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June 27, 2023
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CONNECT 004: Jerod Turner

Death x Design Coach helping folks navigate life’s crossroads and restore their personal wellbeing.

I’m beyond thrilled to bring you this latest Q&A with my dear friend Jerod Turner. As a Death x Design Coach they create an environment where clients can disrupt, evolve, and build. As one of the few people that I allow to see fully behind my curtain and hold me, their approach to this work is something I deeply value. Jerod’s background in workplace strategy, design research, and as an architect was the perfect development ground for their life as a coach. Enjoy!

What brought you to this work?

I came to coaching along a long, zig-zag journey starting with design research. Since I was in high school, I wanted to do work that would help others realize their full potential. The way I thought I could do that was to become some sort of designer. As an architect, I felt distant from the problems folks were facing - a literal build-it and they will come. I personally felt empowered by the design process and that ability to be both imaginative and make something tangible. I wanted to bring that to others and empower them to shape the world around them and that led me to design research and consulting.

The focus was always on human-centered design and putting people first when we were making our recommendations. Over time, designing spaces wasn't close enough to the problem for me and I kept flirting with a career in talent development. That's what led me to the venture studio, where I could design products and services that had a much closer relationship to people and their problems.

Turns out, I loved their style of research where we conducted a TON of one-on-one qualitative interviews. I was paid to listen to folks and help them co-create potential solutions. They had a hand in the design and I had a hand in helping them move past an obstacle in their life. In my effort to be a better mentor and client partner in my firm, I looked into coaching and was instantly hooked after my first course.

Coaching, to me, is the ultimate human-centered experience. I don't offer advice, I don't offer solutions, but I do give folks the design tools so that they feel empowered to change their world for the better. It's an intimate, trusted experience and allows me to have the impact I was desperately craving in my past corporate roles.

Once I decided coaching was my path, the role of "death coach" developed as I became an entrepreneur. In some ways, it's a response to the whole field of life coaching and the pressure our capitalist society puts on each of us to grow and be more productive, more wealthy, more fit, more joyful, and more more more. It's like a spiritual Miracle Grow and unsustainable.

The reality is, we need death to complete the cycle alongside growth if we want a healthy balance. What do we need to let go of? What loss are we experiencing when life changes? What opportunities or dreams are we grieving?

If our life is like a garden, we can't just will plants to bear fruit. We need to weed and water with equal attention. There will be an end of our season and we need death to put nutrients back into our soil so we can prepare for our next phase of growth. And that recycling, composting, and metabolizing our life experiences like that isn't ideal or comfortable in a "good vibes only" capitalist system.

As a death x design coach, I'm not focused on physically dying or helping those at the end of their life, but rather all of the everyday deaths we experience when we make a transition. Every ending comes with a new beginning – whether that's a career move, relationship, or some other life change – and my role is to guide folks through those crossroads. I'm a death x design coach to help folks embrace change as a constant in their life.

What do you feel is important about the coaching work you do?

As a queer person, I'm more than happy to help my clients challenge assumptions and perspectives on their situation and their "normal." Sometimes, that includes acknowledging the scary, painful, and isolating experiences we face every day. Sometimes, that includes naming the systems you’ve been taught as immutable facts that actually harm you in the long run. If you want to combat your monsters under the bed, you have to shine a light on them. I can help shine that light.

One of those monsters is all of the emotions that come up with the concept of death. Letting go, grief, frustration, relief, longing, belonging - all of that gets bundled when we are at these pivot points in our life.

That’s why if you're having trouble making a decision, navigating a career change, or just trying to move forward with a curveball life just threw at you, death can be a great teacher. Change and death go hand in hand which is why I think change has become so hard for us to experience.

Death shows us how connected we are and what matters most. Our own mortality puts what we want and we prioritize in stark relief. When we make a change, often it’s to put us in a new position where we can survive and then thrive, otherwise we’d maintain the status quo. We don’t want to defy death, but recognize that we have a limited amount of time here to truly experience life on earth.

We leave a mark on this world by living and death is the moment where we measure our impact. Death is not a hunter, stalking and waiting to take you out, that you have to fend off. Death is a way to measure the world you've left behind and celebrate the life you lived, and does so with open arms. Death is delighted when you have lived the most.

