I’m a life coach working with writers, artists and other creative people to help them get unblocked, finish major projects and build sustainable, meaningful careers.
What’s been your journey to get here?
I have had a long and interesting journey! In my twenties, I was a fiction writer, but writing all by myself was really too isolating for me, so when I was around thirty, I switched to television. I wrote for TV for about 20 years, starting on Newhart and ending with Desperate Housewives, Jericho and The Riches.
I felt incredibly lucky to work in TV, but after a while, I started to feel that something else was calling me. The WGA strike in 2007 was a turning point for me. My oldest daughter was about to leave for college, and my perspective on life started to shift—you know, to the big midlife questions about purpose. When the strike ended, I somewhat impulsively declared that I was going to become a teacher and to my own surprise, I actually did.
For the next five years, I taught English electives at an extraordinary charter high school in South Central Los Angeles, Animo Pat Brown. It was my privilege to work among some of the most dedicated, inspiring people I’ve ever met. I loved teaching, but after five years, I burned out on the public school system, which is so underfunded in high-poverty communities that you really almost have to be a kind of religious renunciate to stay in there for a lifetime.
After I left the classroom, I trained to be a life coach because I realized that what I really loved was the opportunity to listen, to create space and support for another person to grow.
Why might someone need a life coach?
Coaches help people move forward in a positive way. Coaching has kind of a “woo woo” reputation but in fact, it’s really a lot like making a strategic plan for your own life. You visualize the outcome you want, then you break it down into monthly benchmarks, then you break those down into day-to-day steps. The process really works. I’ve seen clients make significant breakthroughs. Writers who’ve been really stuck start writing again. I have a client who’s a painter who’s pushed her work to a whole new level. Another artist started an entirely new series after being stalled out for over a year.
My role as a coach is to support clients through this process, which actually does get emotional because inevitably, people hit blocks, obstacles and bad habits. Coaching really works on building confidence at a deep level, then moving forward from that place.
With your kids now in college and beyond– What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
I wish I’d known how fast it was all going to go! I wish I’d taken everything a whole lot less seriously. And honestly, one thing I’d say is that I personally think the whole college game is just one step short of a full-on scam. Kids are in college for like ten minutes. Your children will graduate, go out and live in this complex, messy, beautiful world that is changing so fast nobody can keep track of it, and what they will need more than anything is optimism, resilience, a sense of humor and an ability to find a great circle of friends who will, in the words of Rabbi John Rosove, “see you for who you really are—and love you anyway.”
What are your “mom hacks”- what are your tips to getting it all done?
The uber “mom hack,” or anybody-hack, is David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a totally helpful time-management book that’s great for people doing multiple projects. His system is rather complex, but you can boil it down to a composition book full of lists, broken down into subject categories. If you’re interested in more details, I wrote my own “hack” version of his method on my blog, called “How To Get Things Done Even When You’re A Totally Chaotic Creative Slob:”
We know balance is such a silly word- but how do you hold it all together when lots of things come at you at once?
What helps me is to take a breath and remember that at any given time, I can only actually do one thing, which is the thing I’m doing. So I try to let everything else go and focus on that one thing right now. I’m a mindfulness practitioner, and that helps me tremendously. Just noticing when my mind has gone into a panic and then bringing my awareness back to the present is enormously helpful to me.
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What keeps you up at night?
Aieee, well, the major worries, like climate change, ISIS…you know, the really terrible things, not that lying in bed worrying about them is going to change anything, but I do it as though my worrying were a kind of constructive activity, as if Congress were going to go: “Hey, Ellie Herman is worrying a lot over there in L.A., maybe we should ban fracking.”
But I also worry about my kids, of course, what parent doesn’t? And then if there’s anything I forgot to do, even something small, I worry about that until I just go downstairs and write it all down. That helps.
What are the 2 things we all should be doing – if we only have the time for 2….
Well, thing one would be that we should all get a little pleasant exercise every day. Not like the Insanity workout, just something enjoyable for half an hour or so. If you have kids, just walking around at the park is probably a great thing to do. The research is clear that moderate exercise really is good for your health. It also improves your mood.
Thing two would be that we should practice self-compassion. People are really hard on themselves, and so much unhappiness comes from that. I don’t mean we should stop trying to be better people. I mean that while we try to be better people, we should practice being kind to ourselves, because it’s hard work to be human. I had a client who was really struggling, who suddenly took a moment to see herself the way she thought God might see her. To be honest, both of us started crying. I thought: what if we all could see ourselves that way just for a moment? What if we could see ourselves with that level of compassion?
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