I was nervous to start my last semester of college. My major in Theatre had been fun to explore, but I felt like a fraud for investing 4 years and a fortune in something that was not my future.
I wanted to help humans be kinder to animals, and kinder to themselves. I wanted to have fun and express myself in the process, which made theatre a good outlet, but I could just as easily be myself through writing, YouTube, or in-person outreach. Acting on stage, in and of itself, meant nothing to me. My college degree had been a way of making it look like I was doing something while my real dreams were left waiting.
All I knew now was I needed to nail my final project as an undergrad. It was my last chance to advocate for animals in a performance and to enter the next chapter of my life on a braver, more authentic note.
But maybe first I could procrastinate and play Neopets all weekend?
It was at that time in my life, confused by my contradictions yet hopeful for an out, that I got my very own vegan life coach.
I finally found a counselor who was an amazing fit for me
“How are you going?”
Hearing her South African accent on the other end of the line was always a breath of fresh air. My coach and I talked over many sessions as well as emails. She guided me through exercises and visualizations I no longer remember. However, the indescribable value of our time together boiled down to simple things:
- She shared my vegan values.
- She was an ally, who supported me as a trans woman.
- Her co-active coaching was all about listening non-judgmentally and giving me the space to create my own path. It was light on advice. It was heavy on the soft-spoken validation and encouragement.
- We sustained this positive dynamic over weeks and months of consistency.
Counselors I’d seen before were either a mismatch on values, or they took an authoritative approach that did not let me feel like the expert on my own life. My guard stayed up, and we never got a ball of deep trust rolling.
Talking to my new vegan life coach, I walked away clearheaded and inspired—without her having to say more than 10% of the words. Together, we built my self-confidence and progress over the seasons.
And I will never stop raving about it, apparently.
Lorrin Maughan of Shamwari Coaching doesn’t know I’m writing this. I hope she doesn’t mind.
Unconditional nonjudgmental support… there is something magical about it
What did I tell my coach about, exactly?
We discussed my whole hodgepodge of goals and dreams—everything from finally becoming an early riser, to nailing that final project, to tennis, YouTube, writings, and romance. I also was going through the WellCoaches Core Coach Training at the time. I aspired to be a certified coach myself.
Did my coach tell me I set too many goals? Did she express doubt tennis would make me happy? Did she assess that I probably wouldn’t be ready for a relationship for another 10 years? Did she accidentally make me feel like a goof whose dreams don’t matter?
If any of those things were true, she let me figure them out for myself.
I was unconditionally supported, and it was a healing experience.
We all have our backstories—our complex reasons—for why we do not feel supported. As a transgender person, my identity had been disbelieved. The ways I naturally wanted to express myself were seen as wrong. As a vegan, I experienced vystopia—the distress of living in a culture that is indifferent about hurting animals.
In conflict with society, I contained my energy. Even my sweetest relationships had some mistrust in them. The back of my mind was populated with hurts and worries it probably didn’t need.
The deep support I got from my vegan life coach was something I’d subconsciously searched for in many places, but struggled to find my whole life. I’m writing this now to share how powerful the experience was—hoping you ponder how ultimate support looks in your life. It can come from a counselor, a friend, a partner, a companion animal, or even from yourself.
In the years since those coaching sessions, I’ve gotten better at embracing feedback. I appreciate relationships that are not non-judgmental all the time. I savor the sting of criticism and I see how it stirs me to grow. Yet, I still catch myself resenting it when people are skeptical, rather than empathetic or praising, toward my hopes and ideas. It tempts me to be emotionally distant. It pollutes the pure joy of our connection.
There is just something magic about being understood and accepted. I am allowed to feel perfectly fine the way I am.
Despite the benefits and good intentions of critiques, unconditional non-judgmental support was where my greatest growth flourished. My own inner voice became more of an ally, and I was a changed woman.
I will never be the same person I was before, after having a coach like that
Filled with passion, I wanted to be for other people what my life coach had been for me.
I can’t be a steady supporter for all, of course. I write about animal rights and social justice. People who aren’t excited by my chosen topics might feel judged or put off. Luckily, my advocacy for both humans and non-humans makes me a more desirable friend, colleague, or coach to those of shared values and beliefs.
It’s now been four years since I graduated college, and I’ve achieved some of my goals. I worked vegan jobs. I furthered my coaching education. My online writing finally took off. My family life is more meaningful and right-for-me than it’s ever felt.
As for having clients on a regular basis, and feeling like I’m a true and reliable friend to my friends, those goals are still a work in progress. Blissful as it is, coaching is a lot of responsibility. Heck, even relationships that don’t involve pay are a lot of responsibility. It is taking me lots of practice to master the little things that make long-term, trusting partnerships last. So I can consistently show up as that unconditional non-judgmental supporter, who so many people out there are craving.
Giving someone the balance of empathy, encouragement, space, and challenge—in my case, gentle challenge—that they seek is an art form in itself.
I’ll never get the balance perfect, but I do know I’m determined. I’m determined to help people feel the way my vegan life coach made me feel.
I feel grateful forever.
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Photo: Melina Gimpel via Unsplash