It was the year of my 40th birthday. In this moment of their lives, people usually look back and reflect on how much they have managed to achieve so far. They measure their success and wonder what is still ahead of them. Today I see the significance of that threshold, but at that time, I was unaware of the natural cycles of life. I was living in a constant rush, almost unable to catch my breath. Being a mother of four children (16, 13, 4 and 1), living on the border of Warsaw in a forest and having a full-time corporate job was taking my full attention. There was no space to think, not to mention reflect. I lived on autopilot, running from one duty to another, trying to be a perfect mother and wife, a perfect house “manager” and a perfect leader. Having support from others, I became a master of delegation, both at work and at home, but the speed of my life was exhausting.
A few years before, I felt I had it all. I would have laughed with some arrogance if somebody had come to me with the idea of growth and development. I had been the expert, knowing perfectly well how to be a leader, how to raise children and manage life in general. At work, it had been expected of me to have the knowledge and to give answers and solutions. I wasn’t supposed to have doubts, and if they had come, I would have stepped straight into task-and-solution-mode to resolve issues. I was applying that also at home. Even when one of my sons got sick with diabetes, I cried for only one day, and then, together with my husband, moved on to organizing our family life as smoothly and efficiently as usual.
So here I was, sitting in the office and working on yet another annual budget when the thought came to me – I could not stand it anymore. I realized that my job was not only boring me but also draining my energy. Was this how my life was going to be? Torn between the job I once had liked and the family I loved, but not feeling joy or satisfaction in either? Stuck in an obvious scenario – having a husband, having children, having a job in a company that was paying my monthly salary, I felt suffocated. Even my dreams started to mirror my state. I was waking up in the middle of the night sitting straight up and gasping for air. A tsunami was coming at me and I couldn’t move, being aware that in a second, it would cover me and I would drown. I knew I shouldn’t have complained. I was lucky – my husband loved me, my kids and the house were taken care of for me, and my corporate career was on a good track. I could not figure out what was bothering me. I was just beginning to wonder – was I living according to my own scenario, or to something that I believed was expected of me by society? What I now see was missing, was my own purpose, the feeling of the greater sense in my life.
This new awareness was building up in me, but I did not really know where it was leading. Should I change my job, change companies? If so, wouldn’t I be complaining about the same in a year’s time? I started looking around with more curiosity and observing how other people lived their lives, how they worked. I picked up books and newspapers that I had never bought before. I was looking for inspiration and, most of all, I was looking for what might be calling me. I was waiting for a faster beat of my heart.
In that research, I came across a training program on coaching. It was a new topic for me, the program was led by a major American coaching school, and its next edition was soon to begin in Warsaw. I decided to check it out. The course was designed around the Co-Active coaching model, teaching the participants the art of coaching with the idea behind, that the skills acquired there could be used anywhere – in personal issues, management development, career planning and more. To my surprise, already after the first module, I knew – that was what I wanted to start doing! I didn’t know how or when. Deep in my heart, I just knew I wanted to finish this course and become a coach. For the next half a year, I was learning and practicing new skills. I was observing the impact of that approach on the people who had agreed to be my coaching clients (coachees), and I was thrilled. Our coaching conversations were having an immediate and visible influence on how people felt and what they were deciding to do differently. I was feeling great satisfaction from these conversations and was happy to be a part of these changes.
Moreover, during the coaching training program, I was going through my own internal awareness building process. I didn’t remember any time before when I spent this amount of time reflecting on my values, strong and weak sides, vision, purpose and my own needs. By the end of the training, I knew I had found my new path. I just didn’t know how to follow it. I felt both the excitement connected to it and the fear of moving into the unknown. I was declaring I would become a coach and start my own business, yet, I wasn’t even planning on going to register it. The voice in my head was murmuring constantly how difficult it must be to set up a business, or that one should only do it after finding a perfect name for one’s company. This voice was almost shouting that it was not safe to leave the corporate life and hope to earn the living on my own. I was creating obstacles like: I had never had a private car, computer or a phone – how would I take care of them, without any help desk? My strategy was: Let’s wait and see. Somehow, I would figure it out. Maybe the following month…
And then somebody gave me the challenge: “Set up your business till the end of the year.” It was November 2007. There was little time to dwell on it. I was offered some guidance in the legal aspects of starting my own business, I was recommended an accountant who could take care of the financials, and, as simple as that, I registered a company called Phenomenon.
