Mastery. Or How To Become An Overnight Success As A Coach—in Just 46 Years
“The only way to get good at something
is to completely immerse yourself in it.
To the outside world, immersion is the
same as magic.”
— James Altucher
When I left university I had a deep inner knowing that a joint degree in Biology and Economics had prepared me for absolutely nothing when it came to the world of work.
All I knew is that I wanted a job that involved working with people.
I said yes to an opportunity to work as a Personnel Officer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London. I had no idea what Personnel Officer meant but it was something to do with people, right?
It turned out that the National Health Service in the UK was incredibly bureaucratic and whilst I was nominally involved in hiring and supporting employees, I was rather more involved in photocopying resumes and application forms.
One day—eight months into my first job—I went to a career’s fair to recruit employees for our hospital. I was so bored that I sat down at the back of the main hall to take a break. And I began to listen to a presentation about teaching.
I was fascinated. I’d be able to work with people—students—and make a real difference to their lives. I was in.
I applied on the spot and resigned my job the next morning.
Two weeks later I drove my first car—a little mini metro with red go faster strips that I’d carefully stencilled down the side—to the town of Oxford and I entered Oxford University’s Department of Education for the first time.
This was it. I was now a high school teacher.
And I was terrified.
I went on a visit to a primary school. And it was crazy. A room full of noisy, little people. One of these tiny people came up to me and said, You’ve got a spot on your head.
Nobody does that. It’s a social convention that you don’t comment on people’s appearance—to their face. But these little five year olds didn’t care. They spoke their truth.
I WAS TERRIFIED
And then I began teaching in a high school. I remember being ‘chased’ down a hallway by two 17 year old girls. They could sense my fear. Remember, I was only 22 at the time. They were making suggestive comments and laughing and I remember crashing into the teacher’s office with a sigh of relief as I slammed the door behind me. I was safe. For a moment.
I taught in inner city London for 8 years. And I taught in rural Botswana. I helped set up an International school in Brunei, where I lived for 4 years.
And I made mistake after mistake after mistake. I paid too much attention to the behavior of the naughty kids—instead of helping them to learn. I walked out of classes more exhausted than my students—hint: it should be the other way around. I raised my voice when I felt frustrated. I spent hours and hours planning lessons that didn’t inspire the students. I was so concerned about moving up the career ladder that in my first 360 profile, my colleagues said they thought I didn’t care about the kids. That one hurt. As a leader, I challenged my bosses without trying to see where they were coming from first. I read too much about leadership instead of practicing being a leader.
“Magic is just someone spending more
time on something than anyone else
might reasonably expect.”
— Teller (of Penn & Teller)
A GROWTH MINDSET
But I had one thing working for me. I loved teaching and learning.
I had what’s called a Growth Mindset towards being a teacher and being a leader:
“In a growth mindset, people believe that
their most basic abilities can be developed
through dedication and hard work—brains
and talent are just the starting point. This
view creates a love of learning and a
resilience that is essential for great
So I kept making mistakes.
And I kept learning.
And I got incrementally better over time.
Inspired by Sigmund Freud, I created The Wednesday Night Club in 1998. Freud’s Wednesday Night Club was group of fellow psychoanalysts that gathered together every week. At the end of his life, the members credited this with the best professional development they’d ever received. Our Wednesday Night Club—a group of teachers who were leaders—met to discuss teaching and learning and leadership. We read books together, challenged each other and inspired each other.
SPEND MONEY ON TWO THINGS
At a young age, I got the message to only spend money on two things—learning and experiences. And I’ve invested heavily in both, ever since.
I’ve never stopped spending money on my own Professional Development. I’ve traveled around the world to meet amazing teachers and coaches and I’ve studied online—everything from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits to Non-Violent Communication to a Masters degree in Educational Effectiveness and Improvement to the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Eventually I took on the role of Vice Principal and I had a vision to shake up the world of education in my next role as a Headteacher. I’d been trained in coaching skills as part of my training for Headship—when one day my world came to a screeching halt, on the day I was fired.
“I don’t see a place for you in this organization,” said the new Headteacher coldly.
She had to repeat it four times before it sunk in that I couldn’t turn this one around. The inspiring boss, I’d gone to work for had left only a few weeks after I’d arrived. And the consultant who’d been brought in to advise him was given his role. I can smile now because I see clearly why she fired me. I didn’t like her as a consultant and let her know it. So when she took on her new role, it was pretty clear that I had to go.
I cried my heart out as I drove home that morning—too humbled to even say goodbye to my students.
And I make it sound like a cool story that I headed off to live on a beach in Thailand for the next six months but the truth is I was humiliated and hurt and the last thing I wanted to do was to step foot back inside a school.
I gave every book and cd I owned to charity, packed a backpack and the last thing I did before heading to the airport was to grab a pack of playing cards. They weren’t your standard set of cards. They’d been designed for coaches by a man who was later to become one of my very best friends—Jamie Smart. And they simply had a great coaching question on the back of each card.
