Go back a decade. Spot me leaving the office bang on time because my job bores me. Follow me as I drive within a mile from home and pull into a layby. Watch as I dig into the bottom of my handbag for the precious book that will help me get through the next twelve hours. I allow myself fifteen minutes with my nose in Susan Jeffers' End the Struggle and Dance with Life and then drive home formulating excuses as to why I'm late.
Surprise, surprise, my marriage fell apart and I did too. Now, alone, fighting with my grief, the local library’s self-help shelves were my weekly port of call. Counselling sessions got me through the worst while I shored myself up with chocolate ice-cream, pizza and Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking. It wasn’t that book that restored me. It was time, growing confidence, the ability to spread my wings. When I was made redundant from the hated job, it didn’t flatten me. It liberated me.
Let’s jump forward. It’s now five years ago. I’m experiencing occasional and very human bouts of moderate blue. I wonder what I’m doing with my life, why I’m single, why I’m scared to date. There’s nothing wrong as such, but something’s missing, and I don’t know what it is. I read. Every new self-help bestseller promises to fix me, but none of them tackles the underlying issue. I’m ashamed that I’ve not got a grip on my life. I’m still putting up a front. For God’s sake, I’m past fifty, why do I still bung the self-help books into a drawer when visitors are expected? Why do I start reading them on my Kindle?
You need to go back a lot further than five years to understand it. Try decades. Try centuries. Try to imagine a culture where the only forms of self-improvement you dare to admit are physical training, formal education or climbing the career ladder. Anything else is self-obsessed introspection and wallowing. Stiff upper lip everybody. Everything is fine. Carry on. Us Brits have made a virtue of it.
I have an image in my head. I’ve created it, but it feels real. Tony Robbins is on the TV with his whiter-than-white American teeth and his high-octane delivery. He’s giving the audience what they want to hear, a massive boost, a shot of energy, inspiration and life, and I’m sitting there with a nasty, cynical sneer on my face. Is this guy for real?
That’s where I’m from – a culture where if you dare to believe in the extraordinary, you’re getting too big for your boots. It’s acceptable, here, to choose stoic plodding because dreams are for the foolish. Down the path that dreamers travel, lies nothing but failure and dark, bitter disappointment. You’ll return defeated and then you die. End of story. Everybody knows that.
Let’s jump forward in time again. It’s now the summer of 2018. A friend tells me he thinks I’d make a great life coach. I’m wearing my no-nonsense, stoic plodding head so I Ignore him. But my friend isn’t afraid of dreams. He believes in my potential and in January, he raised the subject again.
That’s why I’m here. Writing this and now studying for a Diploma in Personal Performance Coaching. I don’t mind admitting that it’s been a revelation. I have been welcomed into a community which is positive about improving lives and what’s more, is proud of it. What could possibly be wrong with that?
In short, nothing. But for me, there remains one small sticking point. It’s still hard for me to explain what I’m doing – and why – to those closest to me. If I had announced that I was training to become an athletics coach, they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. If I’d told them I was going back into the industry to become a business coach, they would probably have understood, but life coaching? The concept is alien to them. Life just is. It happens. You don’t shape it.
That’s not my view, and I’ve spent years denying my fascination with habits, performance, behaviour and moods. I’ve hidden my books, ashamed to admit that I'd like things in my life to be better and I know I’m not alone. But at last, I’ve decided that having a purpose, creating a meaningful life, is not an airy-fairy dream but is the way to live. If I can pass that message on through my coaching practice, I'll be happy.
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Kate Woodward is a freelance writer and trainee personal development coach. She’s a novice pianist – with ludicrous ambitions – who also runs, drinks tea and loves aniseed. Kate’s short stories have been published online, in print and on her own blog SpugletSpeaks.
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