Of course, doing that turned out to be much easier than I had imagined. The difficult part was to quit my corporate job and focus on my new business. My husband, who had been supporting me constantly during this decision-making process, asked me a relevant question that, unfortunately, had stopped me for weeks: “Did you make a business plan?” I didn’t do it, I didn’t know how to do it, and it terrified me! Thinking about money was pulling me away from becoming an entrepreneur. I wanted to be a coach; I didn’t want to be a business owner. It seemed to me though, that I had no other way; I felt so much excitement and satisfaction when coaching, that I couldn’t stand coming to the office anymore. My heart was shouting: take the leap! Yet, the saboteur inside my head was saying: “You are not ready!”
Luckily, life itself took the lead. My company was reducing the headcount and, as a consequence, I was supposed to lay off my co-worker and do a bigger scope of work myself, including topics I really did not like. I took it as a sign and decided to terminate my own contract. After several weeks of negotiating the conditions of the termination, I found myself sheepishly smiling over the letter with the final offer. Apart from the financial parachute, I agreed with my employer that for half a year after I left the company, I would be supporting them as a coach. That made my landing in self-employment much softer, as I could look out for my new business clients with some security net from my previous work.
After starting my own business, I swayed from the state of ecstasy to panic. It felt amazing; when I realized I was stepping on a totally new path that felt just right. It was much worse when my beliefs about work were breaking through this great feeling. In my head, work was connected to certain rules: work should be hard; work had to be done from morning to evening (at least 9 a.m., to 5 p.m. -); salaries were paid regularly (a bank account got larger at the end of every month, and the amount of money one received was predictable). In my new business, none of that was true. My calendar was not full, so I probably wasn’t working hard enough. I did not issue a lot of large invoices every month, so my bank account was not filling up quickly enough. I felt guilty, when I started my working day at 10 am, after indulging myself with a breakfast at the table, with a good book.
To survive in this state of uncertainty, I started to learn. I was reading every book, listening to every lecture and attending every course that offered the upgrade of my skills or could build my awareness of living this new life. Anything that would help me deal with feeling uncomfortable when nobody was calling or when a potential client was choosing another coach. How to grow stronger, when I believed I was getting smaller? I could go through this period, thanks to my belief that I was on the right path and that I found the work I was happy to be doing. All I needed was practice, so I was searching for every opportunity to coach individuals and teams. At that time my life was far from being perfect, yet, deep inside, I felt the power to move through all obstacles.
As a task-oriented person, I decided to treat this stage of my business life as a case to solve. One of the ideas was that doing something that strengthens me, even for free, was better than doing nothing at all. Also, doing it together with a partner, who needed practice and clients just as I did, made me feel that I was not alone in this dark time. Therefore, I paired up with a coach who had completed the same coaching education as I, and together, we started offering our services and sharing our knowledge in different places. We prepared a two- hour workshop on the topic of New Year’s goal-setting for the local chapter of a coaching organization. We asked an organization bringing together professional women, whether their members would benefit from a workshop on career progress planning. Wherever possible, we were delivering short workshops, offering valuable support to the participants, but not earning any money. We called it sowing – with the hope of harvesting the results sometime in the future.
Actually, it paid off – one contact returned to me even two years later, and we had fruitful cooperation after that: I was involved in several individuals and team coaching processes in her company.
I never considered myself very creative. Yet, in the need to design my own job, I was eager to try anything connected with my new skills. Talking with my coaching partner about what was exciting us, we decided it was supporting women. As a result, we developed – created! – a workshop that we called The Alchemy of Change for Women. We led women through five two-hour meetings filled with activities that allowed the participants to experience and reflect on their beliefs, dreams, and plans related to the change they wanted to have in their lives. We ran several editions of this workshop, and the work gave us not only satisfaction but also confidence that we could develop something from scratch and make a difference through what we did. I was getting practice and, as a result, self-confidence.
