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It takes a village to help one man

May 29, 2003|Christopher Noxon | Special to The Times

When Robin Fisher Roffer needs career advice, she phones her business coach. When she needs help with her wardrobe, she summons her style strategist. And on those occasions when she feels uncertain about her place in the world, she calls her metaphysical therapist.

"I love coaches," she says. "I have a total posse. I do whatever it takes to make my life work. I have a nutritionist too. I live in L.A. I don't know how you survive without your posse."

A working mom who writes books, gives seminars on personal branding and runs three marketing companies, Roffer has a fuller plate than most. What's remarkable is that she manages to power through her schedule apparently free of the frenzy or panic that bedevil so many of her high-pressure, have-it-all peers. It's not all that difficult, she says.

"I give it over," she says. "The way to get control is to release control. It's an amazing thing. It's giving over to the nanny. It's giving over to the hairdresser. It's giving over to the coach and letting them help you get control."

Holding court in the living room of her immaculate Hancock Park home, Roffer certainly appears a whole lot more together than most working parents I know. I think of my own living room, piled high with plastic toys, half-read magazines and mismatched thrift-store furniture. While Roffer is doing Pilates or taking a conference call from execs from MTV, you're likely to find me at a desk jammed into the corner of my kids' playroom, eating fistfuls of animal crackers, obsessively checking e-mail and ignoring that 50-cents-a-word story I need to finish by Friday.

A moment later, Roffer swivels back. "Did I mention my eyebrow guru?" I'll skip the eyebrow guru, but I'm ready for the rest of it. Roffer is not much older than I am, but swallowed in the folds of her designer couch I feel like a slouchy kid on break from college.

Which was a fine way to feel five or six years ago, back in my floundering formative years, when the biggest things in my life were my five roommates, two pet chickens and a $600 car known as Doug. These days I've got a baby girl, a toddler boy, a wife in a high-stress job and a late-model minivan. I wouldn't trade any of it -- OK, maybe I'd ditch the minivan -- but the problem is, I feel as if I got all this great stuff without any operating instructions.

Scattered, schlumpy and almost entirely unversed in the exotic arts of self-improvement, I'm ready at least to entertain the seductive notion that the difference between us has less to do with tax brackets or basic character than with the people on our payroll. Maybe with some professional help, I could scrunch my sorry self into the driver's seat of a shiny new high-performance life.

After all, why should pampered starlets be the only ones with an entourage?

What I need, obviously, is a posse. I've already begun rounding one up. This visit with Roffer is actually the first stop in a weeklong experiment in personal improvement that will introduce me to a dozen of the city's growing legion of lifestyle experts. Filling out that lineup has been surprisingly easy -- Los Angeles, it turns out, is filled with people who will gladly tell you how to work, dress, speak, eat, exercise, play, pray, even breathe. So far, I've got a life coach, a business coach, a color consultant, a physical trainer, a nutritionist, a speech coach, a spiritual advisor, a networking coach, a style strategist, an organizer and a feng shui expert.

Professional nagging is in fact a huge industry, with estimates putting the number of full-time professional coaches (excluding sports coaches) at more than 100,000. What they charge can vary widely depending on each client's needs, with some corporate career coaches fetching more than $1,000 an hour for weekly phone sessions and organizers, spiritual advisors and wardrobe experts charging hourly rates from $50 to $200.

I keep a journal along the way and excise the most cringe-inducing material when the week is done -- I'll spare you the discussion with Dolores Kaytes, the organizer, about the wonders of vertical file storage or my talk with Avtar Wagner, the nutritionist, about recurring acid reflux. You're welcome.

Herewith, excerpts:

Monday, 10 a.m.

"Personal branding," I learn from Roffer, is all about taking the techniques marketers use to boost a company's business and applying them to individuals to help advance a life and a career. The whole proposition kind of gives me the creeps -- I have visions of sitting on a supermarket shelf, hollering, "Pick me! Pick me!" Still, I'm not so disturbed that I don't happily accept Roffer's offer of a three-hour freebie; she ordinarily charges $5,000 for the service.

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