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Meet Jim Hjort of Right Life Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jim Hjort.

Jim, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As an executive coach and personal coach (who happens to be a psychotherapist, too), I help high-functioning professionals who feel burned out or stuck on an achievement treadmill, procrastinate, or otherwise feel like they’re stagnating, to get unstuck and be energetic, empowered, and fulfilled once and for all. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that I do this work because I used to be one of those people.

For many years, I was in the commercial real estate and private equity industries. I claimed all of the traditional markers of success–things like VIP travel, material goods, and financial security–and to other people, seemed like I had everything I needed to be happy. But on the inside, it was a different story.

I felt like I was stuck on the inside looking out, as though the meaningful life I really wanted was passing me by. I felt alone, sometimes even in a roomful of strangers. I bounced between extremes of unhealthy living and dedication to healthy diet and exercise. My relationships were volatile and unfulfilling. I knew there was a better way of living, so I began a quest to understand how to do that.

I began a mindfulness meditation practice first–over 20 years ago, now–and read as much theory and research in psychology, neurobiology, sociology, and other life and social sciences as I could get my hands on. (I’d majored in psychology and sociology in college, so it was a return home for me.) I experimented and paid attention to what worked and what didn’t.

Over time, I figured out what really made me tick, deep inside, and how to align the external characteristics of my life with that. I started having good, healthy relationships, and the energy, confidence, and wisdom to act in ways that were aligned with my long-term happiness. I started volunteering on crisis lines to serve others, and begin to work out how others could benefit from the approach I’d developed.

Ultimately, I realized that I needed to make a big change in my work life in order to live most authentically. I left my business career behind to attend graduate school and devote myself full-time to helping others. Now I have the best job in the world for me: helping people thrive, from the inside out. Having a front-row seat to that process is truly the greatest show on Earth.

Has it been a smooth road?
It wasn’t a smooth road by any means. I faced doubt, resistance, and misinformation at every turn.

Other people often don’t want you to change and will stand in your way, either consciously or unconsciously. The messages we receive from society encourage us to find happiness in money, clothes, cars, white teeth, and all kinds of other fleeting, superficial pleasures that, ultimately, leave us wanting more.

But sometimes the biggest obstacle to growth is within us. My own process, of moving from merely surviving to thriving, involved doing lots of things that were difficult. Growth usually requires choosing the more difficult of two options, and it can be hard to do that consistently without support.

Sometimes I questioned whether I was asking too much of life and whether I might be better off settling for what I had. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad my road was rough, though, because it required me to create a roadmap. Now I use that to help others find the shortest and most efficient route to the productive, fulfilling, and deeply happy lives they want.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Right Life Project story. Tell us more about the business.
The Right Life Project is my platform for executive coaching and personal coaching, both for individuals and organizations.

My individual coaching clients tend to be professionals in the fields of medicine, law, entertainment, and business, and are often accomplished and well-liked, but feel stuck, stagnant, unfulfilled, and unhappy. Sometimes those feelings manifest as procrastination, self-doubt, substance abuse, or other thought or behavior patterns that don’t serve their long-term interests well.

With my corporate clients, sometimes I’m engaged to help with someone who is identified as a “problem employee,” or to help resolve workplace conflict. Other times, organizations bring me in to provide talks, workshops, retreats, consulting, and one-on-one coaching to leadership and staff. Forward-thinking companies understand that productivity, absenteeism, and morale all improve when employees are happy and engaged. So, I help organizations and their people help each other thrive at the same time.

What sets me apart is the depth of my training and my unique background. As a former business professional myself, I understand the challenges that my clients–both individual and corporate–face. My psychotherapy background enables me to provide coaching that goes beneath the surface to create deep, lasting change while being supportive of mental health.

Plus, I’m always developing new coaching approaches that are tailored to my clients, and grounded in the latest theory and research, rather than merely providing motivational speaking, or fluff. Most coaches lack such training, experience, and emphasis on results.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Mindfulness meditation is increasingly accepted as a helpful practice in the workplace, and I expect that trend to continue and hope that it will. As a mindfulness meditation teacher myself, I know that it can yield enormous benefits to individuals and in their relationships with others, so there are obvious benefits to implementing it in the workplace.

I think that executive coaching is largely stuck in old ideas about leadership, and a tendency to view employees as job descriptions rather than whole people. I hope to help change that.

The field of “life coaching” is currently populated by many people who, while well-intentioned, are untrained and, unfortunately, do more harm than good for many clients. I expect little change in that reality, and therefore a continued demand for personal coaches like myself who can help clients achieve true, meaningful, and lasting change in a healthy way.

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