Jeannelle Perkins-Muhammad has an assortment of elephants in her office. She encourages her clients to pick up one when they want to talk about the thing that no one else wants to talk about during a family life coaching session.
When you hold the elephant, you can say, “This is what’s bothering me. This is what hurts,” Jeannelle says.
Jeannelle loves elephants because they travel in all-female herds and they come to each other’s assistance when another member of their herd is being threatened. “At the end of the day, we have to hold each other together,” she says.
Jeannelle learned from working with her own family business in Maryland that the dynamics of families can be challenging. She says her family members mostly got along, yet some business decisions were still difficult.
She’s also worked with military families in Japan, helping them transition out of the military and begin their next phase of life. After six years in Japan, she and her husband moved to Charleston, and she went into private practice as a life coach and marriage and family therapist. She is working on her doctorate in counselor education and supervision at Capella University.
As a life coach, Jeannelle — who has a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling therapy — helps women and families figure out how their businesses, their families and their social lives connect so they stay balanced and no one aspect of their lives takes over.
“We need other women to say to us: ‘It’s OK to want to have it all, but not necessarily to be able to do it all, and I’ve got your back,’” Jeannelle says. “It’s hard to be authentic about the fact that that’s challenging.”
Jeannelle believes there is strength in vulnerability. “When you’re vulnerable, you’re authentic,” she says. “When you’re true to yourself, you’re your strongest person.”
She says she often hears from her female clients that they need to focus, that they aren’t able to accomplish their goals. “They are busy doing things rather than being focused,” she says.
When a client says someone is preventing them from being able to focus, Jeannelle asks if that person — whether it’s a partner or a boss — knows how they feel. “We are not being assertive enough in our communication,” she says. She encourages clients to practice communication “so there is no question” about what you need. She suggests using language such as, “I would feel more comfortable if you,” and then filling in the blank.
“That can be difficult for women. We’re often raised not to express too much power about what we like because then you become that other word,” she says. “Being assertive is just about being clear.”