I never set out to be or do anything in particular in my life which at times has been frustrating as there’s never been a clear plan. Not one that I was consciously aware of anyway. I’ve always been a bit envious of people who’ve always known what it is they wanted to do, had a clear plan and then pursued it with such focus and determination. (Though I have had a few clients who’ve done this, come out the other end and asked “is this it?”)
After dropping out of college part way through a diploma in hotel management that wasn’t for me, I was asked by a careers advisor ‘what are you good at?’. At the time I was really good at maths so I ended up on an accountancy Youth Training Scheme (YTS) with Babington Business College, both working and studying with them. Now, whilst I don’t regret my time with Babington as I learned a great deal, I have realised that:
Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you to do.
Better questions would be: ‘what do you love to do?’; ‘what is it that gets you really fired up?’; ‘what makes you really happy?’ But if you had asked me those questions back then I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you that either – well apart from my love of the ocean and beaches, which might just be where I originally hoped my hotel management diploma was going to take me….
Whilst I was able to pass my exams easily it became clear that I wasn’t destined to be an accountant – it just wasn’t inspiring me (no offence to accountants, I need them). Instead it was discovered by those I worked for that I had a knack for sorting out problems and complete messes. So began my reputation for being given numerous jobs, roles and departments that desperately needed an overhaul. This I relished, was very successful at and then, once all was running smoothly I reluctantly relinquished for the next challenge. It was hard to let go, but if I didn’t I’d get bored. So I moved up the ranks quite quickly, motivated by a need for efficiency and effectiveness and generally finding ways to make everything easier.
About 10 years into my job with Babington I questioned whether I really wanted to spend another 10 years of my life there, and if not there, where? And doing what? I sought the advice of another careers advisor who conducted some psychometric tests which determined that I was already in the right job. This was not what I wanted to hear! I knew deep down this wasn’t right and I needed to do something else.
Don’t believe everything a psychometric test tells you – you know yourself best, you just need to listen and tune into yourself (or go see a coach…)
Over the years I became the person people came to with their problems, not just work problems. I was a good listener which wasn’t something I’d considered a great skill at the time but I began to ponder becoming a counsellor. Four years later I qualified as a counsellor/psychotherapist, clocked up numerous placement hours with local charitable organisations Derby Women’s Centre and Derby Rape Crisis all whilst undergoing immense personal development (which is indicative of most counselling training) and whilst continuing to be full-time employed at Babington in a very demanding job. Not quite sure how I did it but it worked out relatively easily. That’s not to undermine the work involved but many synchronistic events enabled me to achieve what I needed to.
When it’s right it flows easily. If it’s not flowing, stop, stand still, be patient and listen. Listen for the quite voice inside of you that will let you know what the next step is. This is your own personal sat nav.
In April 2003 I set up my counselling/psychotherapy private practice in Derby alongside working for Babington. I did end up another 10 years at Babington though! But at the beginning of 2010 I took the leap and left Babington so I could pursue my ambition to be fully self-employed and concentrate my energies on building my private practice.
It came as a complete shock to me that on leaving Babington my health deteriorated and I suffered with burnout and spiralled into depression. Burnout is a variation of M.E. and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but I don’t believe is as advanced. I now realise that if I had stayed any longer at Babington, which was no longer fitting with who I was and what I really loved to do, my health would have suffered even more greatly.
Listen to your body and respond; if you don’t it will demand your attention further down the line… For a long time my body was telling me I was tired, but I kept on pushing through.
Maybe I should have left earlier? Who knows? It’s a pattern in my life that generally things have to get really bad before I do anything about it. My last year with Babington is still, to date, the most stressful year of my life. The company was being sold and I had to keep this information from my long-standing colleagues, some of whom had become my friends, whilst also meeting the demands of due diligence auditors and solicitors.
Yet the outcome of whatever painful transition I am in (there’s been a few) is always beyond what I could have expected or hoped for – in a good way.
It’s mainly fear that stops us from changing and taking leaps of faith, but things change anyway whether we want them to or not.
“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Darwin
My experience of burnout and depression has deepened my empathy and compassion for people with ill health, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. I also realised how much of my identity had been wrapped up in my successful job and position. Without it who was I? Yes, I was still a practicing counsellor/psychotherapist, but that had actually only been a small part of what I did. Even though I had a few years’ experience under my belt I felt a novice when faced with it now being my only source of income and a label to who I was. How often are you asked ‘what do you do?’ when you first meet someone? That question floored me at the time. I’d lost all sense of who I was, or who I thought I was.
“Although we are told (and want to believe), “You are not your job,” the messages from employers, colleagues and the media counter that well intentioned adage with “You are exactly what you do, how well you do it and what you earn”.” Brené Brown
Over the next few years I explored more fully the world of counselling and psychotherapy, expanded my business, developed my approach, became a BACP Accredited Counsellor and qualified as a Coach. And here I am. But that’s still only a part of me and what I offer in my work. I’ve come to realise that who I am and my work are synonymous and that it’s important to be open about my spirituality and how this has deeply influenced my practice.