Sandra Possing's Journey to Becoming a Life Coach

I got accepted to UCLA with "undeclared" as my major and kept it that way until my fourth year, when I finally picked anthropology. This was fine by me, because my intention all along was just to graduate with a degree from a good school and have a great time learning different things. While I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew I didn't need to choose a specific academic path yet, because I had no desire to pursue any of those that required a tenuous and focused education (e.g. doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.) Rather, I focused on knocking out general ed requirements and taking classes that got me excited. Turns out most of the classes I was stoked about were language classes. I took one year of French, one year of Italian, went to Italy for one year for study abroad, and one quarter of Japanese, as well as some Swedish and Danish literature classes. Ultimately I graduated with a bachelors degree in Anthropology and a minor in Italian. I probably could have finished in four years, but was in no hurry and took about four and a half.

My Undergraduate Years at UCLA

The classes I enjoyed most were usually related to communications, socio-cultural anthropology, languages, or technology. There was one professor who taught the interpersonal communications class who was notoriously funny and awesome. His class, other than being incredibly entertaining and insightful, planted some seeds, which are just now starting to flower. I'm realizing that I've always been fascinated by interpersonal communication, be it non-verbal communication, different learning styles, body language, or cultural norms. This is something I hope to continue learning about and ideally incorporating into my career later on.

I Have A College Degree: Now What?

Since graduation I have essentially been a chronic dabbler! My first five years post-UCLA included all sorts of unrelated, seemingly random jobs and gigs. It wasn't until last year that I finally started to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. At age 29, people! Surprisingly, however, I am completely ok with that. The way I look at it, it took me ten years of exploration (since high school graduation) to try enough things and learn what I don't want to be and do, to really allow myself to be honest and look at what genuinely makes me happy (as opposed to what I think I should be doing, or what other people expect me to be doing, or what society tells me I should be doing.) It was a long, but (in my case) necessary, journey. There are certainly those who know from day one what they want to be and do. But, for the rest of us, the message I want to communicate is that it's ok to take your time. As long as you are able to find ways to support yourself while you explore your passions and what's going to make you happy, it's a very worthwhile endeavor!

Jobs I Had During College

During college I worked in a number of work-study jobs, from being a receptionist in the humanities department, to "Bibliographer II" (whatever that means) for a high profile political science professor, to a web projects assistant (i.e. coding in simple html) for the humanities faculty. During school I also took advantage of living in LA and did as much extra work as I could find, appearing in tv shows, music videos, and films. Some of my computer programmer friends asked me to come work for their start-up (Oniracom) during this time; thus began my love affair with entrepreneurship.

Exploring My Love of Languages

During the last quarter of my fifth year, I had finished all my classes but was waiting for graduation.  I began teaching a beginning Swedish class in Santa Monica for a couple months and worked as a personal assistant to a retired physician until it was time to walk. I moved to San Francisco that summer and grabbed the first restaurant job I came across, which also led to meeting a local caterer who I continued to work for occasionally for the next five years. Later that year I got my first "real job" at an IT recruiting firm, which was fun because at the time I was big on everything tech-related. After a short while there I moved on to an opportunity I found at a financial services firm. Initially, I became an agent for a small life insurance firm, marketing and selling their life insurance and annuity products. In retrospect, this was an extremely odd choice for me, as I have zero interest in finance. Yet, there were a combination of factors that originally attracted me to the position: beautiful office location, the prospect of uncapped commissions, getting to dress up in business clothes everyday, and feeling like working in finance was something respectable. Ultimately, I got a lot out of the two years I spent working here, as I found an incredible mentor and got to experience many different aspects of running one's own business, as I helped him with his financial planning business. After two year, however, it was time to move on.

Round Two at a Start-Up

During this time, I had joined the team of another start-up (MixMatchMusic), also formed by some college friends. When I left the insurance agency, I decided I wanted to put more time into the start-up and since it was an un-paying labor of love, I secured a job as a bartender at a local neighborhood pub to pay the bills. Two and a half years later, I'm still doing both. Working with the start-up has been an incredible learning experience and has further confirmed my love for being around brilliant, creative, entrepreneurial types. Perhaps the most notable thing I have discovered so far from my work with them is my love of writing. We started a blog back in 2007 called Evolving Music, which is still going strong today. Three years of writing music and tech related blog posts has given me time to develop my voice and has whet my appetite for writing from a more personal place. In the future, I'd love to have writing be a big part of my career.

My Experiences as a Bartender

Bartending has been a great way to meet people and, of course, to support myself while exploring other things. One such thing that has now become a big part of my life is fitness. Upon a friend's recommendation I attended a few boot camp classes back in 2007 and quickly became hooked. After a short while, I started assisting the instructor, and then became a Certified Personal Trainer and began teaching my own classes. Furthermore, having reawakened my passion for fitness, which had essentially been lying dormant since high school cross country, also served to ignite a new passion for wellness in general. Fitness and wellness easily fed into my life long love of personal development and led, in part, to me discovering what it is that I really want to do with my life.

