Wendy Petersmeyer admits that it’s a little challenging to explain what she does: “As recently as six years ago, I wondered, ‘A life coach? What is a life coach?’” The coaching profession has seen explosive growth over the past 20 years, and the number of job titles has grown along with it. To be more precise, Wendy refers to herself as a certified professional and personal coach, who works with management teams in the business sector and individuals privately. It’s important to be specific, because it can get even more confusing. If Wendy simply says, “I’m a coach,” she typically hears, “Do you coach a sport?”
In fact, Wendy used to coach skiing (which we’ll get to), but that’s not her current focus. She personally embraces Webster’s definition of a coach (the vehicle variety) to facilitate understanding. “A coach takes you where you want to go,” she relates, extending the definition into a metaphor. “I’m sort of an Uber driver, right? I pick up the client and they want to go to a different career or they want to have more satisfaction in their personal life. Hopefully, they jump in the Uber with me, and we figure it out together.”
Wendy earned the credentials to do this work, but her own experience with tackling change adds an extra layer of credibility to her vocation. She grew up locally and graduated from Stanford with a communications degree with an emphasis in journalism. After a stint at a TV station in Monterey, she got married and moved to San Francisco, where she morphed into an advertising executive, eventually running big accounts like Sprint for J. Walter Thompson. “That was probably my most challenging job,” Wendy reflects. “I loved it. I was sort of the hub of the agency. As account manager, the buck stopped with me.”
As her husband advanced on a busy Silicon Valley track, the couple started a family when Wendy was 31, and it became clear that juggling two fast-paced, demanding careers was too much. “Between the lack of flexibility and the lack of technology at the time, I knew it would be really difficult to continue in advertising,” Wendy says. “We didn’t even have a fax machine at work.” After the birth of their first daughter, Wendy took a part-time job at Sunset Books, but when their family expanded to three children in five years, the couple made a work-life balance decision for Wendy to take care of the kids full-time. Or, as she now refers to it in coaching lingo, she took a “gap” or a “break.”
While raising their three daughters in Atherton, the family spent time at Sundance Mountain Resort, and that’s where Wendy eventually took the first step in self-discovery at a new stage in life. “As my kids learned to ski, I started taking lessons,” she recounts. As she grew more accomplished, she realized she had a valuable skill that she could now articulate to others. “I told them I’d be really interested in teaching,” Wendy says, which led to eight years of ski coaching work over weekends and holiday breaks. “I had an opportunity to be my own person, instead of someone’s mom or wife. I found it so rewarding on so many levels and asked myself, ‘How can I extend this experience into my day-to-day life?’”
Serendipity stepped in to answer her question. Unexpectedly gifted with a session with a life coach (“I didn’t even know what life coaches were.”), Wendy confirmed her strengths and values mapped to coaching and teaching: “I decided I wanted a new career where I had an expertise in something I could offer to others.” Starting in 2013, with a clear focus and renewed direction, Wendy set a course of study for herself that included becoming a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. “I wanted a foundation of experience and tools instead of just hanging out a shingle and putting my name on it,” she explains. “I wanted that background and that toolkit.”
Now firmly established in her coaching career, Wendy offers both individual and team coaching but definitely has a sweet spot for women dealing with transitions. “I’ve been through many transitions in my life,” she reflects. “And I think as women, there are a lot of transitions that are difficult—like having a child for the first time and how that changes your life, and then as the kids leave and trying to figure out your life as an empty nester, especially if you’ve taken a break. That’s one thing I’ve tried to help women with, given my own journey.”
Clients typically come to Wendy in an “unsettled” state, recognizing that they’re confused or dissatisfied. She’s quick to clarify that coaches and therapists play different roles, to ensure that what she’s offering is indeed the right fit. Whether it’s identifying a new career path or a meaningful outlet, clients find it helpful “to have a genuine conversation and take the mask off.” As Wendy shares from her own experience, “I think people want recognition and acknowledgement and for someone to really focus on them and help them see themselves more clearly.”
With 2019 representing a fresh start and an opportunity to initiate change, Wendy offers the following counsel: “If we sit and wait for something to happen or we ruminate, we tend to just get more stuck, caught up in analysis paralysis,” she says. “If there’s something you’re motivated to do, and you’re feeling like you’re not sure how to go about it, just identify one small action you can take. It might take 15 minutes. It might take an hour. But just go try something.”
Wendy says taking small steps gets you moving and motivated—and to keep in mind that the point of this experimentation isn’t the outcome. “From action, you have some experience you can reflect on. Action leads to learning, which is incredibly valuable,” she emphasizes. “The lessons you learn fuel more action, which in turn can lead to more possibilities and unexpected opportunities.”
wendy’s 2019 “fresh start” tips
• Make a list of small action steps to break down your goal.
• Ask a friend, colleague or coach to hold you accountable.
• Keep the list simple and affordable.
• Set short-term deadlines, realistic with your schedule.
• Experiment and don’t be afraid to fail.
• Have fun and when in doubt, keep going.
wendy’s recommended reading list
The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay
Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges
Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Make You Win by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz