The Calling of The Heart

The Calling of The Heart


Monika Jankowska

Monika Jankowska


Monika Jankowska is an executive and a team coach passionate about growing leaders.  She works with clients who want to transition from transactional to transformational management  style in response to the challenges of the changing market. She combines her business experience (17 years in international organizations) with knowledge of up to date trends in leadership  development (Leadership 4.0). Her coaching is aiming at building the self - awareness of leaders,  who as a result make courageous choices in their businesses and lives. Monika started her company called Phenomenon in 2007. Since 2014 she is also a Fellow in Oxford  Leadership, a consultancy company focusing on aligning people to strategy in organizations. With  them, she leads leadership journeys based on Self Managing Leadership model. Being also an  Associate with Heidrick Consulting, she co-leads leadership and coaching programs. Monika is  involved in Up2You – a start-up organization providing personalized online coaching processes  designed to grow self-aware leaders.

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.