Reaching a Fork in the Road

Last summer I finally stopped listening to all the conflicting thoughts I was having regarding what I was supposed to be doing with my life. One day I'd think I should go get an MBA, the next day I'd think I should go get a normal 9-5 corporate job so I can have stability, then the next day I'd think I should just go travel alone for a year while I'm still young.  Every day was an inner battle and depending on my mood, would be alternately inspiring and agonizing.  I had finally had enough and decided to take the time to do some deliberate soul searching. With the help of some resources that found their ways into my life when I needed them most, I was able to finally let go of it all and just be honest with myself.

My Journey to Become a Life Coach

It was then that I was able to admit to myself that I want to be a coach, a writer, and a speaker. In what capacity or to what degree I'll end up doing each one remains to be seen, but the important thing was that I finally was able to accept that I need to do what is right for me. I was finally able to let go of worrying about what people might think of the term "Life Coach" and just embrace that if I'm doing what I love and loving what I do, then I will be happy and that is all that matters. This realization was liberating, to say the least.  I am currently studying to become a life coach and am getting a little clearer every day what I want my life to be like.

A Typical Day-in-the-Life

A typical day for me usually starts with waking up at 5:30am and, coffee in hand, heading outdoors to Basic Training. I assist the founder of the company two days a week with her classes and then teach my own class four days a week. Starting the day with not only great exercise, but also the camaraderie and benefits of working out with a group of motivated people, coupled with the daily opportunities to develop better leadership skills, communication skills, and coaching skills is hard to beat. I leave class feeling physically and mentally stimulated and ready to kick the crap out of the rest of the day. Late mornings and early afternoons are my flexible hours. This time is usually spent studying, blogging for Evolving Music, working on my weekly column for the new writer's community Vetted Word, catching up on emails, and generally getting organized. Then in the afternoon or evening I run off to a bartending shift at one of the two places I work. The only difficult part of my schedule is the days when I both get up early and work late. Or, of course, the days that I get up early after having worked late. Luckily this doesn't happen all too often. I love the variety in my day. Each job or project I have satisfies a different need that I have.  

My Observations of the Recession

My favorite takeaway from anthropology specifically was the concept of becoming familiar with the unfamiliar and becoming unfamiliar with the familiar. Though I haven't specifically used my degree for anything (e.g. ethnographer, archaeologist, professor, evolutionary biologist etc.), I DO feel that I use what I learned in anthropology every day. The inherent respect for human beings - regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, culture etc. - that we are taught to have, along with the genuine curiosity about those who are different than us, continues to guide my interactions with people every day.

Interestingly, the recession does not seem to have badly affected the boot camp segment of the fitness industry, from what I can tell. My theory is that people who are willing to spend money on these kinds of challenging classes are largely committed to their fitness and willing to make sacrifices elsewhere in order to keep attending.

As for bartending, I've noticed a distinct change over the last couple years. People are not necessarily drinking less because of the recession. Some people are actually drinking more. What's different, however, is that people are generally opting for cheaper options. Let's just say I pour more PBRs than Belvedere martinis these days.

My Take on Online Education

I've never taken an online college level class, however, I've attended a handful of webinars and enrolled in small courses online and found the experience to be rather satisfactory. My current coaching class is a weekly teleseminar and that format works just fine for me. While I would never give up the on-campus experience of college, that I treasured so much, I have no qualms about taking online classes and in many cases, at this point in my life, would prefer them to on campus classes.

The coaching industry is jam-packed with online classes, as coaches strive to disseminate their message beyond a local audience. As such, I anticipate enrolling in many more online classes. In the coming years, I suspect that video will also play a larger role in this.

Advice I Can Offer Students and Fellow Soul Searchers

Here's my advice for anyone considering any of my current industries:

  • Bartending: If you have a good memory, can do fast math, and genuinely enjoy people, bartending can be an absolute joy. You'll make more money if you work in a bar or restaurant with high volume, pricy drinks, or fewer bartenders.  Remember to treat people with respect, set firm boundaries, go above and beyond the call of duty, make people feel special, learn the names of regulars, and have fun!
  • Personal Training (or boot camp): Find ways to distinguish yourself from all the other trainers out there. Go above and beyond for your clients. Make sure they feel they are getting more value than they are paying for. Continue to educate yourself and add exercises to your repertoire so you are able to challenge your clients in new ways.
  • The start-up world: Be constantly networking, attend industry events, ask people you meet how you can help them, follow through, keep up with new developments, and pour your heart and soul into your product or service!
  • Life Coaching: This industry is still so young and will continue to evolve and expand. People are slowly beginning to realize the incredible benefits of positive psychology and working with someone who helps you clarify what you really want in your life and then holds you accountable in getting there. Take the time to research the programs available (there are a ton) and find one that is accredited by the ICF (International Coaching Federation). Work with your own coach, preferably several coaches, to experience some of the different styles out there and see how rewarding it is to be on the client side of the relationship.


If you love her attitude as much as we do here at Schools.com, find additional information about Sandra's life coaching and personal training services by visiting www.sandrapossing.com.