Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Take me out, coach. I'm ready to play..."*

Facing deadline pressure aplenty--some of you have commented on the relative dearth of fresh material of late--I thought I'd take the opportunity to give about half of this post over to another "guest column" by SHAMblog regular Cal, who has about as keen an eye for bright, shining new examples of SHAMistry as any of us.

Cal writes, now, with regard to another article about life coaches in the New York Times of April 11. This one's on "retirement coaching," a supposed specialty for which, Times business writer John Leland notes, "there are no accreditation requirements...and no one tracks how many have hung up shingles in recent years." Here, as we've seen with so many other SHAM sub-specialties, consumers who avail themselves of the programs and methods are treated to still more general burble that's carefully package as individualized, personally relevant advice. Leland draws the reader in by recounting his own experiences with the $39.95 tutorial progam for an online retirement-coaching service, My Next Phase; he describes it as "the lastest entry in a suddenly teeming field of books, coaches, life planners, motivators, counselors and spritual guides that promise to help retirees and near-retirees customize and accessorize their coming years the way Martha Stewart helped them master the home." Overall, Leland explains the trend thusly: "The unexamined life, Socrates said, is not worth living, but an unexamined retirement is a marketing opportunity."

Because we're not constrained by the diplomatic mindset that governs editorial policy at the Times, we'll say it this way: Retirement coaching is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing assault on the Baby Boom generation (and its money) by the vast and predatory marketing juggernaut that has made an industry out of staying in step with Boomers at each stage of their sybaritic lives. No doubt the next phase of this coaching outreach will be "Getting the Most out of Death."

With that as preamble, we'll let Cal take it from here. He was intrigued by Leland's piece, he writes, because "both my parents are nearing retirement and I know that their retirement plan is going to be different than many." He adds, "working in the financial world I find it absurd to pigeonhole a generation of Baby Boomers into a computer program about the next phase of their life."

Cal continues, "Why this concept doesn’t work, like all the other concepts of SHAM, is that it relies on a program designed for the masses to help the masses, [which is] especially true in this case because it revolves around a computer program, not a specific coach. The computer program is the coach." Though to Cal's read, Leland is somewhat ambivalent about the value of retirement coaching, Cal feels that Leland "leans more towards" the idea that it's a bit of a boondoggle: "He writes that Baby Boomers who are transitioning closer to retirement (or those that may already be there) approach it as 'an undefined regimen that involves soul searching, emotional self-examination and motivational counseling.' All SHAMbloggers can pick out the words that make this concept laughable: soul searching, emotional self-examination and motivational counseling.... He quotes a director of the National Academy on an Aging Society who states that those transitioning into retirement are thinking, 'How am I going to move from material things to meaning? They're the first ones going into this new territory, so you can see they they're reaching out to mentors.' " But, asks Cal, "Who qualifies the mentors or coaches?"

We already know the answer to that one: Nobody does.

Cal notes that he could "could go on and on about this article and outline the reasons why these coaches" can't deliver on their promises, but to sum it all up, "I can tell you that I wouldn't trust my retirement with a 'coach' that is not certified in any way to plan my life savings. The answers these retirees are looking for surely will not be found through soul searching, emotional self-examination and motivational counseling."

Amen, Cal. Couldn't have said it better myself.

* apologies to songwriter Randy Newman.

No comments: