Things I’m learning with Martha – Part One

As I look back on my own journey of madness (!), growth and development, I often wish I had captured it down on paper. I’ve just started (because I can’t get enough of coaching school) a new life coach training programme with a woman whose book – Finding Your Own North Star – I first read in my late teens. This woman – Martha Beck – has been calling to me for 16 years! I’ve read various books of hers over the years. And over the last five years or so, have toyed with the idea of doing her training.

One of the central concepts of Martha’s philosophy is that we each have a still place inside that directs us to our ‘right life’. Call it what you will – ‘internal wisdom’ resonates for me. It’s unique for everyone – yours will take you a different place than mine, because we each have a unique path in life. Coaching is never about some expert chiming in on how you should live your life – this would be to disregard that you already have your own answers within. Instead, its about helping you access and follow your own internal wisdom. For a whole host of reasons, this doesn’t come naturally to most of us. For starters, we (in the Western world) have been conditioned out of it – we are primed to listen to our rational minds, favouring so-called logic above all else.

What I love about finally doing this training is that my own internal wisdom has always been directing me this way. There’s a real sense of magic when you find yourself immersed in something that just feels right. I feel exactly where I’m meant to be.

Something Martha said yesterday struck me – which is that as you find more joy in your own life, you will naturally want to share that with others. That is not to imply that I’m a great zen being meditating on a mountain, with a clear and quiet mind and no problems whatsoever (ha! far from it) – but simply that I have had – and continue to have – my own suffering, my own challenges – and have spent many hours, days, weeks, months and years slowly unpicking and overcoming that which is holding me back. I’m slowly but surely becoming more peaceful, more steady, more able to withstand the inevitable storms that arise in life.

And I’m slowly but surely seeing that the way I show up has a great impact on my relationships, my work and my life – and I’m also seeing the impact of taking responsibility for small shifts in my own thoughts, actions and reactions. I love what Martha Beck says. People don’t write self-help stuff because they’re perfect. They write it to help themselves.

Achieving the change we desire in our life mostly involves mindset. We can look to change our external circumstances – continuously pursuing or dreaming about the next promotion, getting married, travelling the world, or having a nicer house. But often we end up chasing our tails. Do you ever find that your problems follow you no matter which of your external circumstances you change?

Wherever you go there you are

Real change comes from working on our inner game. The way we view the world. The perspectives we hold. The stories we carry that influence our every perception, our every action, our every reaction.

So I can’t help but want to share the insights, tools, strategies and processes that have helped me with my own inner game – in the hope of helping others on their journey too. Looking back, since I really devoted myself to this whole self-development thing, I’ve certainly had highs and lows, and a hell of a lot of ‘a ha’ moments. But change has also come slowly, flowing like a little river. By no means has it been a linear journey. Given that I wish I’d documented a lot of it at the time, I’m seeking to rectify that now by starting where I am. And so, my commitment to share some insights as I journey through the wild world of Martha Beck’s coach training. It truly is wild – and far from what you’d expect at life coaching school. Which makes it a hell of a lot of fun!

This week’s big a-ha’s


Rest and play helps you do better in life

What do you mean, rest and play? I thought life was about getting as much done as humanly possible, burning yourself out in the process! Typically, if I am not being productive, I am a) beating myself up for wasting time and b) unable to put thoughts aside about my very long and numerous trello lists of what I need to do and when I’m going to find time to do it because I ONLY HAVE 24 HOURS PER DAY. Even reading books – a typically leisurely actively – can feel more like a productive pursuit. I have a list of hundreds I want to read, and just don’t feel I can rest until I’ve got through them all. Which really means won’t rest until I’m dead – because I’ll never get through them all. The world keeps churning out new books I want to read! Help!

Martha Beck’s life coach training emphasises rest and play as a fundamental ingredient of life. One reason why is that it helps us integrate our learning. I kid you not that the first training video included a 3 minute clip of baby otters being taught to swim (an analogy for learning to life coach…). It’s hilarious, and cute! So I keep going back to watch the video, and what do you know – the messages keep sinking in. Contrast this to the last lot of training I did, where I felt exhausted at the idea of sitting down at the end of a work day to tackle what felt like really heavy, intensive work.

They also encourage us to go at our own pace. It’s easy enough to say this once – but they say it all the time. They even tell us there’s no way to get behind. It’s not like real school – far from it – and we’re not being graded. Somehow, this is starting to have a bit of an impact on me, the recovering perfectionist. For the first time in a long time, I feel more than okay reading bits of the training material here, watching a video there, and leaving the materials part way through where I’d normally feel compelled to complete it all at once. It has the reverse effect on my willingness to ‘study’, and I find myself naturally drawn back to it at all sorts of times of day.

And with that, I’ve noticed how I’ve started to relax a wee bit – giving myself permission not to feel guilty about having a night off to sit on the coast eating fish and chips, watching the Interislander come in and the moon start rising.

