Coaching helped me — and it’s critical for working adult learners

I had big dreams when I left for college after high school: I had earned a full scholarship and was on my way to being the first person in my family to graduate college. As a Black man, I felt like I was on a path to breaking the cycle of growing racial wealth disparity.

Then, I found out my scholarship wasn’t real. I sat in a dorm room at NYU feeling crushed, not sure how I could move forward.

Yet I was lucky. I went home to my aunt, who I lived with at the time, and asked her for advice. She didn’t offer any, though. She asked me questions: How might you redefine success? What do you really want out of your life? What do you want to become? 

 In short, she coached me.

Throughout the years, I’ve experienced other crossroads and learned to seek out coaches at these times. They just haven’t always had the title of “coach” — they’ve been my friends, my mom, my brother, my wife, my bosses — but they’ve coached me. I’ve learned the importance of asking — and being asked — the right questions. These are the questions that lead to further discovery rather than providing, or being provided, the right answers. 

Coaching isn’t new, and people receive it in all forms of their life, but from a professional standpoint it’s most often applied to the upper class. Businesses have steadily invested in coaching support for executives (think high-end consultancies like the Miles Group) and for middle managers through emerging platforms like BetterUp. 

By early 2020, coaching had grown to a $2.85 billion industry. According to a survey by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and PwC, there were approximately 71,000 coaching practitioners operating in 2019. Coaching is critical — around for many but largely absent for those who could benefit from it the most, working adults — people like me. 

Something we’re particularly passionate about at Guild is that presence for frontline and lower-wage workers. If a coach can sharpen a CEO’s approach to board room maneuvers or help them read the playing field, why can’t we apply those same principles to folks with less pedigree and privilege? 

My belief is that people are amazing — and what we are able to accomplish when we have the confidence to thrive, and true clarity on how to do so can be astounding. It may be a cliche, but it has the benefit of being true: We all have unique gifts. The systems around us create barriers, though, that may make it difficult or even impossible to share them. At their worst, those same systems may be punitive.

This isn’t the world that should exist. We can push for change, and I’m proud, through my work with a company called Guild Education, to play a small part in pushing for large changes in one of those systems — higher education. Today, 88 million working adults are in need of reskilling or upskilling in order to compete in the future of work.  

Working adults have a lot on their plate already — caring for dependents, working (sometimes multiple jobs), paying down debt, etc. — and adding school to their life is challenging. Having someone in your corner supporting you along the way can make all of the difference. Our coaching is not about providing students with something that they don’t already have, but rather it’s about helping them to unlock the internal gifts they already possess.

Guild uses a whole life approach with a person’s identity as the “student” at the center. When you take this approach and build a relationship with empathy it makes a great impact. As one student stated, “My coach doesn’t just listen but recreates the challenge in a supportive way so that I can reroute and channel the negative into a positive through his guidance and support”. Another student commented on the breadth of the sessions with their coach: “we covered everything from life experiences to school accomplishments and plans for the future.” We set a foundation by supporting students and unlocking their potential. 

Embracing coaching as a mindset is a shift needed in our educational system in order to better support working adults. All of us can think of examples of times in our lives when coaching propelled us forward. We should embrace the opportunity to build that support network for others and see the opportunities that will blossom from it. Like I said before, people are amazing and with opportunity, tools, and support they can turn their dreams into reality. In order to empower students and unlock potential, having a holistic approach to coaching will aid in more students striving to reach their full potential and achieving their goals. 

Coaching can influence people in a myriad of ways during their journey through life. Its presence, and the self-empowerment that it creates, encourage people to see themselves and their circumstances in new ways. Its absence can have a similar effect, creating not so much a lack of opportunity as a lack of belief in opportunity at all.

That type of coaching can have the power to alter a path. When I left NYU, my aunt helped me rediscover who I really was, not who I expected to be, and maybe more importantly who I wanted to be. That path led me out of New York City, on a road less traveled and allowed me to meet people and embrace experiences I wouldn’t have had. I lived my life.

Written by Terrence Cummings

SVP of Student Services