"My clients aren’t talking to me, but to themselves."
For Dennis Strik (51), it took a decade to find the right career path. Nobody who talks to him today can doubt this man really loves his job. Big smile: check. Twinkle in his eyes: check. We talked to Dennis about finding meaning and his journey towards becoming a Co-Active coach.
The job simply landed in his lap. No need to mull it over, Dennis admits today. ‘Had I spoken to a coach at that time about my motivation, it would have saved me a detour.’ After completing his degree in English at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and studying abroad at University College London for one year, he landed a part-time academic job at the latter. That’s when he started falling prey to the comfort zone, ignoring all signs the job was not an ideal match in all areas.
During the ten years that followed, Dennis grew increasingly frustrated with the mounting administrative pressures and strict hierarchies inside the academic world. Yet he hastens to add it wasn’t all bad.
"I actually really enjoyed the content of my work and I mentored students; young people who were living on their own for the first time and facing tough decisions. I really loved being there to help them."
When Dennis fell in love on a trip back home to The Netherlands, he found himself confronted with the question: why am I still in London? He said goodbye to the British capital, loaded his belongings onto the ferry for the Continent and started working full-time as a freelance subtitle translator. He had worked as a subtitler in the past to supplement his academic income in order to cover the extortionate cost of London life. This was purely a practical solution. Dennis enjoyed subtitling, but found it ultimately not fulfilling enough. So, then what?
One day while talking to an American friend who happened to be a Co-Active coach, Dennis had a breakthrough. For the first time, he realised the work he’d enjoyed so much in London, mentoring others, had a name: coaching. Next thing he knew, he had enrolled for the Co-Active (CTI) coach training.
"I knew right away: this is it. Lots of coaching methods focus on helping people to take action. But to do that, you first need to know what makes them tick. Finding motivators, taking control of your own life and making conscious choices—that’s what Co-Active coaching is all about."
Though Dennis never doubted his decision, he was not always entirely sure of himself. During the training, he had to coach his peers in the training room under the watchful eyes of an eager audience. ‘I was so nervous’, he recalls. ‘My heart was pounding through my whole body. But I wanted to keep going. To learn more. To go deeper. To get past myself. That’s how I knew I was on the right path. A door had opened, and I wanted to step through it.’
Yet, Dennis continued to be cautious, even after starting his own company, Prosper-Coaching. He was continually asking himself questions like ‘Am I doing a good job?’ and ‘Can I charge people for this?’ As a result, he mainly coached clients that actively sought him out. That all changed as soon as he earned his Co-Active Certification. ‘That gave me the confirmation I was looking for: I really knew what I was doing.’
By networking and building relationships, Dennis was able to earn his living as a coach and close the book on his freelance subtitling career for good. ‘Some coaches tell me they find it difficult to have conversations all day, but I just can’t get enough’, he smiles. ‘It gives me so much energy, especially when my client experiences a breakthrough moment.’
Yet, Dennis refuses to take credit for the insights his clients take away from the coaching experience. ‘I always say there is no reason to thank me’, he says, almost apologetically.
‘My clients are not talking to me, but to themselves. All I do is ask questions.’
Coaching is all about gaining insights into yourself, not giving the coach insights so he or she can come up with a ready-made action plan. It’s about helping coachees break through the vicious circle in their head without giving them advice or instructions – in the Co-Active philosophy it's the coachee that comes up with answers.
Co-Active coaching is a perfect match for our day and age, in which we take personal responsibility for our happiness. Nevertheless, some people still turn to coaches thinking they will find ready-made answers. It’s no surprise when you consider that people, from an early age, become accustomed to being told what to do. When Dennis tells his clients they will be doing the work themselves (with his guidance) they are usually quite intrigued. ‘That’s why I call myself a transformational life leadership coach. It’s not about having a fancy job title, but about showing that I focus on transformation based on self-management.’
So, does Dennis have any advice for those considering switching to a career in coaching?
‘If you’re thinking about it, there’s something inside you that wants to break the surface. You actually already know the answer, so give yourself a chance. And if the choice doesn’t turn out to be right for you, then you’ll still walk away from the Co-Active training a richer person. You learn how to connect, communicate and work with other people, and those are invaluable skills.’