Happy place all round. I’m starting to approach the earth-shattering realisation that life might actually be enhanced if I stop putting pressure on myself to DO all of the time.

If all else fails, breathe

Breathing is a tool we can take anywhere. Yet sometimes, its the first thing we forget to do. Take a minute to check in with yourself right now – are you breathing (at all?) Are you breathing shallowly – into your chest? Or deeply – into your stomach? Notice what impact it has when you take a few seconds to consciously slow your breathing. Breathing deeply tells your body and mind that everything is okay. It calms your nervous system down.

I had a tricky situation at work this week where I knew I needed to take a break in order to get some clarity. Normally such a situation would be an opportunity to enter into all sorts of stories in my head about who did what wrong, how to fix it, and what others were thinking about me. Unhelpful mental stories, thoughts whirring around in my brain. I simply took myself outside and sat down for ten minutes, focusing on nothing other than my breathing. I refused to enter into a debate with my thoughts. And that was absolutely the most helpful thing I could have done for myself in that moment (probably in any moment).

I’ve also had one too many bumpy landings into Wellington lately, which has made me a lot more on edge whilst flying. Yesterday I found myself getting particularly anxious and uptight as we made our approach to the world’s windiest city. My whole body was tense, and in that situation, my thoughts are running a mile a minute. The only thing I can do in that moment is return to my breath. Consciously focus on breathing in and out — in and out — repeat. Scary thought rears its head. Breathe. Repeat. It certainly doesn’t instantaneously drape me in a blanket of zen, but it’s amazing how much more peaceful I can become in an environment that normally sets my adrenaline on fire.

So if all else fails (and even before it gets that bad), remember to breathe. Its a tool we can take anywhere.

Things I’m learning with Martha – Part One

Why coaching?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fixated by the idea of finding my calling. Around age 20 I bought a book called ‘Finding your own North Star’, which was all about finding a pathway in life that was right for you. It has been really important to me to find meaningful work and live a life that is in line with my own values.  Now here I am, three-quarters of the way through a professional coaching qualification, and working towards a career and life that has a strong coaching component.

Looking back, it would seem an obvious choice: I grew up wanting to be a ‘psychologist’, since I was young I’ve gravitated towards books and magazines about personal development and understanding what makes people tick, I have a degree in psychology, trained as a Kids Line counsellor, I read countless articles on facebook about resilience and wellbeing, and I’ve always been a more natural listener than talker.

I’m also really fortunate to have received coaching from four different coaches, in different contexts so far in my career. As a result, I firmly believe that providing staff with work-related coaching opportunities is one of the greatest investments an employer can make in its people.

Coaching lights a fire in my bones. I absolutely love it and am incredibly grateful to be creating a career that is so rich with meaning. So many of us (who are in the privileged position of having choice in our lives) crave this. I credit coaching for helping me get clarity about what I want to do, and crucially, for helping me gain the necessary self-belief and flexibility of mindset. Having got to this point feels like magic to me – and that’s the essence of what coaching can create.

Honestly,  experiencing first-hand how transformative coaching can be is what motivates me to become a coach. I want others to know that big shifts are possible for them too – and I want others to have the opportunity that I’ve had.

Bear with me if you’re still a bit hazy on what exactly coaching is. I’m keen to explain that further in another post. For now, I’ll illustrate four features of coaching, drawing upon my own experiences as a coaching client.

Asking powerful questions. Good coaches ask powerful questions of their clients. Powerful questions have the ability to transform your perspective.

I was in a job I loved, that was highly satisfying, and was working with people I adored. I was also pretty tired from the huge workload. But I didn’t actually want to leave. My coach asked a simple, but powerful question: ‘do you see yourself still here in five years?’.  This question really got under my skin. I had a strong, instant reaction – I knew I wouldn’t be there in five years. The question helped me connect to my future self.  It was a trigger for a different way of thinking that saw me eventually moving to a completely different industry.

Shifting perspective. Coaching provides the opportunity to shift your perspective – it helps you ‘see into yourself’, and uncover unconscious ways of thinking or behaving that might be holding you back. It’s almost like holding up a mirror – a coach will reflect back their insights based on what they see, hear, and sense from you – things you may or may not be able to see yourself.  

Last year, I was feeling overwhelmed and emotionally ‘heavy’ from my work environment. My coach helped me consider whether there might be a different way of doing life at work. Maybe I could choose to think about decisions that were made and conversations that were had more objectively, less personally. I’ve tried this on for size, and it’s something I’m keen to stick with because it saves me a hell of a lot of energy.  

The areas we struggle most with, whether at work or in our wider lives, give us clues for where we might benefit from a shift in perspective. There’s a saying… ‘where you stumble, there lies your treasure’. Are you curious about what your stumbling blocks could teach you?

