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The personal development maze: Which one is right for You?

In the industries of personal development, leadership development, skill building, and professional performance, so many things and so many ways to reach the same results (more or less) are available.

But which of those routes are best for you?

Should you be looking into Therapy? Training? Mentoring? or Coaching?

To explain the main differences between therapy, training, mentoring, and coaching (seen from my humble perspective and experience over the last 15 years as a business/executive coach), I will use a metaphorical example:

Imagine you're driving a car (it's like being in the driver's seat of your (professional) life), and you're stuck in front of a red light that takes ages to turn green (like being stuck in this pandemic life, or having the feeling that your career is running in circles), then what would the effect be if you go into therapy, training, mentorship, or coaching?

Personal Development maze - Therapy - Bessern BLOG


With therapy, you will gain insights into which roads you have travelled and which turns you have taken to now end up before that metaphorical red light. You will clearly understand, in full detail, how you travelled and why you made the decision to take those specific turns at the time you were taking them. The therapist can also help you grasp and analyse why you made those choices, or even point out where you took a turn, even when you didn't realize you did it.

This "looking in retrospect" and problem-focused approach is very useful, because whenever the metaphorical red light ever turns green again, chances are pretty high you have learned from your past, which you can now implement in your future driving habits, to potentially make better decisions at the next turn you have to take.


Where therapy is very reflective and past oriented, and a therapist will help you clarify and comprehend what and why things have happened, training can be seen as a more preventive way of handling things. If you would have learned the city map by heart, and had gone through a training to take quick decisions when needed –, chances would be pretty high that you wouldn't end up in front of that red light; because you would have the knowledge that this specific about a red light taking ages to turn green, and because you would have been able to take different turns along the way, based on that knowledge.

At least, if you are able to remember and use the things you've learned during that training.


And that's where it becomes difficult. The devil is always in the detail. And it's not because you've learned something that you also know exactly how to use that knowledge correctly at the time when you need it the most. That's where a good mentor can be a game changer. A mentor is someone who is sitting next to you in your car. Compare it with a driving instructor, having the city knowledge of a taxi driver. He is able to tell you exactly what you have to do when you're stuck there in front of that red light. Perhaps he knows a better route and can instruct you with all the lefts and rights you have to take. And perhaps you know those routes as well (thanks to your training), but your mentor has the experience to travel those routes. Because the alternative routes might be scary for you, or very difficult to drive on. But that's not a problem then. You've got someone at your side who has travelled those routes a thousand times, and knows precisely how you have to deal with all the unexpected turns and pitfalls along the way.


As you can see, mentoring is already much more action-oriented. But you completely put your faith and trust in the hands of your co-pilot. Which doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially not if you're driving in an area you've never been before. But what if your co-pilot isn't as experienced as he pretends to be? Then things could become pretty dangerous, right?

That's why a coach isn't a full-blown co-pilot. With coaching, the decision power remains in your hands. You're driving because you know how to drive and you're good at it. In this particular situation, you're just a little stuck in front of that red light.

Thanks to the coach, you will be able to assess your options and look at different solutions. Perhaps you want to take a risk here and simply ignore that red light. Perhaps you want to turn around and take an alternative route. Perhaps it's OK to just wait until the light turns green. Perhaps you have to make use of this situation and grab your sunglasses out of the glove box, because the sun is clearly shining at the other end of the crossroad, and taking them out while driving can be dangerous. Perhaps you should turn your engine off while waiting, to save on fuel or contribute to the environment.

So many options to choose from, so many things to do,… and you thought you were stuck in front of that red light, right?

That's what a coach does. He/She clears your thinking, makes you look at the same situation with different eyes, and makes you go over all the alternatives that lay in front of you, letting you pick one of them - based on what you truly want to achieve or where you truly want to end your drive - and guides you in making it a reality.

So, which one is right for you?

Perhaps there's not just one answer to this!

Perhaps you need a combination of the different methods.

Or perhaps you need different methods at different stages of your development.

So there's no one right answer, but with the right partners at your side, you will be able to navigate the maze of development effortlessly!


Dennis Fredrickx

CEO and Coach for Ambitious Leaders at The Happiness Factory


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