My Interview About Imperfection as Muse

I was honored to be featured on the Blog of my recent alma mater, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I’m excited to have such a forum to talk about why I love my job and how I swear a lot.

The Road to Wellness: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

by Bridget Shannon

Sara Seinberg, who recently graduated from theHealth Coach Training Program in May, was stuck. She was working a good job, and doing some freelance writing and photography, but her health was a different story. For her 40thbirthday she made a big move and signed up for a marathon. Recognizing a powerful inner strength upon completing the race, she made the decision to get her health back on track, and the rest is history.

Sara is one of the most creative and authentic Health Coaches I’ve encountered, and she has a real knack for relating her own story to how she now helps others. She coaches people, out of her San Francisco practice, Seinberg Holistic Health Coaching, around nutrition, but also emotional eating and self-awareness. I got a chance to catch up with her recently, and her method of developing the inner critic into a useful tool, and her ability to attract the right clients are fascinating. This interview highlights her successful journey and what she’s up to now.

What led you to explore the Health Coach Training Program?

At 39 I realized I’d been living in my body rent-free for years. After a hunk of drug use, decades of emotional eating, and a nice side order of self-loathing, I decided to do something epic in honor of 40: the San Francisco Marathon. In July 2010, I finished it. The process wasn’t cute or heroic. I didn’t do well and I didn’t shine. What I did do was become a woman who could face her fears and blow her own mind.

Once I made that decision, I found the school in no time, and got right into it. I knew I could get healthy and hold space that would help others make their way to health too. If I could make my way to thriving from the places I had known, anyone could do it, and the beauty is that they could do it their way.

Which parts of the program had an impact on your success?

Debbie Ford! Also, Deepak Chopra, and Geneen Roth were very impactful.

I loved the coaching focused things and the spiritual topics. I know the root of any eating problems for myself and many of my clients has to do with shame or emotional landscape. I also love working with food allergies and helping people to navigate their way to healthier and happier lives.

How did your life change after enrolling?

I got back into the kitchen and began to really use my creative force for health. I focused on school while I worked and I had faith that the challenges I faced, like being a businesswoman, could be handled and I didn’t have to do it perfectly. I could stumble and blow it and get right back up. No. Big. Deal. It’s my actual job as a human to be imperfect, and I definitely had experience in that arena. I had more fun. I laughed more. I felt less stressed out and my skin glowed. I began to put my punkrock version of perfectionism down and practice being who I actually was.

Do you have any tips or guidelines for accepting and embracing imperfection?

In my newfound life of using imperfection as my greatest muse, the world is a thing of great expanse and beauty. In the world of perfection, the options, as you can imagine, are severely limited. The very fiber of the definition of humanity is the necessity of learning from mistakes. And so if I must make mistakes, my goal then is to make new ones. Make interesting ones. It begs me to try new things, go to a hula class and look hapless and not care. Am I trying to get a date? No. I am trying to move my body and appreciate it as it is today. Was I born to be an Olympic long distance runner? No. I wasn’t even born to be very good at all. But I was born into this body and to have the experiences of creativity, love, family, art, travel, connection and taste, I need to be living in this body. It is my home.

And so it is my job to upkeep the property of my life experience. I support people in coaching to find what makes meaning for them. Together we identify these things and then use experimentation and vast opportunities we have for imperfection to build the truth that it will not kill us. No matter how many times we fall out of a yoga pose, burn the brown rice or wear the wrong outfit to work, we continue on and we have room to thrive. And we may even discover a new outfit along the way.

What’s the connection between creativity and food? Does this concept play into your work inspiring people who have trouble letting go of inner criticism?

Yes! I coach people not to pummel their inner critics or banish them. Our inner critics have been with us through thick and thin. They know us very well and have an enormous amount of information if we pay attention to them in a way that is supportive. Instead of trying to dethrone inner critics, I coach my clients to install a seat beside them and offer the critic companionship. Together we develop their inner advocate who then banters with the critic. Once the client develops a relationship with this advocate, let’s call her Blanche, then there can be an exchange that slowly moves the balance of power within motivation. Because each client is inherently creative, not just artists, the creative process of bringing Blanche to life and giving her voice, style and swagger gives the client a jumping off point of using creativity as a major lynchpin to healthy living.

What makes you and your practice unique?

Well, I’m pretty funny. I approach coaching from a place of abundance, with an artist’s sensibility. I bring a lot of creative work into the practice, a lot of work around acceptance and using our inner critics as guides to shaping our inner advocates.

Then we make colorful, off the hook meals that we look forward to and love. There is no more kitchen dread.

How does your own journey to wellness inspire your clients and others around you?

Everyone has a story. In fact, it’s one of the only things no one can take from us. It is solely and always ours. I have my own journey to wellness out there on my site and to some extent in a blog I wrote but when my clients arrive, it’s always about their story. Our time is about them and their stories. Through asking a lot of questions, I cull strengths from aspects of their lives to use as support in their wellness journeys. For example, a talented manager uses incisive skills to encourage collaboration for a team at the office. I can use this skill to help them build a collaborative project outside work that will support their wellness, like a cooking swap co-op or a grab bag exercise group where each week a different member picks and plans an exercise for the group. I may use my story to relate to the client, but never at the expense of my story being THE story. I feel deeply committed to the narrative of the client being the most important ingredient to successfully establishing healthy, sustainable, fun patterns.

How do you help your clients be successful? Is there a standout session or relationship you can recall?

I am leading my first cleanse right now and my clients are all reporting huge amounts of focus. Spring allergies are vanishing and stress is falling away for people. The executives are sleeping better and the struggling artists are freer in their processes, unfettered by the expectations of the galleries and the critics.

My first 6-month graduate came to see me with recurring stomach problems, a desire to feel stronger, and to have more energy. She is an overworked teacher with a crammed schedule and a fierce dedication to her students. We used her sense loyalty to her students as a tool for her own health. She ran her first 5k the Saturday before our last session and her stomach problems have been gone for three months.

What do you love about your work?

I love that the exact right clients find me. I enjoy the sense I have of making a difference and also the idea that I can get out of the way and facilitate people making the changes that are best for them. I am not steering the ship. I am a humbled hand on deck and a witness to intense and gorgeous transformation. It’s incredible.

Is there anything you can recommend to other coaches who may be struggling with targeting a specific market or finding the right clients?

I’ve been a working artist and writer for about 20 years. My community was pretty well established when I came to this coaching work. Attracting the right clients to me had everything to do with being myself no matter how much I felt like no one would take me seriously or pay me to help them. I knew my journey was true and that I could help people make theirs true as well. Through my writing and photography, I built a website utilizing my own creative work to support my health coaching. I write articles frequently augmented by tons of photographs and I write the way I talk. I’m a very casual gal, I often swear like a sailor, and I have more tattoos on my hands alone than most people have on their whole bodies. It won’t work for me to try and pretend to be a buttoned up career professional girl straight out of Wall Street.

I find the right clients because I have a practice of coming up against my fear and shame and saying, “Oh, Hello. It’s you again. Here to tell me how I am not really enough. It’s been nice to see you, and I’m sure I’ll see you again very soon, but if you could excuse me now, I’ve got some work to do with people who can really honestly relate to me and change their stories about health to live the lives they dream they can.” I believe that it’s often shame or the struggle to be a certain way we think people want is what keeps us from really just showing up to do the work. School gave us everything we needed to begin, our tenacity and passion for change will keep us studying nutrition, fitness, and spiritual options for our clients, and through any kind of grace at all, it’ll keep us honest along the way.

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