Slowing Down in Order to Speed Up
Several years passed, and I was growing my belief in my abilities, my new skills and the value of my work. My business was growing, new clients were calling, interesting projects were coming my way. I was engaged with multinational companies, coaching their leaders and teams. I could observe my progress, and I was proud of it. I had the opportunity to begin a cooperation with an international consulting company that was focused on developing leaders. Its founders believed, that in order to become an authentic and powerful leader, one must start from building awareness about self. I fully agreed with that, and therefore continued my own learning. Life was full of challenges, full of activities, and full of work. I wanted it all. I was hungry for new experiences, new projects, and new adventures. All of a sudden, I realized, I was running again. I was doing what I loved, but in every conversation, I was complaining about how busy I was. As a self-employed person, my assumption was that my responsibility was not only for working but also for taking bigger care of my family. I was often working at home, so for my children, it meant I was more available. It was my duty to be at their disposal, to drive them, to help them when they needed something for school, or to take care of some house duties. In my opinion, just because I didn’t have a 9-to-5 job, meant that I was the one to serve others in the role of ”doing it all.” It very quickly led to situations when I would work late in the evenings because I was busy doing other duties during the day. My husband was asking me whether this was not a sign of workaholism. In my opinion, I was simply not devoting enough time to work during the day! I was back to the state when I couldn’t catch my breath. I realized something was wrong when I stopped reading books, the activity that I loved most of all. Even the coaching work began to lose its freshness, and I started doubting whether I was on the right path.
And then one month came when my calendar was empty – there were no meetings with potential clients, no workshops, no coaching sessions. Nothing. I had been so busy with the current business, that I had not noticed that the pipeline was getting empty. It was December, almost the perfect time to slow down. I could use this time to reflect on the passing year, to prepare for Christmas, spend some time at home and finally read books that had piled up over time. I was looking at that month with curiosity, saying aloud: “I am not issuing any invoices this month!” That was a weird feeling, almost scary. I was taking a perverse pleasure in announcing to everybody, that this month was empty. When I was asked to run a half-day of team coaching at the end of the month, I moved it to January, just to be able to say – no business for one month! December, being a special month, passed quickly, and when my calendar remained almost empty in January and February, I started to feel uncomfortable. I was beginning to feel desperate for work, wondering who I should call, what I should do, where I should turn. I was getting tense, both physically and mentally. Rationally, I had money, I was safe, nobody expected me to deliver. Yet, in my eyes, I wasn’t doing anything important! I wasn’t earning any money (a vital element in my life), I wasn’t bringing any value to clients, I actually wasn’t doing anything I would consider valuable. I just could not enjoy the time for my pleasure, as I started to worry, that the world would forget about me if I were not active and visible out there. I was beginning to feel worthless – I wasn’t needed in the business area. I wasn’t desperately needed at home, either, (everything was arranged in the house to be taken care of so that my husband and I could work). Actually, my responsibility was to take care of myself, to drive kids home from school and to look for new clients. I realized that I was measuring my success and my self-worth with the number of clients I had and with the number of invoices I issued every month. Here I was at home, taking on the duties I did not like, or consider valuable, and missing being busy with work. I could almost hear the Universe giggling at me and whispering: ”You wanted more time for reading, so here you are – enjoy! You were not sure whether coaching is your path, so here you are – this is your time to think what is!” Still, instead of accepting the time “offered” to me by the Universe, I was seeing this period as a test of my ability to be successful – on my terms!
I was pretending to be taking it lightly, but the panic was slowly crawling up my back. I had the memory of that feeling from several years back when I had just started my own business. The uncertainty of getting new clients, frequent feeling of rejection, when not being chosen for a project. Generally, feeling powerless. I thought I was over this stage the last time. It seemed like I needed to find new sense in what I was doing in my life.
It all led me to the Emergency Room one day in February, with the diagnosis of coronary disease. After spending a week in a hospital, among patients in their 80s, I returned home with a surprised expression on my face. I was not invincible! Nothing in my earlier medical checkups presaged that – my test results were always perfect! This incident forced me to stop and look at myself from a new perspective. I started asking myself new questions – What was my body telling me? Why did I end up in the hospital? I noticed that the answers to these questions were much clearer to me when I was in nature, so during daily walks with my dog in “my” forest, I started my conversations with the Universe. Soon I realized what the lesson that I was getting through this event in my life was about. First, I needed to slow down – physically and mentally. Every day I was focusing on walking slower, on breathing deeper, on observing my surroundings, listening to the sounds. Most of all, I was reflecting on my self-worth without the connection to my business and, especially, without the comparison to businesses that others were creating. We live in a society that has some rules, some expectations. I wanted to clearly define which of the rules I lived by were mine and which were the societies. I started questioning those that I realized did not serve me. And, surprisingly, the world did not turn against me! In all of that, I was lucky to always have the full support, love, and acceptance of my husband, my children, and my parents. I believe that learning is not a linear process. It is more like a spiral – our life lessons return to us time after time, but they come at a different level. It is as if the Universe is testing us and asking, “Have you really got that lesson?” Sometimes, when we believe we have, our life takes an unexpected turn and we face the same situation, but in a new disguise. In my case, I had to go through surgery to hear my heart calling again. I realized I had been running to fulfill my ego’s wish for success – plenty of clients and invoices – pushed by the fear, that without them, I would not be considered worthy. My heart forced me to slow down so that I could start with a bigger speed from a new level of awareness.
