These days, one of my favorite moments is when I tell a prospective client or a fellow health practitioner that I was a Certified Public Accountant for more than a decade. Peoples’ reactions range from a jaw-drop to comments about how I don’t look like an accountant to unabashed dismissal. As the character Holly Golightly once said, “It’s useful being the top banana in the shock department.”
People commonly assume that CPAs only do taxes. Not true. I was a CPA who got my start in troubled debt restructuring and bankruptcy for one of the largest global firms. Basically, a failing company’s leadership called us when the financial shit hit the proverbial fan. Then, a team of us would arrive to interview people, triage the situation, attempt to stop the cash flow hemorrhaging, functionally look at what may have caused the problem and create a plan to control the chaos.
The industry was fast-paced, high-stress, high-travel, and male-dominated. For me, it was a gut-rotting job that forced me to self-educate on healing my own roiling guts. No hyperbole here: I used to eat a giant bottle of antacids every 2 weeks and regularly cogitate publicly shitting my pants in the airport terminal vs. while scampering over people and luggage on the airplane. Don’t even get me started about that seatbelt light. I was just so fucking busy working (and rotting) that I had no idea health coaches even existed or a doctor could do more than slap a name on my condition. So, I did what I’ve always done when I want to know something: I hit the books. Anatomy books. Nutrition books. Self-help books that I sometimes wrapped in brown paper bags to avoid the prying eyes of coworkers or old dudes on 1st class flights who had way too many drinks.
Applying the sometimes contradictory theories and research proved a lot more challenging, especially considering the Type-A lifestyle I was leading with full-tilt New York swagger. The double-whammy was my double-Ivy-Leagued doctor’s reticence to even discuss the effects of dietary or lifestyle changes. Eventually, I did what I was trained to do. I took a data-driven, systematic approach and interviewed myself about the results. What happens when I get 6 hours of sleep at night instead of 4? What happens when I eat a salad vs. Chinese takeout for lunch every day this week? What happens if I stop dating narcissists? What happens if I worked for an employer devoid of partners who joked, “Associates are like pencils: Break one; buy another?” It took me years of trial and error, but I shed about 20% of the old physical me and stopped eating antacids like some demented food group. Most importantly, I stopped nearly shitting my pants in public on a regular basis.
That said, it’s endlessly amusing when people almost instantly question my ability to help my clients improve their overall health. You haven’t taken organic chemistry??? Gasp!!! (You can add any other dogmatic belief that mentally stymies people here.) It also signifies a blatant misunderstanding of the role of a health coach, or as I like to call myself, a health + lifestyle strategist. Because as I see it, I’m applying the same skills in a more personally fulfilling way. Let’s be honest: No one reaches out to me because they feel awesome. 100% of the time my clients are experiencing something incredibly painful or frustrating. Because I feel “data” is so essential to the process, I have clients start considering their own “data” even before our very first session. Once we start talking, it’s about presenting questions and critically thinking about the interconnectedness of different areas of their lives. Together, we evaluate where things aren’t functioning so well and strategize how to make a plan to improve them. We test and collect more data. We measure according to plan and adjust as necessary.
Whether it’s bankrupt companies or health-bankrupt people, it’s still turnaround work. Except now, I just get more hugs and gratitude from my awe-inspiring clients.