Monday, March 31, 2008 11 Questions with “Agent of Epiphany”

Melissa Pierce.
Definitely not a “Career Coach” and certainly not a Counselor, Melissa Pierce is a cross between the admired colleague, who is the expert in their field, and the loyal friend you can go to when you need a dose of reality. I met Melissa Pierce in Chicago last Fall. Sardonically irreverent and sometimes painfully direct, she has guided hundreds of people along a path of personal and professional growth. Melissa Pierce’s clients represent a cross section of the business world; spanning Main Street to Wall Street, from the rank-and-file to the most senior executives. So, what’s the common thread connecting each of her clients? They each consider themselves to be a Creative, and Creatives can be the people most in need of guidance.

ARNOLD CREATIVE: Okay Melissa, I’ve been dying to pick your brain. You are very direct and to-the-point. You’re sarcastic, but in a way that Creatives can appreciate. Let’s start off easy – what is a Career Coach?

MELISSA PIERCE: Really, I have no idea what a Career Coach is. It sounds like someone who wears a suit and helps people find a bigger cubical. Now, if you’d asked, “Melissa, what do you do?” I would’ve told you that I help creative people get their shit together, follow their dreams, and inspire themselves to stay that way. I prefer the term “life coach” because a person’s career, although important, is just this little part of the whole of our lives. In fact, as long as we’re talking what I prefer as my title, let’s go with “Agent of Epiphany” it sounds sneaky and inspiring. Don’t you think?

AC: What are some misconceptions about a Career Coach/Life Coach/”Agent of Epiphany” and how they’ll help a person’s career?

MP: First and contrary to popular belief one cannot become instantly famous from hiring a career or life coach; it takes, oh, at least 2 or 3 sessions. A second misconception is that a coach is a consultant who is going to TELL you what to do. Coaches do not do that; they’re likely to ask you the tough questions until you come to your own epiphanous conclusion. Finally, a coach is definitely not a therapist. Life coaching is about helping you figure out what you want and moving forward. I’m not interested in examining how your past shaped and twisted you; I’ll help you jump past all that to live the life you want to live.

AC: For the record, “Epiphanous” is a word in the Scrabble dictionary; nicely done! Like an M.D. who specializes in a specific area of medicine, you specialize in helping predominantly “right-brained” Creatives find focus and achieve career & personal balance. Talk about why you are drawn to Creatives.

MP: Creatives are just a hell of a lot more fun, to be honest. It’s about time someone catered to the Creative Class as they are, and showed them that they don’t have to try to fit themselves into the prepackaged lifestyles of the generations before them. There are just too many [Creatives] out there trying to put their life together using XYZ linear system. Those methods rarely work for Creatives in the long term. Another reason I’m drawn to Creatives is that they never cease to surprise me with their ability to grab an incredibly abstract idea, morph it into something that has no connection whatsoever, and explain that same idea in the most simple & ass kicking terms!

AC: Let’s stay on this train of thought. It seems like coaching creatives would present more headaches than coaching people in other industries. Do they?

MP: Oh sure, Creatives bring their own unique set of problems to the table. They tend to have a lot of ideas but no clear direction. So sometimes the redirecting can get pretty rote, but by and large I’d rather be coaching someone had a plethora of ideas than someone who only wants to look at Option “A”, “B”, or “C.”

AC: Creatives are known for not dealing with confrontation very well. What useful hints or tips can you share that may help with these types of conversations?

MP: They aren’t? I think that creative artist types are light years ahead of the rest of us in conflict resolution.

AC: Okay, let me rephrase: Creatives are known for avoiding conflicts, rather than heading them off.

MP: I remember a teacher once telling me that in order to paint things as they really were I would have to forget what I knew about them and just paint them as they are. I guess I carried that over to the rest of my life, and I see many creative people who have taken what they do in their creative life and make it work in real life. I think the trick is to stop taking every conflict as a personal attack on your ego but rather as an opportunity to create something between you and the other guy. Once you can see it for what it is it’s usually pretty painless to resolve.

