Jayson Blair knows his new profession — life coach — smacks some people in the face like a bad punchline.
"People say, 'Wait a minute. You're a life coach?' That makes no sense,'" says Blair, the ex-journalist best known for foisting plagiarism and fabrications into the pages of The New York Times. "Then they think about my life experiences and what I've been through and they say 'Wait a minute. It does make sense.'"
Blair, 33, resigned from the Times in 2003, leaving a journalistic scandal in his wake. The resulting furor led the paper's top two newsroom executives to resign. Blair wrote a book, then mostly disappeared from view.
For the past two years, he has been quietly working as a certified life coach for one of the most respected mental health practices in northern Virginia.
"He can relate to patients just beautifully," said Michael Oberschneider, the psychologist who hired Blair and urged him to become a life coach. "Sometimes you just meet people in life who have these electric personalities. Well, Jayson is now using his talents for good."
Oberschneider, director of Ashburn Psychological Services, took an interest in Blair after seeing him lead a support group for people with bipolar disorder that Blair founded in his hometown of Centreville after being diagnosed himself.
Oberschneider said he took a long, hard look at Blair before hiring him, in large part because of his past, which included substance abuse. But he was impressed at the rapport Blair had established with members of the support group.
"Very few people can go through what he did and come back," Oberschneider said. "He really is a success story."
Some seek career counseling, motivational help
Blair says his empathy for his clients is his biggest asset.
"They know I've been in their shoes," he said. "I think it can feel a little more authentic."
"I am open about all the details of my problems and that allows people to know who they are listening to," Blair said.
The job itself can be varied. Blair might have 25 or so clients at any given time. Some might be seeking career counseling, including corporate executives from the Dulles technology corridor seeking advancement — a natural for Blair, who schmoozed his way through newsroom politics to land a premier reporting gig in his mid-20s without a college degree.
Others might have substance abuse problems, and some might simply have motivational issues.
Blair said he has thought about going to school for a psychology degree, but isn't sure if it would be the best fit for him.
"I don't really think too much about the long term," he said. "I like the idea that I can help people avoid some of the mistakes I made."