It’s the year 2030, and in the western world, turning to a coach for life’s challenges is as common as 1-hour drone delivery from Amazon. It’s easy, it solves our problem and we don’t mind paying a little extra for the convenience.
In fact, in 2030 we have more resources than ever, and nearly everyone has access to them. When we’re hungry we log in to our food delivery service, when we’re sick we call our health coach, when we’re sad we chat with an online therapist, when we’re stressed we plug in our meditation helmet, when our spouse is upset we video chat with our marriage counselor and when we’re lonely we talk with our artificially intelligent personal assistant that “totally gets us”.
It’s not that we don’t have friends, we do — 7,825 of them to be exact, and at any time we can live stream our life and be connected with hundreds of people around the world. We have friends in 47 different countries! Who wouldn’t want that?
Loneliness, once considered an epidemic, has been rebranded. Instead of identifying ourselves as “lonely” we now say we’re “serotonin deficient” and thanks to breakthroughs in medicine, we’ve learned how to administer small doses of drugs so people can feel better with no risk of dependency — all without leaving the comfort of their home. After all, it’s only a $49/month subscription for the necessary supplements.
Then there’s the #luvwork movement, which has taken on the challenge of preventing suicide by helping to foster closer relationships at work through after-work gatherings, company-wide personal growth retreats and the occasional “office slumber party”. Now you can get all your intimacy needs met by your company!
We’ve found a way to solve all of life’s problems with a simple click. Yet for every problem we solve, two more arise.
And we justify all these additional expenses by running the numbers. We hire a consultant for $2000/month that helps us earn an additional $5000/month in income. It costs $50/day for our food delivery service, and our time is worth at least $100/hour so it makes sense for us to not spend our time shopping for and preparing food. Our meditation helmet costs $3500, but helps us get an extra hour of sleep each night, so it’s worth it.
We also run emotional numbers. In our moments of sadness, we could call our friends and risk looking bad, but we call our therapist instead. He gets us, he doesn’t judge us, and he always makes us feel better. Plus, if he doesn’t do what we want we can fire him and hire a new one.
When we need someone to talk to about our life, we call our life coach. She is so good at helping us vision into our future, and plan to be happy once we’ve achieved all the things we want to do. She’s like our on-call best friend. After all, she said that besides the 90 minutes a week we spend on the phone, her coaching is “virtually unlimited” and that we could email or call her any time we needed. Isn’t that what best friends say to each other?
Of course, we feel slightly guilty about this because she is a professional after all, but not like a doctor. They have working hours, and we see them in offices. Life coaches aren’t bound by those regulations. They can custom make coaching packages to each individual.
Is it okay to blur the lines of the professional-client relationship like this? Is it strange how much we look up to this person? How we spend so much of our time and energy pining for their love and approval? How we feel like they often know us better than our close friends?
Maybe they do. After all, we tell them things we don’t tell our friends. Our fragilities, our struggles, our secret dreams. We wouldn’t dare reveal ourselves like that to our friends — they might judge us, pity us, or secretly be jealous.
Come to think of it, life coaches do a great job of filling the role of “best friend” — aside from the fact that we have to pay for their time. But is that so bad? We can afford it. Actually, when you think about it, what would the perfect best friend look like?
Helping us through hard times? Check.
Encouraging our dreams and aspirations? Check.
Tough love when we need it? Check.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to hire someone to do that instead? Friends aren’t bound by any contracts or agreements, so they may not be there for us if we need them. Plus, friends always want things in return, and sometimes we don’t have time to focus on anyone else besides ourselves.
We used to be different.
We used to lean on people. We used to cry together, we used to share our misery instead of keeping it bottled up in our diaries. Our friends were imperfect, but so were we, and that’s what made it so great. We talked trash, we gave each other shit, and we wrestled in the dirt together.
We weren’t so lonely, and as a result we didn’t need to seek fulfillment though achievement. Where did we go wrong? When did we start replacing our friends with professionals? When did we start taking an Uber to the airport instead of asking our friends for a ride? When did we stop opening up to strangers? When did we stop trusting people? When did we start playing life so safe?
Life coaching and other similar industries aren’t the problem, they’re the temporary solution to a bigger problem. The bigger problem is that we’re tribal animals who have lost our way. We’re wandering the forest all alone, thinking our problem is we aren’t “empowered” enough to survive by ourselves.
We’ve accepted artificial forms of connection and forgot how much we need the real thing. We don’t touch each other enough. We’re afraid of admitting how lonely we are, so we convince ourself that a self-help program will fix us, when the reality is we simply can’t do it alone, and no amount of individualistic striving will fill us up.
Do you want to know what people really get out of Landmark Education and other self-development programs? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not transformation, it’s not possibility — it’s community. Like-minded people who gather regularly, read the same books and give long hugs. That’s what we actually need — regular gatherings, good conversations and hugs. We need community, not transformation.
The day life coaches replaced best friends has already happened, at least for some of us. It happened the moment we stopped opening up to our friends. It happened when we started thinking that we could get through life without a few bruises. It started when we believed the lie that we are the only person who could possibly feel depressed, sad or insecure. It’s not hopeless, but currently the path we’re on is forcing us to get worse before we get better.
I often worry about the spread of western civilization. I worry that what we’re exporting is not what people actually need, and that most people won’t be able to say no to the new way of life.
Then again, maybe our culture will come full circle, like what has happened with food. Farm to table, home-grown meals prepared slowly and with care is the most sought after food in our culture, and for good reason. It’s better, and we’ve all come to accept that.
Maybe some day, after we’ve optimized our life to the point where we have a coach for everything, apps that meet all our needs and an assistant to communicate with our friends — we might realize how far off course we’ve gotten. We might return to family dinners, neighborhood block parties, cuddling with friends and the simple pleasures of life.
Or we might not.