The Colgate Scene
November 2007

What's next?
Life coach Barbara Waxman '84 says 'the best is yet to be'

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

Advice from Barbara Waxman

  • Understand that there is only one constant: change. Anticipate it, rather than react to it.
  • Live in alignment — be clear about what your values, dreams, and intentions are, and connect those through action.
  • If you have a fear that is holding you back, call it out and deal with it.
  • Banish the "judge on your shoulder" — that consistent voice with a negative message. Identify that message. Count how often you hear it. Name it. Then silence it.
  • Don't use your children or family as an excuse not to pursue your goals. If you're not living the life that you want, everyone knows, including your children. And what does that teach them? Be true to yourself, and you'll be true to them.
  • If you're too overwhelmed to begin to identify your goals, simply think of this stage in your life as a chapter in your life story. What's the name of the chapter? What are the themes? Who are the characters?
  • If you choose to work with a life coach:
    Find someone with whom you feel comfortable — someone you can trust.
    Ask if the coach is certified.
    Visit www.coachfederation.org, the website of the International Coach Federation for more information.

Listen to Waxman's Colgate Conversations podcast, "Working with a life coach," at www.colgate.edu/podcasts

"What the heck are you going to do for the next 20-plus years?"

No, that's not parents demanding their college seniors' after-Colgate life plans. It's the first question on the "Are you ready to retire?" questionnaire published earlier this year by Newsday and created by professional coach and The Odyssey Group founder Barbara Hessekiel-Waxman '84.

"My passion is working with people for whom the primary tasks of middle adulthood have been completed," Waxman said. "Children may have almost been raised. Relationships have stayed the course, dissolved, or are on the horizon. Career goals have been achieved, have been a disappointment, or are being dreamed of."

For midlifers and potential retirees, hazy decades can loom like vast desert expanses — stretches of years they have no idea how to fill.

"Coaching has gained popularity relatively recently," Waxman said. "It has to do with asking powerful questions to elicit self-discovery in the client. It's focused. It's future-oriented. With coaching as a tool, I work to help people find their true north." Her work is not therapy, she explained; rather, she conducts professional and collaborative one-on-one sessions that result in clarification, insight, development of future options, and meeting agreed-upon goals.

A Hudson Institute—certified coach and author of the 2007 book How to Love Your Retirement, Waxman holds two master's degrees: one in gerontology and one in public administration. She founded The Odyssey Group in 2005 to coach people who are in what she calls "midlife and better" — her tagline is "The best is yet to be."

"What's happening with baby boomers is that they're changing all kinds of things, not just careers," she said. "Because at midlife, we've got the wisdom (if we choose to access it), and the knowledge of what we care about to know how we want to spend the next part of our lives. We're the healthiest, wealthiest, best-educated generation in America that has ever lived, and there's so much potential there. I find it so exciting to help people realize their potential."

Approximately 77 million babies were born in the United States during the "boom" years of 1946-1964, and with a baby boomer turning 60 every 7 seconds, that's a lot of people asking, "What's next?"

It's a question Waxman has asked herself.

After graduating from Colgate, Waxman joined her now-husband, Scott '81, in California while he was at Stanford business school. She attended the University of Southern California, and later worked in the nonprofit field doing strategic planning, leaving and reentering the workforce around the births of her children. After about 15 years, she knew her career lacked something, but she wasn't sure what. Some of her nonprofit clients had begun asking her for some "coaching" because of her business expertise and encouraging nature. "But I said no," she said. "I didn't even know what coaching was."

It wasn't until Waxman heard another life coach describe her job that she realized that coaching was exactly what she wanted to do. "So I played around with it for a while. It felt good and I really enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came from helping clients determine and act upon their next best steps," she said. With 15-, 13-, and 9-year-old children at home, she went back to school to become certified. Training at the Hudson Institute in Santa Barbara, more than six hours south of where she lived, Waxman, with the full support of her family, spent a significant amount of time there. "I made a considerable investment in becoming one of the best-trained master's-level gerontologists and certified coaches," she said. "And The Odyssey Group has gotten a noteworthy amount of attention because I firmly believe that what we offer is unlike any other coaching model. It's just as important for someone coaching adults in midlife to have a strong background in adult development and aging as it is for someone who works with children to be an expert in childhood development."

With pieces published about her work in California magazines, Newsday, and on MSN Money, and her own book in bookstores nationwide, Waxman has watched word about The Odyssey Group spread. With clients in California and as far away as Argentina, she works with people in person or on the phone, and leads retreats in the Bay area.

"What people are learning is that life is no longer linear," she said of the recent popularity of coaching. "It's not that you're going to marry, have kids, work, retire, travel, play golf, and die. What life is — and this is the exciting part — is taking risks and leading life in a circular fashion. Baby boomers are working, going back to school, working some more, taking time off to travel, working some more, and building a bridge career that will enable them to follow pursuits outside of their normal routine." What holds so many people back is fear or confusion about what one really wants, Waxman added. That's where she comes in.

"It's great to have a conversation and revisit what's important to us," she said. "Coaching is a powerful way to reconnect with yourself when there is too much going on in life to find the time, space, and self-control to think about your future in a focused way that achieves results."

So baby boomers and non-boomers alike, pull out your pencils: What the heck are you going to do for the next 20-plus years?

If your paper is still blank, it might be time to call the coach.

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