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WomanOf the Month 5-03: Cheryl Richardson

"I always felt somewhere inside that I was meant to do great things," says Cheryl Richardson, author, coach, speaker and producer. "But through my work with people, I also knew that we all have that sense—a knowing that we connect with early in our lives because we aren’t so influenced by life. The key is to unlock and use that potential." Today her web site, which is devoted to helping individuals make over their lives, boasts 50,000 members, with about 3,000 "Life Makeover" groups worldwide. Richardson has published three books and is at work on another. She accompanied Oprah Winfrey on the Live Your Best Life nationwide tour in summer 2001 and has produced and hosted specials featuring her work on the Oxygen Network and Public Television.

"I’ve seen myself as a community builder," she says. "I’m the oldest of seven kids and I did a lot of teaching to my little brothers and sisters. I see now that I was born into the perfect family for me. I can see the work of God in everything."

Richardson apprenticed in her father’s tax consultant business when she was in her late teens. She learned the tax code and embarked on what would prove a financially rewarding career. But it was the conversations she had with clients about the intimate details of their lives—debt, religious affiliations, medical issues, and the like—that she cherished. In 1984 a fire destroyed the business, and the transition challenged Richardson to reevaluate her life and work. "I realized that I was doing what a lot of people do—working in a field I was highly skilled at and made good money at, but which I didn’t love." Richardson left the family business and launched her own business counseling practice.

In the early ‘90s she was introduced to Thomas Leonard, widely considered one of the gurus of coaching. (He died unexpectedly at the age of 47 this year.) He had created a pragmatic and detail-oriented coach training program, and Richardson immediately enrolled. She completed a three-year master coach training program, became a professional coach, started a phone practice working with clients throughout the U.S., and began writing books.

While coaching is now a fast-growing phenomenon, "back when I was coaching, nobody knew what it was," Richardson says. "But as more people had the experience of having partnered with someone and seeing how quickly they could achieve goals, feeling so supported and loved and deeply cared for by somebody who truly cared about the quality of their lives, they told others about it."

The most successful coaching clients are action-oriented and have a sense of what they want to do or are committed to figuring it out, Richardson notes. They are highly motivated, and their lives take off. "The first thing I did when I entered into coach training was to hire a coach and focus on getting my own life in order. We all want that kind of connection. There are enough self-help books, videos, and television shows to tell people what to do—it’s doing it that’s the problem. That’s where having someone you have to be accountable to is a great motivator."

One of the most frequent questions Richardson hears is how does one figure out one’s life purpose, or passion? "Usually what they’re asking is, how can I do something about this life, this miserable, unfulfilling or empty life, so a lot of times the desire to get that question answered is based on what isn’t working in their lives. What someone is really saying is they want to feel something that touches them or moves them in some way. If you look at society, media, marketing, advertising, the ridiculous number of choices we have completely works against us. The world is set up to shut us down so we don’t feel anything. You’re trying to use your intellect to find something that will make you feel good and you won’t get that feeling from your head."

Richardson’s book, Take Time for Your Life, was written to "help people start taking some stuff off their plates and free up their time and energy." Life Makeovers, her next effort, was driven by her readers’ and online community’s response to her newsletters and makeover groups. Stand Up for Your Life, which Richardson considers the most important book she’s written, is "truly the life-changing work. It’s the inner process. If you do the exercises you will develop confidence and strengthen your character. Your life will change in miraculous ways."

With women increasingly becoming breadwinners and embracing personal development, Richardson says it’s time to consciously and actively support men’s personal development work. "Women are demanding that their spouses be more emotionally available, and many men don’t have those skills. In our online community we’ve created a place for men to show up, and I have a private coaching group for men every month. It’s been really amazing to see how vulnerable men are—how willing they are to tell the truth about what isn’t working and how hungry they are for support and community."

Today Richardson recalls something Thomas Leonard shared with her: "Boredom is the gateway to peace." She’s limited her speaking engagements this year and takes time out for friends, family, and downtime. "True success comes from the amount of time you spend at peace with yourselves and with loved ones. Fame and fortune really don’t mean anything at all. I hope I give others the tools or inspiration to change their lives."

Richardson’s biggest hope for women today is that they connect with one another under the guise of doing something to dramatically improve the quality of their lives. She also hopes they will become less and less tolerant of the crazy society in which we live. "I hope they’ll be ready to take radical action to change that."

For more information on Cheryl Richardson’s online