How to recover — and learn lessons — from a career mistake

Question: Life coaching is my passion and I started a small life coaching business a year ago. Before that, I worked for someone else. Working for her grated on me, as she never listened to my business advice or suggestions about how to better handle employees, including me. As a result, we went through several receptionists, which was a great inconvenience.

I worked hard as an employee but she never seemed to appreciate it. In the summer, when she could have said, “You’ve all done a great job. Take off early Friday afternoon,” she kept us working until five.

Finally, I did the math. She made more from the clients I worked with than I did. So I began planning to go out on my own. My friends and even my clients gave me encouragement. Many told me that if I went out on my own, particularly if I could charge just a little bit less, they’d switch over to me.

So I quit, and started my own coaching business. At first I was wildly successful because many of my former clients followed me. Then, because Alaska’s economy got worse, some of my clients moved out of state. Other clients decided they couldn’t afford to continue coaching. A couple felt that they’d “graduated.”

I expected that each client who left would tell her friends and I’d get referrals. I got some but not many. My landlord unexpectedly raised my lease rate six months after I started my business, and because I was renting month to month, I had no protection. I could have found a new location but didn’t feel I could afford the disruption. I started to worry about what would happen if I got sick and couldn’t keep a regular schedule.

When I added all the expenses, I realized I’d do better as an employee, working perhaps in human services and running my life coaching practice in the evenings and on weekends. I’m back on the job market, but my former employer tells prospective employers who call that I’m “not eligible for rehire.”

Also, I’m embarrassed to have failed and this bleeds through into my coaching. A client this morning told me I don’t seem confident, and I’m afraid she’s going to drop me. I urge all of my clients to be the heroine of their life story and follow their dreams, but my dream crashed. Can you help?

Answer: Let go of your embarrassment. You had a dream and it didn’t work out. No matter how good we are or how well we plan, things don’t always go as we hope and expect. If this was the story of your life, you could view what happened as a plot twist, a setback that you as the heroine need to deal with as you move forward toward an even more wonderful climax. If you were coaching yourself, you’d ask, “what have you learned?” and “where do you go from here?”

Here’s what you may have learned. You had no idea how hard running a successful small business might be. You focused on the revenue each client brought in, without realizing what it cost your former employer to secure those clients, or to pay expenses such as rent, utilities,  supplies and your salary. You discounted your former employer because she didn’t close up shop on sunny Friday afternoons, but perhaps she couldn’t afford to. Your new knowledge can make you a better life coach.

Next, if this is your life story, quitting isn’t an option. Yes, reality slammed a hard fist into your stomach, but perhaps it’s time that you took an honest look in the mirror and assessed your strengths and weaknesses so you can regroup and move on. Isn’t that what you’d tell any of your life coaching clients?

Your strengths include that you’re passionate about life coaching and willingly took an entrepreneurial risk. Your weaknesses may include ethics and a tendency to judge others — and now yourself. For example, you appear to have started your business by siphoning off your former employer’s clients. You judged your former employer as lacking because she didn’t listen to your business advice. You described receptionist turnover as a great inconvenience, when it may have been unavoidable, and now you hold your failure against yourself.

Here’s what is great about failure. As a wise woman once said, life is the classroom that gives you tests before it outlines the lessons you need to learn.


© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at

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