Lauren Zander describes herself as a “wild bird” who grew up on Long Island, shaved her head in high school, excelled in sports and studied ancient Jewish texts. “I did not make sense,” she says.
Since then, the 42-year-old has tapped her unique experiences and worldview to become a highly successful life coach. She consults with dozens of august businesses, from Sony BMF and BASF Global to the New York Times and Vogue.
The methodology she created to motivate her corporate and private clients is informed by an emphasis on self-knowledge and an “in-your-face approach.” It’s a combination that she and her team of coaches has used to help countless individuals redesign their lives.
“We’re going to teach how to keep promises to yourself, we’re going to make you make a list of promises you need to keep, and we’re going to figure out what you’re not doing and make you do it,” she explains.
Zander’s coaching system is taught in more than 26 programs, courses and universities, including MIT and Stanford, where she and her team of pros bring “real life” experiences into both the classroom and the boardroom.
Whether she’s meeting with executives in the White House or writing for the Huffington Post or Businessweek, Zander’s approach is not about prescribing a staid set of rules; it’s about spurring people’s passions and teaching them to fall in love all over again — with their work, their day-to-day lives and each other.
EL | Your coaching system is called the Handel Method. What is it, and how did it get its name?
LZ | Handel is my maiden name, and the method provides a structure and tools for designing your life and developing your personal integrity. It’s based on transparency and asking the right questions so you can assess your life, self, personality, past and the actions you’ve taken. After that, you can start to envision what you’d like your life to look like over the next five to 10 years and begin to figure out how to make that happen.
I’m not telling people what to do differently; I’m teaching people how to do it differently. I break down fear and demand honesty, but in a beautiful, self-loving way. It’s a kick-ass process!
EL | What are the biggest barriers to change?
LZ | I think being human is an amazing privilege — and I think that we are often really bad at it. People don’t know how to get unstuck. They don’t understand that they’re a creation and a mystery, and that they can evolve and develop. It’s just not something we’re taught.
EL | How did you end up teaching at MIT?
LZ | I had been teaching for years and my dream was to get into universities. I met a professor through a client of mine. He was very interested in the results his friend was getting, so I offered to teach him. He loved the Handel Method and I asked him if he would help me bring it to the universities of the world. He said yes.
EL | How can life coaching enhance the academic experience?
LZ | There’s so much knowledge and information in the world and yet no one teaches us the really important things, like how to keep a promise to yourself and how to deal with personal crisis, or how to fall in love or even what love is. There is no deep education on how to live and express your true self, and that’s blasphemy to me.
EL | If someone wants to make a change in his life, where should he start?
LZ | I always like to start with the vision, the dream. Then I ask people to rate their life: What’s the truth about where you are, referenced against what you wish it looked like? Tell me why you can’t have it, why you’re stuck there. That’s a thumbprint of how a person thinks, how they got stuck, and how they think about themselves and what’s between them and getting what they want.
EL | What would you tell someone who is dealing with a midlife crisis or who just feels stuck?
LZ | A person who’s stuck in a midlife crisis is scared to change their life, to dismantle what they have, to mess up. Even though the current reality might feel terrible, the unknown seems worse. People don’t trust life, themselves, the future, or change. Again, it starts with the vision and developing the personal integrity to fulfill that vision.
EL | Speaking of change, I see you’re wearing some beautiful feathers in your hair these days. That’s a departure from your typical style, isn’t it?
LZ | Yeah. I went to Burning Man this year and decided to try this look just for fun. After I returned, I found I didn’t want to take the feathers out. I was so happy to feel free and do something different. Seeing the feathers connects me with that feeling, and reminds me that anything’s possible.
EL | You write for the Huffington Post, and you continue developing projects for TV while coaching and teaching. How do you decide whether a particular endeavor deserves your energy?
LZ | I have a very serious commitment to a 40-year vision of everything I want to get done. When you live in the vision, you can assess whether a particular choice is in line with the vision. The vision is always informing me if I can do something or not.
EL | What’s next on your horizon?
LZ | For two years I’ve been working on a really cool, interactive, online video-based program called Design Your Life, where I present my entire coaching method, with homework, just like I would for a private client. Except instead of costing several thousand dollars, this costs a couple hundred. This prototype is my solution for reaching millions of people. It’s my dream of how I’m going to turn the self-help world on its head.
EL | What are your best tips for making New Year’s resolutions stick?
LZ | Make your goals specific and make them public, so everyone knows. Commit to a real end-date and create consequences for inaction that are realistic, but keep you on the hook.
Casie Lukes is an editorial intern at Experience Life.