Living My Dream, Dreaming My Life
I looked at my work with curiosity. I wanted to check again what was giving me joy and satisfaction. I really wanted to phrase my purpose, my soul mission, a statement that would remind me why I was doing what I chose to do. I participated in trainings (some of them – like writing or painting – out of the coaching field); I read books (more in the topic of spirituality); I listened to lectures. I was taking inspiration from others, but I also realized that I needed to listen to myself on a deeper level. It took me almost a year to capture the statement that felt true to my soul. When I said it aloud, I felt my heart expanding and shivers going through my body. I just knew that I was here to Bring the Best Out of People.
The simplicity of this purpose struck me. I realized that if I followed my purpose fully, my life would be truly meaningful. My purpose was not to grow my business, it was to bring the best out of my clients. It was not to issue invoices for team coaching processes, it was to bring the best out of the members of these teams so that their work was easier and more fulfilling. My purpose was not to show my value to my business partners, it was to bring the best out of them in our co-operation. My purpose was not to bring my children up but to relate to them in a way that would bring the best out of them and prepare them to bravely step into their adulthood. And, finally, my purpose was not to prove that I was right when talking to my husband but to bring the best out of him in our love and home.
I learned to ask myself questions that were leading to answers I needed to get in order to grow. More importantly, I learned to slow down in order to hear the responses. Questions like: “When would I allow myself to live slower? What would I love to be doing in my free time? What would I need to achieve in order to feel I deserved this free time? And most of all – what were my dreams for work, free time, and generally life?”
What is different now? I don’t struggle, I don’t fight. When I see the issue or I encounter a problem, I manage not to get emotionally sucked in by it. I look at it from a perspective, as if from a balcony. I check what is there, what is bothering me, which values are being stepped on. I wonder what I am frustrated about and check my inner feeling which allows me later to address the issue with the parties involved. I consider my emotions my companion in making good decisions about what I choose as important for me in the way I live my life.
I am now said to be a good salesperson of my projects. When I meet my clients, I concentrate on their needs, worries, and dreams. When I do that, the sale just happens, because it is not about selling anymore. It is about support, about seeing whether I am the person who is the best for them at this moment. At the beginning of my self-employment, I was concentrated on myself – how I talk, what I say, whether they choose me. Now it is about them.
On the other hand, I check with myself whether a project is good for me. When I do not feel the excitement, or I cannot see how I could bring the best out of potential clients, I help the client find a partner that would suit them better. This means that I take on projects that are in line with my dreams – developing powerful leaders and teams who want to excel, as well as teaching people coaching skills. Therefore, more projects like that come to me, as if I were attracting them.
I am grateful for my life. All highs and lows were crucial in creating me the way I am at today. I fully embrace the saying, “You never know what is good and what is bad,” as I see now how many good things in my life emerged after what I considered a difficult time. What seemed to be the painfully slow period of my life, actually was the time that prepared me for moving forward with the new understanding of the meaning of my life. The life had to get slower for me to notice subtle signs of my heart beating faster at what excited me.
Most of the time, I am peaceful with myself; I consider myself happy – not ecstatic, but stable, fulfilled, excited about what is unknown ahead of me. It means doing what I love doing, as well as accepting doing what needs to be done, being able to look for new experience, developing new areas of business, growing professionally and spiritually.
The lesson of living a life without being constantly busy returns to me now and then, as if the Universe is testing me. I still catch myself at filling my calendar to the limits and later being frustrated about it. I also notice that I compare my business activities to the activities of other coaches and coaching companies. When I see their successful projects, interesting articles or valuable initiatives, I sometimes wonder, why I haven’t done things like that. Was it lack of courage, or maybe laziness? I hope I will have enough opportunities in my life to go through these lessons and do my homework!
As for the life purpose, stating it is not a single-time exercise. There were moments of small enlightenments in my life when I was noticing elements of it. Every new form of my purpose was forming on something I had learned before. What I call my purpose now, may not be its final version, and I need to stay alert to new versions that might be showing up. That requires listening from the heart and being courageous to step into new paths that are unfolding. In my case, this courage comes from following my heart.