A Very Personal Organizer; A Personal Coach and Best-Selling Author is One of a New Breed of Advisers for Hire
On this steamy evening in mid-August, Jabberwocky's parking lot is deserted. It is deep summer in Newburyport, the season of sunsets and sailboats, and the bookstore's staffers aren't surprised that customers would rather stroll outside than sit in metal chairs listening to a first-time author explain how to make life more complete. Besides, Cheryl Richardson's book-signing and talk tonight was a last-minute deal - she's filling in for a writer who couldn't make it. Perhaps not many know about the event - or about Richardson's book, Take Time for Your Life, and her work as a personal coach. Or perhaps they don't care; she's just another self- help guru pitching a book. At 6:45 p.m., 15 minutes till show time, one customer studies the rack of bestsellers.
And then Cheryl Richardson blows in. She smiles her 175-watt smile, tosses her dark mane, greets the staffers with a firm handshake, and takes a seat at the desk in the middle of the bookstore. As if on cue, a middle-aged woman clutching Richardson's book materializes. Then a man, then another woman. Richardson smiles broadly, her bright red lips stretching across her face. "Hi," she says. "How are you?"
That's all she has to say. The stories begin. The first woman worries about her massage business. The man, a school counselor, knows he should write about his work, but he's blocked. The other woman confesses that after reading Take Time for Your Life, she practiced Richardson's "extreme self-care" by soaking in a hot bath instead of going to a church service. But she says she felt a little guilty.
"Guilt is good," says Richardson. "You're on the right track if you're honoring your self-care."
Heads nod. The line grows from three to five to 12 to 20. By 8 o'clock, when the party moves to Jabberwocky's adjoining cafe for Richardson's talk, the group has swelled to more than the cafe can hold. People who can't squeeze through the door line the hallway, straining to hear as Richardson tells them they can live their real priorities, build their work around their life instead of their life around their work, get rid of all the things that drain them, from the pile of unread magazines to the friend who only complains.
"All of this rings so true," says Barb Cotta, a business consultant who drove up from Beverly to hear Richardson. She wants to change careers but isn't sure how - or to what. She wishes she could hire Richardson to help her find a fresh path, but Richardson isn't accepting new clients. She's too busy spreading the gospel of coaching.
At 40, Richardson is perhaps the most visible spokesperson for the profession that is a cross between therapy (one-on-one sessions), consulting (concrete advice), est (be all that you can be), and athletic training (obstacle-strategy-score!). She has appeared on Donahue, Real Life, CBS This Morning, and Chronicle. She has lectured around the world about the benefits of coaching and conducted workshops at Fortune 500 companies about balancing the professional and the personal. Her book, published last year, has had four printings in hardcover. This month, it will come out in paperback and be published in the United Kingdom and Australia. Her on-line newsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org) is read by 3,500 subscribersand gets 100 more requests for subscriptions each week. She writes a column for Onhealth, a holistic health Web site. And she's working on her next book, a sequel of sorts, about how we really can't have it all, at least not without paying a hefty price.
Says John Seiffer, last year's president of the International Coaching Federation, the profession's umbrella organization: "She is a shining example of what a coach can be."