Coaching vs Therapy – What’s the Difference?

About ten years ago, when I was just getting started as a property developer, my SUV was making a clunking sound and there was some hesitation in acceleration.

I remember meeting Bobby, the mechanic. When we shook hands, his grip was tight and large around my hand. He asked me about my car’s history.

“What happened? When did it start? What makes it worse?” 

As I looked at Bobby in his faded Boston Red Sox cap, I told him about my problem and what I remembered from the past. I could see in his eyes that he was beginning to understand. He was seeing clues as to what caused the disorder in my car.

We took it for a drive. He wanted to see the problem in action. When we pulled back into his shop parking lot, I knew he’d cracked the case. Bobby told me it had to do with the transmission and would cost $1200 to fix. I smiled, nodding gently and then told him I wanted to get a second opinion.

I didn’t really want a second opinion. I knew he was right. What I was really thinking was, “Shit, I can’t afford that right now”.  All my money had  gone into a new project and I was running on fumes.

At the time, I had just gotten a ‘construction loan’ to buy a piece of land and build a house to sell. All the permits and lawyer fees to make it happen had drained my bank account.

Leaving Bobby’s shop, I drove out to the land for my next meeting. Jack, the carpenter, was sat in his pickup truck waiting for me.

He too was wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap. It was bit less faded than Bobby’s. Jack stepped from the truck and stretched out his hand. As I reached mine to meet it, I saw it was thick and strong like Bobby’s was.

Jack spoke loudly like Bobby did. He asked me about what I wanted to build.

“How big do you want it? What do you want it to look like? When do you want it built by?”

Through speaking with Jack, he and I both became more and more clear about my vision for the house I would build there. As we discussed what it would actually take for an entire house to be created, I got more and more clear of what it would require of me. I began to understand what I would need to invest financially, time-wise and energy-wise. I got that this was going to be a real commitment and that it was going to be a lot of work. I could also viscerally feel that it would be a real risk as to whether I’d profit from this. I’d already spent most of my money, was taking on debt and the market was peaking. I was scared, but I was also excited.

Fast forward six months…

On a blue sky afternoon of a cool day in October, I walked out of my lawyer’s office carrying a $104,000 check in my hand and a lightness in my chest. In my mind, I looked back on all the days of meeting people at the land and how the house that now stood strong there had come together, literally, piece by piece.

From there, I went straight to the bank and made my largest ever deposit. When I pulled back out into the street, my SUV coughed and made a grinding noise.

I thought about how it had gotten progressively worse over the past six months, but how since I was so focused on building the house, I hadn’t let it bother me. I had essentially just ignored the problem with my car.

However, I didn’t need the problem anymore. Still not even fully up to speed, I checked my mirror, braked and pulled directly into the next parking lot – a BMW dealership.

They said they’d give me just $3K for trading in my SUV since it needed a new transmission.

“Deal,” I said.

An hour later I was sat alone in a slick, brand new M3. When at the exit of the dealership, I pressed the accelerator, the car leaped onto the road. The purr was deep and as I entered the motorway, I could feel the growl of the engine through the floor and on my back.

I thought of Jack & Bobby – how similar they were as people, how they both worked with their hands and how their hands had grown thick and strong from doing that work. At the same time, I thought about how different their work was.

It is when I think back to what Jack does and what Bobby does that I am most able to understand the difference between being a ‘coach’ and being a ‘therapist’.