AC: Share a particularly special story of someone who’s sought your counsel and how they evolved.

MP: One of my favorite client success stories is about a woman who was just struggling to get her web-design company off the ground. There was this enormous pressure to do it “right” that was just paralyzing her. Through our coaching she realized that, even though she was doing her own thing, she was still applying all of the superficial rules & standards of her former jobs to her own business. Once she started to build her business around her own creative inclinations and the things that made her happy, business started increasing. For example: she built extra hours into her project timelines so that she would have time to recharge and chill out before pouring into the next action item on her list. Last I checked she was booked for the next year, happy, and relaxed about it. I like sharing this story because I’ve applied this principle into my own business; I work 3 weeks on 1 week off. I need the time to let my brain soak it all in.

AC: In your opinion, why do you think it’s so difficult for people to admit they need help?

MP: We’ve really been brought up in a culture that says one thing but worships another. I mean, we say asking for help is so brave; the heroes all seem to be “Do It Yourself” loners! On top of that, the guy who got to where he is asked for help is totally shunned. I swear this is a holdover for adolescence! I think in some ways, we never come out of the absolutist ideas we formed in our teen years, we just never take the time to re-examine them.

AC: It’s a particularly daunting time to think about changing careers. How do you know whether you’re in a slump at work or a career change may be in order?

MP: Well, dreading work daily is a good sign. Getting canned over and over is a really good sign. Loving to go into work but end up spending the whole day on Facebook instead of adding to your company’s profitability is a pretty good sign, too. Unless, of course, Facebook is your company’s profitability; in that case add more widgets.

AC: 2008 has yielded record unemployment. Hit particularly hard are the advertising & marketing industries. Some economists predict the US will hit a 10% unemployment rate before a rebound. How do you recommend explaining employment gaps to potential employers?

MP: Isn’t the saying “Marketing is first to get cut”? That should be easy enough to explain, but if you have a gap that is uncomfortably large, it’s a good idea to be forthcoming with it, I mean if you did a lot of interviewing but didn’t find a good fit, just say that. If you are truly looking to be a profitable asset to a company and not just looking for a paycheck, you have to lead with your integrity.

AC: Congratulations – you’ve been a successful “Agent of Epiphany” for nearly 10 years, your clients rave about you and it takes nothing short of a miracle to get on your calendar. That’s not necessarily the case for all Career Coaches. Help a prospective protégé/client navigate the process of finding a Career Coach who will serve meet their needs.

MP: Awe, shucks. It’s not really that impossible to get on my calendar! Hmmm, there are a ton of great resources that come to mind, is a good one, they have this “Tree of Life” that lets you choose what you’d like to be coached on, so, if you were looking for a “creatives coach” such as myself you would select that and all these coaches pictures that fit your profile would come up. Nice visuals.

AC: I see my hour is almost up, so let’s wrap up. If someone were to seek your guidance, what should they expect of you and what do you expect of them? How should they prepare to be “coached?”

MP: Mostly, I expect my clients to expect me to be honest, have their best intentions at heart, and keep it real while still keeping it fun. I want them to expect me to call them out on their shit and give them the tools to get themselves on track. I expect them to be 100% committed to making it work. Preparing to be coached is fairly easy, simply opening up your chest and pulling out your heart will suffice, of course, if that doesn’t appeal to you, having an open mind and heart in conjunction with a willingness to work on yourself is a good start.

Visit Melissa Pierce online.

Ryan Arnold

Arnold Creative is a dynamic, full service brand development firm steeped in the core competencies of a traditional integrated marketing firm and advertising agency. A decade of experience has enabled Arnold Creative to hone the skills that have left our clients raving about our second-to-none level of service.

If your business is in need of strategic brand direction, please contact Ryan Arnold.