I believe the stories we tell ourselves will either see us become who we really are. Or trap us so we can’t.
Autobiographical stories live at the heart of our sense of self in much the same way as foundations for a house. Which only works out well for us, if we are the architects of our own career-life choices, then have the expertise to build on top of that foundation for ourselves.
This is a true story. One that isn’t mine. This is the real story of a dear client of mine, Karen. It is sometimes very sad. It unravels like a messy ball of wool and I feel like it will resonate for very many women in all sorts of different ways.
But this story is also transformative. And will show you how being with what is will help even if it hurts. And is just too hard without help sometimes.
The Foundation of Karens’ House
By the age of three, Karen already had a story to tell. She was a civil-war refugee. She can vividly recall a scene at the airport where she had to leave on the very last plane out of Lebanon. Without Dad. Or certainty he would get to join ‘later’.
Her grown ups had prioritised certain safety and survival. Of course. But now Karen lived in a new country, with different people, foods, smells and a whole new language. That she didn’t share. And lived, feeling anything but safe.
What did that mean? Young Karen learned her words didn’t count and her feelings weren’t to be listened to either. She quickly conformed – which felt like fixing herself for others’ benefit – and much later built a career on her strong foundation of communications.
It very nearly looks like career congruence. Karen is certainly one of the most engaging conversationalists I have ever known. She listens with her whole self. Then says profoundly impactful things.
So – good, right? Wrong.
Playing Hide & Seek … for 15 years!
As Karen and I started our coaching relationship, she told me this:
I have spent more than 15 years wanting to shift my focus from a corporate career to one in the holistic world that is more aligned with my values. I have stopped and started many, many times. I have amassed more and more trainings but haven’t made the holistic world become the priority it is for me. I keep it secret.
Karen had spent over 15 years playing hide & seek. She was hiding behind excuses that the corporate work was demanding (it was time-onerous) and The Only Way to drive for financial security (it wasn’t), at the same time as she sought out her next holistic training – and grew ever more self-expertise along the way.
None of us can live with that level of inner conflict. Eventually we will adjust what we think or what we do so the 2 realign. We fix our mental mess because it’s psychologically too aversive not to.
But which direction we choose to align with is the biggest career crossroads I come across in my coaching.
The most obvious and easiest option is not often the most resonant. My advice? When you feel tempted by the obvious answer – go look in precisely the opposite direction first. Your ‘why’ is probably over there.
Karen already knew she felt stuck, frustrated and increasingly impatient to make change happen. We had to figure out what Stuckness sat behind her 15 year holding position.
And we did. But it isn’t what you think.
Being With What Is, Even When It Breaks Your Heart
Karen was stuck in busy-ness for a reason. There was anxiety around being seen and heard. So some obvious roadblocks to navigate. For reasons that were quick to illuminate. But that wasn’t it.
Karens’ childhood backstory was at the foundation of some very entrenched beliefs that stood in her way of transitioning from a place that brought safety (proven skillset = regular income = safety that didn’t feel hers) to another, that felt increasingly magnetic (but unknown, so triggered fear and a heightened need for safety).
And there was much more within this particular story. There often is. Because there is no boundary separating our professional self from our personal one. We are one person and if there’s something holding us stuck in one ‘side’ life, the single most important thing I have certainty about is this. It’s contagious across the whole person.
And this becomes the pivotal point for most of my clients. Realigning what they do so it is purpose-driven and utterly entwined with their ‘why’.
We had to pull it all together. Even though it hurt.
Karen had grown up as a mini-mummy to her baby brother and then sister. She always felt she was a mother-in-waiting. But life happened. Karen decided to wait until her career was more established before trying. She made the difficult choice to end an unsuitable first marriage in her mid-30’s. She later declined medical intervention in attempts to conceive naturally in her wonderful, 2nd marriage. They moved out of London to a home waiting for its’ family and started an adoption process to match.
One that felt more like living under a microscope for hair-raising months on end, than it did getting ready for their children. The social worker declared they weren’t ‘ready yet’, after nearly 2 years. Yet that wasn’t who closed the door on motherhood. It was Karen herself who called time when she heard herself say out loud, I’m thinking that maybe adoption isn’t right for us. What if we stop?’
Because it was more critical to look after their life together, accept what is and choose to nurture that, than it was to forge ahead under strain, committed to striving that felt as punishing as it did protracted.
And there it was. Like an ancient tree toppled by an intense storm. Thud. Karen knew she would not be a mother. And to this day, these 6 words still hurt to hear: ‘you would make such a great mum!’.
Becoming Who She Really Is
Karen has come a long way since she became a woman without children.
No one chapter of her story defines her. And that’s the point. Karen says coaching has unlocked her autonomy to take the positive steps she needed to live into her different future. Her holistic work is now the clear priority and it feels liberating.
Karen passionately believes we all have several defining Lifestages in our stories. Karen herself has experienced ‘displaced refugee, divorcee, coeliac, lipoedema sufferer, childless woman’ and can see ‘menopausal woman’ on her horizon.
She understands the immense cost of transitioning through each and every one of these without support. She knows first-hand, the threat of limiting self-beliefs that can stand in your way for far too long. She understands herself much better now, and not just in her relationship to her work. Karen still remembers hesitating about the financial commitment of coaching all that time ago but can see now that it was masking her own avoidance about finally being ready to ‘go there’. Because she did, Karen is in control of her destiny and feels safe living the unchartered territory that is the work she wanted to do so much.
I speak for us both when I say – glad she did!
Today, Karen uses her experiences (and near 20 years of holistic training) to live her life purpose as a Milestones Mentor, helping women unlock and move into their own destiny. She has developed an incredibly resonant process she calls the HART process (standing for Honour, Accept, Release and Trust) and uses this holistic approach to help connect girls’ and women of all life stages to their experiences, in 1:1 sessions, group programmes and luxury retreats – giving guidance as they move across the thresholds in front of them.
I won’t allow myself favourite clients. I love all ‘my people’ the same. But I will say this. Karen is my favourite Milestones Mentor and I’m truly proud to call her a client (and friend).
Today, on World Menopause Day, Karen has launched a mini-retreat for women approaching Menopause and you’re invited. In response to the media’s focus on the menopause as a list of symptoms to manage and based on her own experiences, the Feeling Your Way mini-retreat is a dedicated and luxurious day dedicated to approaching our menopause as an important and positive coming of age.
Hosted at an English Country House Estate on Friday 31 January 2020, this 1-day retreat offers a blend of holistic support with time to talk and time for personal reflection. Places are deliberately limited to keep the group small (and safe) but please know, the early-bird offer ends on 31 October.
To find out more about the mini-retreat or book your place, click here.
Just don’t resist the changes that come your way. Lean into the support that’s here (and please share if you recognise someone you care about instead. You might speed something important up for them by literally years!)