Time for a game plan? Some call in a life coach

Everything had fallen apart. Her marriage had ended. Work felt like a dead end. Family members were a world away.

Life, Renata Ramos thought, had suddenly turned sour. She needed a life coach.

She turned to a neighbor for help. Meeting several times over a period of months in 2013, Ramos and Melody Maziar discussed what Ramos had done, what she wanted to do. Maziar listened closely and asked questions: What are your passions? Your hobbies? Are you dating anyone?

By degrees, Ramos came to realize that she could do more than market products, which she’d done for more than a decade. She could put 15 years of marriage behind her. And, yes, the world was full of cute guys; maybe she’d find one.

Today, Ramos is a consultant for the Consulate General of Brazil in Atlanta — a natural fit, as Ramos is from Brazil. She also lends her marketing talents to the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce. A hobby she’d long ignored, interior design, helps fill some days. She got a boyfriend, too.

Ramos credits Maziar, a certified life coach whom she’d met at her Dunwoody condo complex, for getting her life restarted. “She helped me look at every aspect of my life,” said Ramos, 43. “Everything in my life had to change.”

There are plenty of people to help with that change. More than 700 Georgians have been formally trained to aid people in planning and guiding their lives. Some specialize in employment; others focus on relationships; still others suggest ways in which people can regain balance in their lives.

All life coaches are driven by a simple principle, Maziar said.

“I think I’ve always been interested in wanting to help others,” she said. “It’s good, helping people move forward.”

People sometimes stall, especially when they reach personal plateaus. Maziar knew she’d reached that point two years ago while attending a funeral. Maziar realized the deceased had accomplished so much in life. He’d committed acts of charity; had touched others’ lives; and, in death, had left a legacy of smiles and fond memories.

Maziar, who was an executive administrative assistant, came home convinced she had to make a change. She called a friend, a life coach. “I want to do what you do,” she said. “I want to be a coach.”

The voice on the other end laughed. “Melody,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for this call for 10 years.”

Life coaches are quick to note that they do not perform the same service as a counselor. One focuses on the present, while the other is interested in the past.

“Coaches don’t spend a lot of time on your history,” said Scottie O’Toole, co-president of the Georgia chapter of the International Coach Federation. The ICF promotes professional development and networking opportunities for life coaches. The state chapter, composed of business and personal coaches, has more than 700 members. The ICF’s worldwide membership roll tops 20,000.

Coaching fees, according to a 2012 study, range from $120 to $350 per hour, depending on the client and topic; the prices also vary regionally. On average, a coaching engagement lasts between four and six months, though some clients stay in touch with coaches for years. A simple computer search turns up scores of life coaches. They’re accessible through LinkedIn, too.

O'Toole, who specializes in business coaching, said she asks clients "powerful questions." A sample query: What would you like to do?

“It gets people thinking,” she said.

People who seek coaches, she said, run the gamut: adults new to the corporate world, people in midcareer and those contemplating retirement. Some are dissatisfied with work — the job is boring, the boss is a jerk. Or, perhaps, they want to change other aspects of their lives.

Life coach Paulette Fried likes to compare her clients’ desires to that of climbing a mountain — you are on the slope, but want to get to a different place. You just have a feeling that where you are is not where you want to stay. Maybe you want to be on the mountain’s other side, where the landscape is different — but don’t know how to get there, either.

“Having a coach can be like having an accountability partner,” said Fried, who’s been a career counselor since 1997, and became a certified life coach about six years ago. “Someone who’ll help keep you on track and motivated to fulfill that dream.”

That’s what Brian Wallenberg did. At 20, he joined the Atlanta Ballet, knowing that a dancer’s career is short. Now 37, he shoots video and handles social media for the company. He credits Fried with helping him make the jump from performance to production. He met her through Career Transition for Dancers, a program that helps performers plan post-dance careers. Fried works with the organization, based in New York.

With Fried’s help, he devised a business plan using video and social media to promote dance. “It was simple,” he said. “She made the whole process not difficult.”

In 2009, Wallenberg expanded his side business when the ballet company hired him part time. Two years later, he became a full-time employee, and considers himself fortunate.

“It was scary” making the move from performing, he said. “But it was even scarier not knowing what I would do after dancing.”