In high school I came up with a master plan for my life. I was going to excel academically and participate in extracurricular activities so that I could get into a good college. And the plan worked! But sadly, in my youthful shortsightedness, I didn’t plan beyond getting there, and soon found myself in a sea of too many options. I didn’t feel too bad though--everyone around me was feeling the same way…lost. I eventually figured it out and years later, as a working twenty-something, I realize these periods of feeling lost are cyclical. At different times in our lives we find our master plans don’t stretch far enough and we are unsure of our next steps. This is where life coaches like Nailah Blades come in.
Naliah Blades is a certified life coach who started Polka Dot Coaching after going through her own period of feeling adrift and unsure. She graduated from USC with a degree in Communication and ended up working in sales and marketing for a packaging company. Finding herself stuck in a career that didn’t quite fit, Nailah did some soul-searching and realized that when she thought about what she loved doing, she always came back to mentoring others. It hit her that her true calling would mean becoming a life coach--or as she calls it, “a clarity-maker for young women who are teetering on the edge of greatness.”
But what does this really mean? Is “Life coaching” just a new-age term for therapy? Does she show up to her clients’ jobs and cheer them on as they work? How do life coaches really operate? It seems like more people are using the services of life coaches and choosing this as a career path. The industry itself is booming. A study in the 2007 MarketData Report estimates that 40,000 people in the U.S. work as business or life coaches and the $2.4 billion business coaching market is growing at about 18% per year. When I got the chance to pick Nailah’s brain about it I had so many questions. She explained that while therapy deals with understanding your current state of emotions and the causes from your past making you feel a certain way, life coaching is all about moving forward. “My clients are saying I’m here now, how do I move forward? And I say let’s work on a plan to get you there” she tells me. Nailah hosts intense exploratory and planning sessions with her clients, asking them things like “What is your business vision? What problems are you solving?” She also has programs specifically tailored towards entrepreneurs which she calls “catapult sessions.”
Once Nailah explained exactly what a life coach does, I realized how helpful this type of counseling is to people of all ages. A professional perspective on life goals and planning could be so helpful in getting you closer to your dreams. “I get excited because I can see the potential in my clients from the first session even if they can’t,” she says. She takes on about 10 clients per month and works one-on-one with them for about three months. She says the length of time is important so that they aren’t rushed and it allows them to “understand who they are at their core. We brush this aside but it’s really important.” Once clients reach that “ah ha!” moment she doesn’t leave them to figure out the rest on their own, but instead goes on to make sure her clients have a really clear, strategic plan to get their careers on the right path. Her clients are mostly female because she caters to ambitious, driven women who just need an extra boost to get ahead of the game. “I can see that they are totally vibrant in their lives, they just need a little clarity.”
Some might wonder what they can learn from another twenty-something about getting ahead. But when you get to speak to Nailah, you realize she is absolutely fearless and her ability to communicate and encourage is so motivating I even felt empowered after our interview. The girl is good. And she is gaining a name for herself in her industry. She recently hosted a Fierce Leadership Summit in LA, gathering young women from many industries together and delving into what it means to take on a leadership role in the modern workplace. Nailah says that this topic is important to her because she believes “true leadership begins from within and radiates outward. You have to know yourself to be a good leader.” She says her mission now is to help women connect and feel comfortable with their own innate greatness, “That is when you are able to lead from an authentic place.” This is just a little taste of the truth she dished out regularly throughout our conversation. And her insights have helped so many already. In fact, her mission and work with Polka Dot Coaching was so in line with the goals of Made Woman Magazine she became regular contributor to our magazine.
A strong leader herself, Nailah took the plunge and became a full time entrepreneur about a year ago. She left her corporate job, where she worked with brands like Cheerios, General Mills and Dole, and devoted her days and nights to making Polka Dot Coaching grow. “It was hard to even walk into my boss’ office and tell him the news. But once I did I felt so much lighter.” Leaving behind a life path that did not inspire her changed the way she views life overall, even though not everyone was supportive at first. “People didn’t get it. But you have to find your support system” she explains. She went on to create measurable goals for herself based on milestones for her business and analytics to track her audience. She says her youth and the fact that she is all too familiar with that “lost period” in her career make her better equipped to coach young, modern female professionals. “It’s not just about working in pajamas for me. I really do feel called to help women and girls reach their full potential. We don’t play as big as we should. We don’t take those risks.”
Nailah plans to host more conferences in the future and is planning to co-host another one soon. You can find out about her one-on-one coaching sessions and her program for entrepreneurs here. She is definitely a twenty-something on the rise. But the best part is that she is taking other women to the top with her.