Gaby Mungo had a friend who spent 20 minutes of an hour-long therapy session explaining the meaning of “ghosting.” Mungo, 25, has never had this problem because her life coach — the paid professional she seeks advice from and kvetches to on a weekly basis — is 29.
It took some trial and error to get there, though. When Mungo was 21, she saw a therapist who was in his 50s. But their relationship didn’t last long. When he told Mungo she was overconfident, she got turned off by his style. “That, to me,” she said, “seems like the exact opposite of therapy.”
Like most good things in life, Mungo found solace through Instagram: She noticed the @betches account was running a 50-percent-off promotion with an online life coach agency called Blush. It seemed like a good deal, so she decided to give it a whirl. When she logged on for her first session, she saw a woman on the screen she thought could be her best friend. She was in her mid-20s, smart, and trustworthy. And she knew what “ghosting” meant.
Over the course of three years, the two women had weekly video calls during which Mungo would discuss things she wished she could’ve talked about with that first therapist. The chats then transitioned into career development and other aspects of “adulting,” such as how Mungo needed to open a savings account. It felt like a sorority-sister dynamic, Mungo says. She never once questioned her coach’s age.
“She gets what my world’s like,” Mungo said, “and that’s because she was there not that long ago.”
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t currently collect data on the number of folks who are employed as life coaches. But, according to a survey published last year and conducted by the International Coaching Federation, an organization of professional coaches, there are 53,300 professional coaches worldwide. It’s an over-$2 billion industry that doesn’t require that coaches receive any sort of special training or credentials, though there are accreditation courses through groups like ICF and Dale Carnegie Training.
Kali Rogers, Mungo’s life coach and the founder of Blush, was in her early 20s and living in Austin, Texas when she transitioned out of private practice counseling into life coaching. While many of the fundamentals of the two fields are similar, Rogers, now 29 and based in Los Angeles, felt that life-coaching let her instill a sense of realism in her work, a no-BS approach that hinged on her own life experiences — which includes all the messy stuff like breakups, post-college life, and career confusion. Rogers found that this mentality resonated with millennial women who weren’t necessarily at rock bottom but needed a little help getting their shit together in the real world without parents and professors there to hold them accountable.
“I don’t find my answers in textbooks,” Rogers said, “I find my answers by having conversations with people because that’s what millennials want to hear.”
This sort of authenticity is what drew clients to 25-year-old Carlee Myers’ practice. She, too, serves a large population of millennials, but also says about one-third of her clients at A Piece Of Positivity Studios are of retirement age. The similarity between these age brackets, she notes, is that they’re comprised of people settling into a new phase in life. Since Myers, who lives in Philadelphia, is still navigating the murky waters of adulthood, she finds the best way to give advice on adulting is through firsthand experience — something those she works with don’t seem to mind.
“I’ve encountered the question ‘You’re only 25, how the hell are you going to help me?’” Myers says. “My answer is ‘I don’t have all the answers, I’m just here to ask questions so you can answer them yourself.’ Once I start working with someone, age doesn’t come up.”
Hailey Yatros, 24, has been there, too. She began taking courses to earn her life coach certification at 18 and completed 400 hours’ worth of training by the 19. “I heard it all: ‘You don’t know anything about life. How can you help people with their life?’” Yatros said. But her age didn’t hold her back from helping people many years her senior. Once she began working with clients in their 40s and 50s, she realized it was more important to connect with their emotions than understand their specific life events.
One of Myers’ clients, 25-year-old Justin Malone, was a little skeptical at first. He talks to a therapist, has a job, is working on entrepreneurial ventures — why would he need a life coach? A coach who’s his age, at that? As it turns out, Myers’ millennial hustle (and her skills as a saleswoman) inspired Philadelphia-based Malone to instill more drive in his own endeavors, whether that be moving closer to Memphis, where he grew up, or changing careers. More importantly, he says, their relationship feels “chill,” and not at all like a pay-for-mentorship deal.
“Being able to talk to someone around my age is very beneficial to me,” Malone said, “because I not only look at Carlee as my life coach but also as a friend.”
The biggest selling point for millennial-aged life coaches is not that they’re a wealth of Urban Dictionary knowledge or that they could grab a beer with you after work (though those are both good things), it’s that clients see a person who’s going through the same traumas they are, without the generation gap. Mungo, for instance, shared with Rogers her chagrin when a contemporary who always liked her Instagram posts suddenly stopped. A middle-aged coach just wouldn’t get it, she says.
Despite the fact that these millennial-aged life coaches claim they’re trying to adult along with the rest of us, it’s clear they’ve perfected one thing: structure. They’ve gotten a little closer to work-life balance, they know life is more than an Instagram feed, they’ve mastered the post-college time management chaos. More focus on things outside of work will make the 9-to-5 feel less grueling, Myers says; you don’t have to buy a house or get married just because your friend does, according to Rogers; or as Yatros preaches, you can still be creative and carefree and have responsibilities. Adulting is cool because it’s kind of amorphous and, for millennials, a process that’s explicitly ours.
“Someone who is older is evidently wiser, but they’re not going to have the same touch that a millennial coach does because we understand what’s going on with them,” Rogers says. “I’m still going through it too.”