After two hugely satisfying careers I found myself, in 1991, a victim of the economic recession and was made ‘redundant’. Such a horrible word but you have to get your mind around the fact that it was the job that was no longer, that you were still ‘you’. Taking a personal stock check is a hugely cathartic process and so essential at certain times; this was one. Friends said: ‘Stay with what you know (the Defence Industry); now is not the time to change’. But my own stock-take had confirmed lots of transferable skills and I had always been attracted to some sort of PR role, maybe even advertising. So I networked and, although I wasn’t successful in finding something in those sectors, knew it was possible to do something different. A couple of months later I found myself poacher turned gamekeeper, as I got a job helping people who were unemployed!
When the recession finally ended, the stream of unemployed executives needing assistance dried up, but I had learned enough about the ‘unlocking your potential’ process to sell myself as an executive coach. Often people firstly think of the reasons why they can’t do something, whereas a change of thinking might unlock a new path, an alternative thought process which reinforces the reasons they can do something. It’s the challenge for those of us who work with others to assist in finding the key that unlocks that process.
Although I have hung up my toolbag, yesterday, exceptionally, I had a session with someone who needed help. I still get excited by starting with a new client, even after 22 years! From the many hundreds of clients, here’s one story that I remember vividly, as it demonstrates how simply talking to someone can be so beneficial. I have changed the names and situation a little.
A friend suggested that Sally came to see me as she was due to come to the end of her current contract in the Metropolitan Police and had admitted to being rather unsure of what she, unmarried and 29, wanted to do next. She sat down for our session, actually quite confident and self-assured. So I asked her what she wanted to talk about, did she know what she wanted to do next.
“Probably advertising!” she replied, although I detected the slightest suggestion of doubt in her voice.
“OK!” I said, “So why have you come to see me?”
“Well, you know, simply confirmation that this is the right thing to do.” I didn’t know Sally, and to make some judgements, I had to understand a little of her background.
So then we started the tale, from the beginning; how she had actually wanted to become an internet webpage designer, seemed to have a gift for it, but her father had other ideas, wanting to see his daughter ‘do something with your life’ – suggesting of course that webpage design wasn’t quite the right thing! Her elder brother was equally adamant. Funny, and sometimes tragic, how family pressure can seriously affect the decisions you make in your late teens, often only realising later in life with more maturity and experience that you should, perhaps, have stuck to your guns.
Sally asked her father whether he would loan her some money to pay for the web design course that would give her the skills she needed. He said: “Of course! But I have an inkling you could carve out a great career in the Metropolitan Police;” following his own illustrious one. “Would you please me and just see whether you could pass the selection tests? If you decide it’s not for you, then I’ll give you the cash you need.” Well, she did well, and he didn’t honour his side of the bargain; with no funding, she stayed, resentful and untrusting. Many years later we get to ‘today’ ……… and ‘advertising’.
As we talked about relationships and her experiences, she began to trust her own thoughts and ideas, secure in the unthreatening confidential coaching environment. Suddenly, and I can remember this moment as if it was yesterday, she leans forward and says: “Do you know what I really really want to do?” “It’s not in advertising then?” “No!” “Go on!” I say; and out it came, ideas unfettered by parental judgement and personal insecurities, a stream of excitement and enthusiasm. She outlined her ideas, her timescales and her business model. Eventually, breathless, she asked: “What do you think? Can I do it?”
“If you think this idea has merit, it’s worth pursuing. Only then will you know whether you can do it or not”
“Great” she said, and got up and left!
I sat there in the aftermath, reinforced in my personal belief that if you really want to do something, the best thing is to do it. In my hand I held her metaphorical brake!!
Richard 11th March 2018
PS Sally emailed later to say that she had re-established contact with her brother after 6 years and had seen her father. The past was going to remain the past.