IT’S CALLED COACHING
New to Thailand, I’d sit in cafes and on beaches playing with these cards.
What are you doing? people would ask.
It’s called coaching, I’d reply.
Can I play?
And that was it.
I began coaching on a beach.
And it wasn’t hard. The questions were there for me. On the cards.
People had time. We were on a beach, after all.
So we could dive deep.
And then deeper still.
And then one day someone said to me, Thank you. That conversation was life changing.
And she blew my mind. Really? We just talked. I just asked you some questions.
Life changing, she replied.
And I was hooked.
My next surprise was on the day when someone said, Let me pay you. That was amazing.
I’d never been paid cash money for a service in my life. I’d only ever had my salary wired into my account at the end of each month.
OK! I said.
And she handed me about 300 Thai baht. It was about $7 at the time. But it could have been $7,000. I was amazed.
A month or two later, I signed my first paying client. He paid me $10 a month. And it was wired to my account. And once again I was amazed. Looking back, I’d have been paid more working at McDonalds. But I was doing what I loved. People loved it. And they wanted to pay me. This was amazing.
I left my beautiful beach in 2006 to fly to San Francisco to get a coaching certificate. You need one to be a coach, right? Well, the course was so bad, I quit after 2 days. I never did get a coaching certificate.
But I did immerse myself in learning and training.
That growth mindset I had about teaching and leadership—turns out I had it for coaching, too.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
I trained and I studied and I studied and I trained. I learned from and with world-class coaches—like Guy Sengstock, Kevin O’Malley, Alexis Shepperd, Jerry Candelaria. One day my friend, Kevin said, it was like you just kept showing up again and again and again.
He was right. I was relentless.
I met Nicole Daedone. What a gift. Nicole rocked my world. She challenged me. She bought into none of my stories. She pushed me to my limits and then she had me experience there were no limits.
But I knew I wanted more. I wanted to really dive deep. And I decided to invest almost all of my savings on a $50,000 Apprenticeship with Michael Neill. It was a lot easier after that when I stated my fee at the time of $20,000, when I heard the reply, That’s expensive. I’d smile and say, Well, that depends…
F**K UP. AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN.
I kept making mistakes along the way. I pissed off many of my friends by trying to coach them without permission. I was so needy for the money that clients could sense it and I’d get no after no after no. I was fired by a client for trying to coach her over email for missing a session—when I’d never created a clear agreement with her. I coached a client around his relationship whilst I was struggling in my own. I was fired by a CEO client when she didn’t create the results she wanted but I’d been too in awe of her to challenge her and I’d tried to please her instead of really serving her. I made mistake after mistake after mistake.
I immersed myself in a year long Transformational Coach/Leader Training and I joined the Faculty of Michael Neill’s Supercoach Academy. Best job in the world. I got to learn. And coach. And learn. And coach. And I met amazing people and traveled the world doing so. Now that’s what I call a gig.
I was coached by Bill Cumming. Bill changed my world when he helped handle my money fears. For ever. One day, hearing yet again my concerns about all the money running out, he smiled and said, Rich, one thing I get about you is that if you really did become homeless and you had to go and live in a homeless shelter—I’d give you about two weeks before you’d be running the shelter.
I laughed. He was right. He was so right.
And then I began to train with Steve Chandler and everything changed. I learned how CREATE clients. Not ‘attract’ them. Not ‘get’ them. I literally created clients. I made bold proposals and I learned to love the NOs more than the YESes. I attended four of Steve’s six month trainings in a row and he eventually asked me to join the Faculty of his Coaching Prosperity School.
I QUIT. AGAIN.
Soon after, I become CEO of the personal coaching wing of an International Coaching company with a multi-million dollar revenue. I was thrilled to be called a CEO for the first time ever. But working for an organization didn’t sit right with me. Truthfully, I was mainly there because I was afraid to go out on my own as a coach.
A few months later my own coach, Michael Neill said to me, “Rich, I get why they want you. I just don’t get why you want them.” I knew what to do. I quit the next day.
A while later, I began a year of coaching with Steve Hardison. Steve’s url is theultimatecoach. And this is not an understatement. I had to fly from LA to Phoenix every 2 weeks for my coaching. And Steve helped me get how I ‘create’ my life. Life isn’t done to me—from the outside in. Life is created from the inside out. And I began to show up in a new way.
At this time, I’d become a father and I was learning more than I’d ever learned about psychology, enrollment, motivation and manipulation—and what’s TRULY important about life—from my little baby boy.
“Ordinary people believe only in the
possible. Extraordinary people visualize
not what is possible or probable, but
rather what is impossible.
And by visualizing the impossible,
they begin to see it as possible.”
