Open Letter to the Coaching Industry: Please Stop Claiming to Be an Expert on Gen Y, Creatives & Monkeys, When You’ve Never Been One Yourself

I’ve got beef to stew kids. It’s an issue that’s been on my mind for awhile, when I first joined the ranks of- [dare I say it] coaches? Nothing against coaches – I’m certified as one – and there are plenty of adequately and professionally trained individuals out there who add a significant amount of value to the lives, careers and businesses of others. I am friends with many of them, and continually impressed with the social good they continue to foster by helping people navigate difficult transitions – career change, divorce, illness, relationship stresses, immersion back into civilian culture from the military.  Many of us need them, and quite honestly probably stay clear of admitting it, though we should.

But what continues to confuse me about the coaching industry, is the number of “professionals” who continue to jump on this bandwagon seemingly full of Benjamins (and yes, I just said that), completely uncredentialed, inexperienced, and not in a position to advise others on things they have never been through themselves. I’m getting married in April, hence you don’t see “Dana Leavy – Divorce Coach” on my website header. These days, any novice who knows how to sign up for a Twitter account, create a WordPress site, and write a basic resume qualifies themselves as a career coach. Anyone who’s had a difficult breakup in their lives has “reinvented themselves” and thus qualifies themselves as an expert on interpersonal relationships. And now anyone who’s decided to start a side business is automatically a expert on entrepreneurship, freelancing and small business.

I’m not a complete jerk, just an annoyed realist who’s tired of fighting for the integrity of my industry, my generation and the blatant exploitation of creativity.

I started out as a career coach on this entrepreneurial journey, and my “street cred” comes from nearly a decade of working strictly with professionals in advertising, marketing, design and tech on how to find jobs, build sustainable careers, and be freelancers without filing for bankruptcy.  Don’t talk to me about “creatives”, or “starving artists”.  Every time someone farted in the 90s, I was winning an art show.  And my business experience comes from actually running one, at 23 years old, one that brought in over a million dollars a year. Not to mention, put hundreds of creative freelancers to work over the course of the 5 or so years I ran it, before moving to New York to start my own business. I knew every cent that went in and out of that branch, how every gross margin percentage point affected our monthly revenue, and ultimately my own paycheck, managed a fantastic team that kept operations flowing at top quality, and had built solid relationships with every top advertising agency in the New England area that all of my money-grubbing, corner-cutting competition salivated over. Does it qualify me as the world’s greatest businesswoman? No. It qualifies me as one.

But this isn’t about me. Or is it? I’m 29 years old, 30 this August. Technically that qualifies me on the very corner edge of Gen Y.

And I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

I’m setting the record straight for all of the young entrepreneurs and career changers out there who feel overwhelmed by the constant and unrelenting plethora of career and business advice that we’re constantly spoon-fed by folks that, while maybe they have seen success in their own lives, have no idea what it’s like to try to create a career, a business and a life for yourself in a modern economy where there is no such thing as company loyalty, corporate ladder climbing, or job security. You’re an expert on my generation? Try that on for size, and then tell us how it feels to live at home at 28, with no job prospects, a masters degree (or more), and second-guessing what it is you really want to do with your life. That’s not necessarily me right now, but it has been, and it’s a lot of people I know on a very close level, and whom I work with every single day.

Any generation who has lived on this earth has faced their own unique challenges, pointed the finger at generations before them for setting them up with a faulty foundation, and not teaching them any better. We’re all responsible at the end of the day. And if that’s the case, then let us be responsible. Quit telling us that we’re doing everything wrong, that THIS is the way to represent ourselves on paper to a cutting edge creative agency that doesn’t even work in print as a medium, or that THIS is the way to manage, grow and nurture our online presence when you’re speaking to the generation that invented the Facebook relationship, the Tweet and the MP3.

What you think you started during your downtime in the midst of your own boredom with 1980s and 90s corporate America, we started in our dorm rooms, our bedrooms, and our study halls.

Please do NOT misconstrue my message as simply bashing other generations of career and business experts. That would be ignorant, naive and unfair of me.  I have many professional mentors, friends, bosses and predecessors who are of generations above me, and whom I admire deeply.  Everyone has value to add to this community, some just use it better than others to help the greater good.  Not everyone is walking around trying to capitalize on the struggles of Gen Y behind the facade of wanting to “help them”.  So with that in mind, what I am saying to those who fit that category is to stop trying to capitalize on the fact that you have failed Gen Y, as parents, as employers, as cultural leaders and professional mentors. And it’s not just you – we will wholeheartedly take accountability for creating lives that we want to create. I’m just saying that no one is innocent here, and as a result, we should all stop acting entitled and running toward the big pile of money that Gen Y (and their parents) is tossing toward anyone who will tell them what to do for a living, and how to pay the rent.

At the end of the day, we all still have things to learn.  I know a lot about business, illustration, art and career development.  But I’ve hopefully got another 60 or so years on this planet, and I plan on learning, and teaching, a bit more while I’m here.  I want to continue meeting inspirational people who push me to cultivate new ideas, reach further, teach me new things, challenge myself, and make me a better professional and individual.  I’m not looking for a magic bullet, because there isn’t one.  No matter how much money I have, and ultimately offer to pay someone.

Everybody struggles these days to make a living, and those who don’t, maybe  struggle to pay their millions of dollars in taxes.  Whomever you are, you are unique, and so is the path you are meant to create, via your own mistakes, successes, and the selective inspiration and influence of others in your life.  You’re not on this earth to seek out the right person or persons who can tell you how to adequately live it.  Because by the time you find them, you’re dead.  Stop listening to and comparing yourselves to everyone else.  That includes me.

As far as Gen Y goes, we are artists, entrepreneurs, creatives, pioneers of technology – we have done more as a generation in 10 years for technology than any generation before us. So let me ask you this – who is the real expert on Gen Y, the real experts on technology, design and innovation, and the real experts on how to cling wholeheartedly to a creative calling… and see it through?

If you want to partner with someone as a resource to grow your business or further your career, do your research, and make sure they’re in it to be that – your partner. You’re paying them to impart their knowledge, ideas and ass-kicking on you – not to be your friend, or sympathize with the sour economic circumstances to which you were born into. Come on – you already know that, and it hasn’t stopped you thus far in life.

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