Put Me In Coach

There’s always that one person who breezes into section, not a hair out of place, seemingly carefree. When she opens

There’s always that one person who breezes into section, not a hair out of place, seemingly carefree. When she opens her perfectly organized folder, a straight A paper peeks out. As she leaves class, her cell phone rings with a call from one of her many admirers.

According to Dennis Gaudet, this picture-perfect life can be yours—for a small fee. He promises a better life, with “virtually no concerns or problems.” He brags that he can help you get “as many truly great friends as you want” while showing you how to “have great time in life.”

Though he promises the moon, Gaudet is no fairy godmother. He’s not even a licensed psychologist. He is, by his own description, a life coach. So far, six Harvard students have signed up for his daily dish of encouragement, enthusiasm and empathy.

Each week, 45-year-old Gaudet speaks with his client for a few hours on the phone, helping them to form concrete plans for achieving abstract goals. He says, “Coaching is very experimental. I try to get people from where they are to where they want to be.” Gaudet continues, “It’s like being in a lab—sometimes you get a cure for cancer and sometimes you get glop. It’s okay, you just try something else.”

Though Gaudet is not at Harvard as an official campus life coach, he is an University employee. On a typical day, he works as a teaching assistant for the Extension School, teaching several classes a day in both introductory psychology and basic math. Outside the classroom, Gaudet spends much of his day on the phone, talking clients through all sorts of personal issues, ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. “I actually had a client who wanted to work on his relationship with his dog. The man was a control freak and his dog was apparently a free spirit.”

The Boston native emphasizes that life coaching is different from therapy because of the former’s emphasis on concrete methods, as opposed to Freudian free association. Despite this, Gaudet certainly sounds like a therapist, admitting that his coaching “always dove-tails back into the personal,” he says. “The best thing I can do is to provide a place for people to be vulnerable. This is typically not allowed in society.”

Stephen Blinn, 29, an employee at the Undergraduate Degree Office and a student at the Extension School, has only positive things to say about Gaudet. “I’ve been working with him for about three years, and I’ve seen improvement in my diet, my exercise, my working—my lifestyle basically.”

In his male-dominated clientele, Gaudet has noticed a pattern: the “big fish in a small pond syndrome.” He explains, “Attending this University comes with a lot of expectations. Kids feel that they need to live up to the name. Either they’re legacies and it was ordained from birth that they attend, or this is their first step up, and they feel like they don’t fit in.”

For Gaudet, the coaching doesn’t stop when the clock strikes five. He says, “My guy friends sometimes pull me aside to ask for advice. I have to make it clear if it is an off night.” Laughing, he says, “I tell them, ‘Do you want me to answer as a life coach or as a friend?’ Because if you want me to answer as a life coach, I’ll send you a bill.”