Cator Sparks has been a dear friend of mine since I moved to Charleston. While we first bonded over more frivolous things - a love of all things fashion and caftan - our friendship  really solidified over the years over real life stuff... our struggles, hopes, dreams, fears, always shared with panache and a heavy dose of humor. During a transitional and stressful time in my life we would meet for early morning paddleboarding sessions on Isle of Palms and inevitably somewhere in between launching our paddleboards into the bay and our parting cup of coffee and after our talks, I would feel at peace with my life for at least that day. From fashion editor to life coach, I do think Cator has truly found his calling. He let me into his beautiful home and garden in Charleston and (from a safe 6' away of course) talked to me about his professional and spiritual journey that led him here.
Cator Sparks in his Charleston garden
1) What inspired you to take this detour in your career and pursue life coaching as your next chapter?

Wellness and spirituality have been a big part of my life for some time now, but I always assumed they would just remain part of my personal growth as I could never imagine what I could do to support myself and work in my favorite fields. Several years ago I lost my job at a men’s style site and dipped back into the freelance writing world, and while I loved connecting to old friends and learning about the newest luxury yacht, hotel and watch, it simply wasn’t tickling my fancy like it used to. Also, the publishing world has changed a great deal and the pay wasn’t what it used to be at many publications. So I did what any caftan loving man would do and spent a long weekend at Ananda Ashram in upstate New York. I sat with my feelings and talked out my ideas with some divine old hippies and realized life coaching is my calling. I’m not one to dilly dally so a week later I had signed up with one of the top coach training organizations around (CTI) and had our dear friend Mary Mac help me launch a website. Once I announced the move, my life coach in Sedona called me and said, ’Now this makes sense! I could never understand how someone as tuned in as you are could be an editor of a straight man’s website!’ Truer words were never spoken.
Cator's whimsical living room in his Downtown Charleston home
2) What does a life coaching session typically entail?
In coaching we always form a design alliance and then set the topic and agenda. The alliance gives the client the chance to let me know the most effective way I can support them. For the coach it allows me to lay the ground rules, i.e.: I will call you at the set time, please be prompt, this is strictly confidential, may I ask you challenging questions? etc…
As for the topic, that is what the client brings to the table. At the beginning of each session I simply ask, ‘What would you like to talk about today?’.
 Say the topic is ’the relationship with my boss’, then I ask something like, ‘What difference will exploring this topic make for you?’.
And we are off!
I listen fully (words, tone, body language) and ask empowering questions such as ‘What is important about that?’,  ‘What’s stopping you?’, ‘What does your heart tell you about this?’
 We work with their core values/life purpose/inner allies (all of which we discover together in our first session), and I often times give homework that they can bring to the following session.
 In coaching 80% of the learning happens after the call when a client has time to reflect and dig deeper.
I also meet with all of my clients via FaceTime/Skype/Zoom so I have clients across the country, and we can still meet during the pandemic!
3) How is life coaching different than therapy?
The short answer is, in therapy you talk about the past, in coaching we talk about the future.
4) How do you recommend managing our anxiety during the current challenges we are facing?
First and foremost, be kind to yourself. In this situation, this isn’t something you caused, it is a bit beyond your control.
Do things for yourself you may not normally have time to do, an online yoga class? A book you have wanted to read? Calling old friends or the elderly who may feel especially isolated?
Granted, there are many families now in the same house for several weeks with a bunch of children who need home schooling! Even then, bake your favorite brownies with the kids, wear your most decadent jewelry while home schooling, crank up Lizzo while bathing the babies!

This is also a once in a lifetime event, so know that it is natural to feel fear. But here is where the work comes in - what are you fearful of and why?
If you have time, write it down, let it out, look it in the eye. Avoiding the fear can take up much more time than confronting it.
Fear is about the future so do your best to stay present. I often use the statement, ‘In this moment I am ok!’ And we all must understand that this too shall pass.
Community is a huge help right now. Call your friends and family. Sign up for Marco Polo and leave fun video messages for your friends. I have even been posting video story time for one of my friends sons and it has been a welcome distraction for us both.

 5) Has meditation helped you? How?
 Immensely. If you aren’t familiar with meditation, I bet you have said your prayers on countless occasions. Same thing! It’s a time to sit, be still, be quiet, and be alone with your thoughts. Mediation can be two minutes or two hours. It’s an important routine in my day to just be and see what comes up. Certainly through this pandemic I have bent over in a flood of tears, other times my heart is swollen with gratitude. It’s a time to set intentions (I want to let go of fear, I want to love myself more, I want to spend less time being angry) and also ask the universe for help (help me find that next big career move, help me find a loving partner, help me find peace with that friend). It is VERY hard for me to not think of anything when meditating. I have full blown monkey brain, but from time to time I can focus on that white light shining down on me, feel a tingle of divinity and let the stillness recharge me. It is a beautiful thing. I highly recommend the Insight Timer app. It is an amazing resource for meditation music, courses in everything from self love to rising above social anxiety. Plus they have dreamy sleep music and a social media angle that connects you to like minded people in your community.
Visiting the Closet Case Thrift Store in North Charleston, SC
6) You are on the board of We Are Family. Tell us a little bit about it as well as Closet Case Thrift.
2020 is a big year for us - we turn 25 this April! We Are Family is a Southern Grassroots non-profit organization that provides affirming spaces for LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, etc.) and ally youth up to the age of 24 through direct support, leadership development, and community engagement. We served 406 youth in 2019 through our peer discussion groups and special events such as Queer Prom and Spirit Day. We also have a Parent Space for parents of our youth to have a space to connect and learn from each other. While we had to postpone our 25th anniversary festivities, sign up for our newsletter on our site and we will be posting new dates when we have them. Also, our Instagram account is hella fun to follow.
 Last year we moved into a building in North Charleston with enough room to open our thrift Store, Closet Case. The store is gender fluid meaning clothes are not separated by gender. We are currently closed because of the pandemic but be sure to check out our Poshmark page that gets updated daily!
Deirdre Zahl