. "I had to
keep taking the highest paying job," Paxton says of his
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
Associates have to work monster hours to stay on staff, and have to
work herculean hours to make partner. "He hates the
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
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.
can get the Internet even while you’re driving.<17
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