ABOUT RUSSELL HEATH
Becoming a Coach
Two different circumstances drove me to coaching. First, by the time I was in my 40s, I was tired of being who I was. I was an adventurer—I’d climbed mountains, canoed rivers, biked the spine of the Rockies, and I had been twice around the world—most recently alone in a small sailboat.
Great fun, but I was also a loner—and alone. You’d think it would be easy to invite someone out for a drink. You’d think—but no matter how hard I tried, nothing made a damn bit of difference. I was stuck; I always ended back where I started.
Second, I was running a high-profile advocacy group in Alaska, and I noticed that the organization could only get so far—achieve say, 60% of what we were shooting for—and then would hit a wall that stopped us cold. It was clear to me that it was my leadership that set the limits on what the organization could do. It wasn’t because I lacked the necessary leadership skills; rather, it was that I didn’t have the leadership behaviors to effectively deploy those skills. You may, for example, know all the techniques required to be a good speaker, but if you’re timid and mousey on the stage, you’re done for.
In the middle of all my fruitless thrashing around trying to be different than who I was, a girlfriend, in a valiant attempt to save our relationship, dragged me to a three-day coaching program. The program rattled the metaphysical daylights out of me and—in just three days—it healed a life-long rift with my parents.
As importantly, it gave me a path forward—a path that worked. I could quit reading Freud and his buddies and actually make some progress. Coaching gave me effective tools that I could use to move myself in the direction I wanted to go.
When I finished up at the advocacy group, I left Alaska, headed to New York City, and enrolled in a seven-month-long leadership coaching program. I did it four times: twice as a participant and twice as a coach. That program walloped me—it was designed to shove you up against the outer fringes of your comfort zone and bust you through. It did that, many times; there is nothing scarier than the fears that inhabit the inside of your head.
Changing my Life Path
Three years later, I was ready to move on, and I cast about for my next project. My initial intent had been to return to Alaska and take my newly forged leadership capabilities back into the fray. But by then, I was a pretty good coach, and I decided that I could make a bigger difference coaching leaders–people who were still in the trenches fighting for a better world.
There are no credential requirements to be a coach—anyone can call themselves one. I already had more experience and a more solid grounding in coaching than most practicing coaches did, but, still, I wanted to be professionally trained. I found Accomplishment Coaching, which offered a rigorous year-long curriculum that used a coaching methodology very similar to the one used by the leadership school. This allowed me to leverage my earlier training instead of starting over.
I began coaching professionally in 2012 while still in school, and I have coached continuously ever since. Over the years, I have worked with scores of clients. What keeps me going is the courage and heart of the many people I work with. When the defensive crust is chiseled off our souls, we are truly amazing beings.
Getting you started
If you’d like to take a chisel to your defensive crust, let’s talk. Contact me here—no charge, of course.
"Russell is a gentle force that keeps the conversation headed in the direction you want it to go. Think of him like a magnet that pulls the treasure out of the sand."
Hillary R., Producer, Los Angeles, CA
A CLOSER LOOK
My life hit a wall right on schedule–about the time I turned forty.
What was odd about my wall was that I wasn’t trying to break out of a corporate prison or soulless job. The reverse, in fact. I was trying to stop wandering the world and find something serious to do.
When I was a teenager, I’d hitchhiked to Alaska and lived in a wood-heated cabin with an unheated outhouse. I worked on the Alaska pipeline, pissing in the Arctic Sea and playing poker on the company’s dime. In my early twenties, I settled in Florence, growing fat on pasta and red wine. From Italy, I dropped down to Tunisia and crossed the Sahara, turned east through the jungle, and wandered the savannas of East Africa before re-crossing the Sahara north through Sudan and Egypt. Heading east, I wandered for another half year across South and East Asia, with some minor opium and gem smuggling on the side, before returning to Alaska.
Taking off again
A short time after returning, on a backcountry ski trip up a distant ridge, my skiing buddy casually mentioned he planned to sail his boat into the South Pacific.
No way. I’d never sailed and was stunned anything so small (27 feet) would leave protected waters. Two years later, I launched a 25-foot wooden boat into the Gulf of Alaska, not knowing how to take in a reef, navigate, or that I got sea-sick, and sailed her alone around the world.
On my final ocean passage four years and 37,000 miles later, I promised myself no more world travels, no more wandering, no more adventures. It was time to dig in and make a contribution to the planet; to have a job that meant something to me; a job that popped me out of bed each morning excited and hot to make something happen.
Trying hard to be who I wasn’t
For two years, I ran the Alaska Environmental Lobby. It was no fun and I bailed, recovering in a remote cabin writing novels no one would publish. Years later, I tried again, running a far larger environmental group also in Alaska. Every day when I woke, my belly clenched and I counted the days I had left of the 5 years I’d promised myself I’d stay. Five years was two and a half times longer than I’d ever before held a job. The short story is that I couldn’t do it.
Objectively, the two environmental jobs were dream jobs. There are patches of forest still standing, streams full of fish still running cold and clear because of our work. I worked with Senators, Governors (Sarah Palin among them), tribal leaders, and fishermen in tiny hamlets tucked away in the forest. We won some great victories, gleefully handing certain powerful people their heads, and, at times, we had our heads handed to us as well.
But it was painful; there was no joy, no satisfaction, and something in me pushed, sometimes desperately, to get me back to the sea or to my cabin in the woods.
I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make my life work when it came to work.
Coaching was my path forward
I know now. I know that each of us can be trapped inside our understanding of ourselves, limiting what we can do and who we can be. It is when we bump up against these limits, when we want more joy, meaning, and human connection than our understanding of ourselves allows, that we feel blocked, frustrated, or dead in the water, as if the salt were leached from our lives.
If I’d had a coach, it would have been different. Today I can do with ease what I would not have done five years ago. I can call a friend and ask for a referral client, I can listen to a wing-nut and not lacerate him with righteous anger, I can hold a person to account, and I can tell friends my love for them. It was a quirk of who I am that I ran from people and into the wilderness chasing wild horizons. I can dominate parties with believe-it-or-not stories no one else can match. But, in time, that world grayed for me and I wanted more. I had no idea how to make it happen. All I knew to do was put my head down and force myself into situations I thought would make me happy. It didn’t work. Running the environmental groups was as stressful for me as living in a low-level war zone.
When clients do what they could not do before, when their hearts open, when they grasp a star once out of reach—my day is made. It is why I coach.
In a strategy session, you tell me what you want to make happen—write a novel, move into the corner office, build a homeless shelter—and then we scope out how to accomplish it. Stepping up your game, doing something you don’t think possible almost always requires a personal transformation, a breakthrough in how you engage the world. Change is running a marathon a couple of minutes faster; transformation is growing wings and smoking it. A good coach shows you how to grow wings.
Let’s make it happen, schedule a strategy session now:
Strategy sessions with me are always free and without obligation.
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