Coaching Distinction – Working In vs. Working On Your Life

Having been a professional coach for over 16 years, and having been in over a dozen coaching relationships as a client during that time, I’ve had the opportunity to examine what makes coaching so powerful and effective.

It’s my personal view that one of the most beneficial tools that can enhance a client’s life is coaching distinctions. You can think of a coaching distinction like a lens through which you look at life, and in the process life shows up differently.

For example, when my mechanic, Dale, looks under the hood of my car he sees a whole different world than I do. I see mostly dirt and oil and maybe the oil dip stick and radiator cap. But because Dale has many more ‘engine distinctions’ he’s the one I’m going to call on if my car won’t start in the morning.
In short, the more distinctions we have AND USE, the more powerful and effective we can be in our lives.


Now, let’s look at a specific coaching distinction that you can begin immediately to use in your own life. It’s actually modified from a business distinction I first heard about from Michael Gerber, author of THE E MYTH.

In THE E MYTH Michael points out that one of the major blind spots that keep many entrepreneurs stuck in growing their business is that they spend almost all their time ‘working in their business’ and almost no time ‘working on their business.’

I’ve found this to be true for many of my clients in regards to their own lives. They’re living in their lives, often frenetically so, but rarely do they devote any real quality time in ‘working on their lives,’ and it shows — Big Time.

Does that sound familiar to you? Try on this distinction right now to see what you see about your life. And in case you need a bit more clarity on the distinction, let’s see if we can further distinguish between ‘living in your life’ vs. ‘working on your life.’

Living in your life – You are awakened by your blaring alarm in the morning after a restless night of sleep because you were worrying about _______ (fill in the blank). You rush to get yourself ready for work, pumping yourself up with coffee, and catching just a bit of the morning news that verifies once again to you that life is going to hell in a hand-basket. You fly out the door, drive to work, where you quickly look at your to-do list, rushing around to meet deadlines, etc. You finally finish your day, not at 4 or 5 pm but more like 6 or 7. You drag yourself home, prepare dinner, turn on the TV so you can veg out for a couple hours, before dragging yourself to bed, to start the whole process over.

OK, granted this may be a somewhat exaggerated example, but truthfully I find for many people it’s a pretty accurate reflection of their daily lives.

So, what’s missing in this scenario? Any time for “Working On Your Life” –
What I found is often the missing element that will make a huge difference in the quality of your life is carving out time for working on your life, or as I like to call it, purposefully playing on my life. This can include:

  • Working with a life coach which provides you with an excellent support structure and focus
  • Daily time for meditation, prayer, or reflection
  • Regular journal writing time
  • A weekly meeting with yourself where you’re specifically evaluating how to live more on purpose, then taking actions consistent with that self coaching session
  • Quarterly or twice a year retreat time like an extended weekend or longer.

Now, I’m not saying you need to do all of these, at least not at first. I do highly recommend you pick at least one of them and ‘carve out’ the time for it. And I use that phrase, carve out, intentionally. If you wait to find the time, you won’t. You’ll need to commit to giving yourself this gift, and while it may be one of the most valuable gifts you give yourself, don’t be surprised if a part of you resists accepting it. (That’s your Inherited Purpose trying to maintain control of your life. “Ignore that little old man behind the screen.”) Accept the gift from yourself.