WE SEE YOU
A backdrop to the past 6 years has been my Men’s Group. I knew I wanted the support of a Men’s Group when I moved to LA. I coach a lot of very powerful women and my wife’s a very powerful woman—so I need to stay very grounded. But I was clear. I didn’t want to be leading a Men’s Group. I wanted a group of my peers. Powerful men who could see through my bullshit and not be impressed by my accomplishments.
I’ve been privileged to be part of a small group of world leaders that includes—7-figure business owners, a world-class photographer, a man who trains millionaire and billionaire philanthropists, a best-selling author, a surgeon turned high-end headhunter, a rocket scientist, and a man who’s been a soldier, an athlete and now runs a wolf sanctuary that rescue and trains wolves to help coach at-risk teenagers.
These men have challenged me to my edge over the years. They’ve believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They’ve said to me the things that no one else would dare to say. They know secrets about me that no one else knows. John Wineland, Mark Thornton, Keith Kegley, Stephen Bochner, John Baker, Teo Alfero, and Nicolas Sage, Rod Wunsch, James Price.
I have a buddy named Sean Stephenson who has a commitment to call out my greatness—and see nothing less in me. I have the same commitment to him. We hold nothing back from one another.
And behind all that I’ve had three men in my life from London who’ve learned and grown with me for close to 30 years. These guys know everything about my world. I’ve loved them and been mad with them and loved them again. Chrys Perera, Michael Odeku and David Lazare.
Oh and I have an amazing wife—Monique DeBose—who was crazy to say yes when I proposed to her 10 days after we met.
Eight years later we’re still here, riding the ups and downs of relationship. And we’re still living our vows, which include the words: “We agree to stay connected no matter what… We agree to play at 100%… You owe me nothing. And I have everything I need… We create and have fun and meaningful and passionate experiences, for ourselves and for each other… We make a difference in the world by being our powerful, creative, authentic selves. We have a willingness to know the truth of each other’s hearts. And we love each other. Even when it’s hard.”
I have had amazing clients over the years and I’ve helped build an incredible community of coaches—The Prosperous Coach community. They now include many leaders in the world of coaching. You know who you are.
THE JOURNEY OF MASTERY
To step into your power, requires you to travel on a journey of mastery. You have to practice diligently and hone your skills to attain new levels of competence. And you have to be willing to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.
I’ve been on this journey as coach and as a leader and as a man.
My biggest challenge has always been the moments I’ve reached a plateau and got stuck there, failing to make progress towards my goals. I have an inbuilt resistance to change—and a desire for ‘safety’. And I used to get frustrated and abandon my goals.
But I’ve learned that to become a master at a skill I must stay on the path of mastery.
And Mastery is a journey, a process—not a goal or destination.
I have to regularly push back on the messages from society that sway me into believing in the idea of instant gratification. Most of the marketing I see online promises quick fixes and instant gratification. And it doesn’t work that way.
In George Leonard’s book, Mastery, he writes:
“The problem is that most time spent at your skill level is spent on a plateau where you do not improve and you are often frustrated. If you are willing to keep practicing, often you will improve a lot, then get a little worse and then hit another plateau.
Mastery is recognizing that this plateau is an improvement to your previous plateau and in order to be a master you must practice for the sake of practicing itself. Mastery is about loving the plateau.”
I’m almost ten years into my journey as a coach and one thing I’ve learned is that the magic of powerful coaching isn’t in me, the coach. It’s over there in the person being coached.
The magic of powerful coaching isn’t about a style or a system. The magic is not in any one technique. And there’s definitely no magic system for enrolling high-performing, high-end clients. Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is.
You see, powerful coaching is not magic. But it is magical in its impact.
Steve Chandler and I wrote a book about fearless coaching. We wrote about the power of making bold requests, that Yes lives in the Land of No, that Needy is Creepy, that your job is to seek HELL YESes or HELL NOs—but nothing in between, and your mission is to see the things your client cannot see and say the things no one else would dare to say.
Learn and practice these principles and your clients will thank you. Do not wait. Be fearless in your very first conversation with a potential client. Don’t wait until after someone has hired you. Let a potential client experience your power right away, right there in that very first, long and extraordinary intake conversation.
Make mistakes, fail. Fail again. And collect Hell Nos.
It’s the path to Mastery.
“Find something you’re passionate
about and keep tremendously
interested in it.”
A GOOD PLAYER IS ALWAYS LUCKY
Almost 30 years ago, all I knew is that I wanted a job that involved working with people. I’m so privileged to have made that my path throughout this time. I’m a very lucky guy.
Although, as José Capablanca, one of the greatest chess players of all time, once said, “A good player is always lucky.” And… “You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player.”
PS. Below is a taste of some of my favorite books on this journey to Mastery:
22. The Prosperous Coach by Steve Chandler and some shy guy who still gets nervous every time he goes to a party, named Rich Litvin
I love sharing resources and books that I love. Please note that the links in this article are my affiliate links. If you prefer not to use my affiliate links you can search for any of these titles directly where ever you purchase your books.