Monday 10 May 2021

How coaching turned things around

There comes a time in a woman's life when she doubts herself. Wonders if she's made the right choices. Inevitably, she looks around at her peers and find herself lacking. I guess we've all been there, in one shape or form. 

Emily Davidson, professional coach
Emily Davidson, coach and friend
In my case, it was this: why did I abandon my career as a journalist to stay at home with the kids? What's this addiction to writing novels (and blog posts 😜)? How do I head off empty-nest syndrome when my babies leave home? 

With all this bubbling away, I happened to spot a Facebook post from my friend, Emily. She was re-training to be a professional coach and was looking for guinea pigs. A few years ago, I passed up an opportunity to work with a trainee coach - somehow I didn't relish spending half an hour each week talking about my 'issues'. It felt self-indulgent. This time, I took the leap.

Emily is a close friend from boarding-school days. We haven't spent loads of time together over the years, but we know each other inside out. Both of us were worried this friendship dynamic would interfere with the coaching. In actual fact, it was helpful. I immediately relaxed in her company, even over Zoom. Plus, Emily has been an inspirational figure for me - in 2016, she decided to sail around the world for three years with her husband and two young sons. If you ask me, that's positive energy, can-do spirit, in action. I needed a bit of that.

Emily on a yacht
Emily at sea with her two boys
Initially, I had
homework to do. Emily gave me a document to read about the process. Coaching wasn't a magical panacea that would cure all my ills (shame). It was more about having a conversation, where she would play a facilitating role:

"As an effective coach I will blend skills of questioning, listening, observation and feedback to create conversation rich in insight and learning. You, as the coachee, will experience a focus and attention on your own circumstances that helps you develop greater awareness and understanding." 

I started the sessions feeling perplexed and Eeyorish. Looking back at my notes, I used phrases like: self-belief and resilience / define my idea of success / how much do I want to keep funnelling down the same gateway? / what is Plan B? There's a whiff of disillusionment coming off the page, particularly around my inability to get published as a novelist. But there's also some relief at being able to air my fears and doubts.


By the final session, there's a marked shift in mood. Even Emily noticed my 'mellow, more grounded tone' compared with previous conversations. Over the course of our sessions together, there were a few things I learned:

1) If I had my time again, I'd probably make the same decisions so there was no point beating myself up about it - in fact, better to create a positive narrative around my choices

2) I shouldn't feel ashamed of having a non-career-centric view; life is a messy beast and I should accept that freelancing and writing have enabled me to spend more time with my family

3) I'm free to re-frame success on my own terms; I should recognise I've improved as a writer and tried new things 

4) Voluntary work is an important part of the mix; it makes me feel useful and positive

5) There is no time-limit on exploring new opportunities

Of course, talking to friends or partners can help you work through these kinds of snags but there's something unique about a coaching relationship. For a start, there's no angst around boring your confidante, or talking too much about yourself. It may not be therapy in the strictest sense but it made me realise how important it was to address my gremlins, however minor, however low-key.

And, I'm glad I took notes. Every time I waver in the future, I can now look back at what I have written and hopefully re-inspire myself. In some ways, Emily helped me to unravel some of the societal expectations that beset many women, while also encouraging me to develop my own 'philosophy' for life, peculiar to me. 

About Emily Davidson, professional coach
Throughout Emily's adult life, she has intentionally altered course several times. From political lobbying and business PR to sailing around the world in the BT Global Challenge, the world’s ‘toughest yacht race’ in her 20s. From business analysis work through history teaching to motherhood and family life in her 30s. Then out to the open ocean again in her 40s...


Molly McGreal-Stence said...

We met Emily and Tom in New Zealand and the boys and really enjoyed their company--Emily is awesome!

Emma Clark Lam said...

Hi Molly - thanks for commenting. Emily is wonderful - a complete inspiration! She makes such a good coach.

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