So, don't save your dreams for your deathbed.

What do you feel is the best time for someone to work with a coach?

In my work, my clients come to me when they anticipate or are in the midst of a transition. Together, we find ways to help them make a powerful pivot into the next phase of their life and design new tools to help the build momentum in the long run. A single session can be magic, but just a handful of sessions can make this pivot a deeply transformative experience.

Compared to mentors or therapists, I’d say the best time to work with a coach is whenever you're feeling self-conscious – a great coach can turn that anxiety into wisdom and make you conscious of yourself instead, like a mirror. We use mirrors all the time to find blind spots, keep an eye on what’s holding us back, and reflect and affirm who we want to be. A coach can bring all of that too.

What do you hope clients gain from working with you?

I hope clients working with me have a greater clarity to keep moving forward in life. If I have equipped them with tools they built for themselves to design the future they want, I've done my job. In my experience, especially as a queer person, just having the right language can unlock so much emotion and imagination and that’s often what I see most in my clients. It’s not always an answer they are looking for, but the language that gives them release and momentum to keep going after they’ve been stuck.

Each of us has a unique personal model for how to live and I want my clients to know that they have the power to adapt, experiment, and enrich that model to produce the life they want to live. That’s why with every client I work with we focus first on a “values rolodex” - a tool that folks can use to structure their decisions, time, and priorities based on what is most important to them.

That tool in particular benefits from having a co-creative partner to build it with who can help you see what you might not or highlight what you might take for granted. But once it's built, it’s hard to imagine life without it because the applications and alignment is so powerful.

What's something that inspires you that you'd like to share?

I feel like I’ve talked a lot about death, but not enough about what got me here - design. Sometimes, once we break and let go of something, it’s time to build something in its place.

The question is what do you want to build and what tools do you need to so?

I love seeing folks feel like they’ve got some creative new tools in their hands. Everyone has a natural creativity and curiosity - it’s just a matter of finding the lane that works for you. We’re hardwired to solve problems and design is the perfect skill set for that.

And when you’ve shown people what’s possible, it’s inspiring to see them light up. We get so fixed on the problems and the solutions and what we’ve been told by others what will work only to see it fail - and to reclaim that agency and craftiness is so empowering.

In some ways, my coaching has been about giving others the gift of design so they can eventually DIY whatever change is next for them.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

As much as I embrace death as a metaphor, I also want to acknowledge that the emotions of and energy death are all around us. We are in a profound era of grief right now over what we have lost. The pandemic in particular changed so much and the rise of autocracy and new artificial intelligence brings its own waves of change, loss, and fear too. For those who, like me, advocate for social justice, we need to recognize that our opponents are feeling grief too. As a result of our efforts to fight for human rights, the world they knew is changing too. Anger, grief, resentment, celebration, relief, peace – these are all emotions that come with death which means that they all offer a promise of transformation if we allow it.

This is why death work is so important. If we forgo the loss, the letting go, the metabolizing of what we no longer need or want, we'll burnout or stagnate in limbo. Death is what completes the cycle so we have the energy to grow and transform ourselves so we can transform the world.

In the hero's journey, every hero enters "the underworld" and that is where the transformation happens. For the world to change, we have to be willing to walk through that same threshold and face those challenges. Each time, we will return to the world stronger, wiser, and with gifts to bring to our communities so that a new era can begin. That’s the rebirth that design offers.

If the idea of the hero's journey gets you excited and sounds like something you'd like to explore more, you can also check out Coaches & Dragons, a program I co-founded with Autumn Wade. We bring concepts from roleplaying games into coaching so that folks can experience personal development in a way that is creative and playful too.

About Jerod

Jerod Turner
As a Death x Design Coach, Jerod helps folks navigate life’s crossroads and design for wellbeing.
As a coach, they work with clients to learn from both death and design to affect personal change in their lives. Death shows them what to let go, what to harvest, and what needs to end so that a new beginning can take place. Design shows them how to take the momentum and distill it into action, create from imagination, and allow intention to manifest their desires. The reality is that this is not a before and after, but a constant dance of noticing, naming, claiming, and rebuilding that brings balance to a world obsessed with positive vibes and endless growth.

Find Jerod at - jerodturner.com and coachesanddragons.com

Jerod Turner