For most of her years in Washington, Sarah D. Beller has worked for Jewish advocacy groups and supported a retinue of others. A few years ago, however, she decided the time was ripe to shift gears professionally and start empowering individuals as an individual.
“My line of coaching is a hybrid of life, career and leadership coaching,” says Beller, 38. “It’s an intentional process that enables people to reach their potential professionally and personally.”
This interview has been edited for length.
You say that pursuit of a just world is important to you. What are the origins of that personal passion?
When I was in high school in Connecticut, my Hebrew school class took a trip to Washington, D.C., for a program called Panim. Rabbi Sid Schwarz told us about the legendary Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel “praying with his feet” in Selma, Ala., with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Then we served in a soup kitchen, participated in an interracial dialogue and learned about social justice work. I was overtaken by a desire to use my life to make a difference. And that never wore off.
What led you to move from working change through the masses to helping individuals one-on-one and in workshops?
Earlier in my career, I was searching for the right way to make change. Now I believe there are many right ways. It depends on your personality, your strengths, your life circumstances and what lights you up.
When I planned advocacy events for hundreds or thousands of people through J Street and HIAS, I experienced an enormous amount of fulfillment and purpose. But it was also quite stressful, and I was yearning for enriching, present conversations with individuals and small groups on a more frequent basis. I was ready to grow in a different way — deeper, rather than bigger.
I started coaching about two years ago, and as of January 2020 I am a certified coach through Presence-Based Coaching and the International Coach Federation.
What made you decide to focus on female and non-binary clientele?
When the #MeToo movement was revving up, I saw how people were finally talking about the unconscionable disempowerment of women in the workplace. I wanted to take that conversation a step further and ask, “If women felt safe, whole, free and powerful, what could be possible? What if we could create the change we want to see in the world?”
You’ve written that women struggle with “having one foot on the gas and the other on the brake.” Can you elaborate on that?
The women I work with have amazing visions for what they want to do in the world. Dismantle racism. Uplift women and girls globally. Spark a different kind of conversation about climate change. So that’s the “gas.” Where the “brakes” come in are the unfortunate ways so many women have been acculturated in our society. To doubt ourselves, to shy away from the limelight, to fear offending someone, to bend ourselves to others’ expectations. These patterns can get in the way of that larger pursuit, so through coaching we work on lessening their grip.
Even in your creative outlets, it seems like your passion for impacting the world is front and center.
Musically, yes. I sing in a women’s social justice a cappella group called SongRise, which I co-founded with Laura Honeywood 10 years ago. SongRise recently led a nationwide Juneteenth Solidarity Sing that was phenomenal.
I’m also working on my debut album as a singer-songwriter about personal and societal transformation. My style is folky and lyrics-based, after years of listening to Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Dar Williams and others.
How was your work affected by the pandemic?
I ask myself the same question I ask my clients: Where’s the intersection of what I have to offer and what’s needed right now?
One day in March, for instance, a client told me her office was closing the next day, and she was nervous about feeling isolated working at home alone. In response to the needs that I was seeing, I started holding “virtual grounding sessions” on Zoom so people could feel more connected and claim a sense of agency amidst the chaos. There was a tremendous response to these workshops, so I decided to start Wellspring of Strengths, a two-month group experience focused on identifying one’s authentic strengths and letting them be seen. It just wrapped up last week. The group was so supportive of each other. I’m planning to run the program again in the fall.