Creating strategies. One of my biggest self-development challenges is perfectionism. This probably reached a peak whilst studying at university, but the demands of work meant I had to start learning to accept things done ‘good enough’. Nonetheless, many of the patterns continued in my working (and personal) life. I learned the hard way that perfectionism + a job with significant responsibility + a programme of work I felt really passionate about was a recipe for exhaustion. But looking back, it wasn’t until I received coaching at work that I really started to become aware of this issue and how much it was holding me back. My coach could clearly see these tendencies in me, and helped me identify my own strategies to manage it effectively.


Fast forward a couple of years and I rarely, if ever, take my day job home. Assignments are done well, but I don’t fret over them, because I know there is an opportunity cost – I miss out on other bits of life.  I now have an inbuilt radar that detects when my perfectionist tendencies are taking over (like when I’m spending too many hours on a particular task, or I’m feeling particularly ‘stuck’ with something). This is a signal to me to take a step back, mix up what I’m doing (go for a walk or bounce some ideas off a colleague) and refocus on what is most important. Probably the biggest indicator of how far I’ve come is captured in one of my coaching business principles: ‘prototype, not perfection’. Quite simply, I will learn by doing, rather than becoming paralysed trying to perfect things (like this post, for instance).    

I owe these remarkable shifts in my own development to coaching. It is possible to change unuseful patterns!

Having someone on your side. And finally, one of the most heartwarming things about coaching is not only having a trusted confidante, a voice of reason, and someone who is willing to constructively challenge you, but having the experience of someone who is always in your corner.  A coach has your back and wants you to succeed.  They don’t see you as a problem to be ‘fixed’ –  a key tenet of coaching is that people are inherently whole.  Having an objective person standing firmly in your corner helps you believe in yourself – and in your innate capabilities, strengths, and uniqueness.  In turn, this helps you stand more firmly in your own corner, more of the time.  

In my next post, I plan to talk about what coaching actually is, and what you can expect as a client.  If there are particular topics you’d like to see in future, please contact me – I’d love to hear from you.

Why coaching?

Confessions of a workaholic, one year on

Perhaps it should say reformed workaholic, as one year on I feel I can legitimately lay claim to that. A little over 12 months ago, I was preparing to jump ship. Preparing to sail into a new role on what felt like a pretty distant horizon. I had taken a bit of a sideways step on the career ladder, and would no longer have management responsibilities.

It was a big change that after a lot of soul searching, I felt I had to make for my own wellbeing.  I had worked for four years in an organisation that I was fully committed to and that had given me tremendous opportunities. I adored both the people in my team, and our mahi, and was inspired by the leadership and the community we served. I was totally passionate about it, and was surrounded by a team that was even more so. It was hugely satisfying that my team and I could not only see the impact we were making, but tangibly demonstrate it too.

But I was exhausted. My to do list was never-ending. In fact, it was lucky if I had the time to scribble one down. My email inbox would induce a panic attack in an otherwise calm person (‘the tiger in my inbox’ aka my email is a blog topic all of its own). It was commonplace for me to reply to work emails the minute I woke up, and in the evenings, and churn through chunks of complex projects in the evenings and weekends. I even checked my emails while sitting on the toilet (every semi-spare minute was an opportunity to be productive, I thought!). Furthermore, when you’re really passionate about something, the list of extra things you could be doing never stops expanding. You can never quite do ‘enough’ because after all, you’re working to address very real challenges faced by very real people. It is very hard to turn your brain off to this. It’s even hard to leave work at a normal time to meet up with your friends, when all you can think about is the 101 tasks you haven’t yet got to. And as someone already prone to anxiety, this constant, frenetic feeling coupled with an inability to shake off the perpetual to-do list meant that I was perpetually in motion. At least, my jittery insides were.

I went over and above the call of duty because I felt so passionate about what we were striving to achieve. This is one of the shadows of passion, I think. And it makes it very easy to burn out. I knew all about burnout from my early 20’s, when I was working full-time, studying part-time, volunteering 10+ hours a week, and babysitting, playing sports and trying to have a 20-something year old social life too. I think it was shortly after this when I ended up with a) glandular fever and b) a strong aversion to signing up to too many commitments ever since.  On the plus side, I’m grateful to be learning a lot of these lessons relatively young.

But somehow, this over-committed state crept back up on me inadvertently, as you’ve heard about above. Experiencing this state of stress is not something that’s sustainable. Not only that, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to have a choice, I consider over-work to be a waste of valuable life. My integrity and work ethic will never be a problem for me, and so, with that said, I know my wise 90 year old self does not encourage me to work harder, longer, or more. She encourages me to live a more balanced, present life. Work is important, and it is one way to contribute in this world, if you are lucky enough – but it is not everything.

It wasn’t for lack of trying that my life had become so out of balance and unsustainable. I worked hard to relax my standards and become far less of a perfectionist. I became an expert on productivity strategies. I had coaching. I sought feedback on how to manage my workload, and what I should prioritise. I learned a little bit about how to push back, how to delegate. I asked for help, and advice, and suggestions on how to cope. I did mindfulness and meditation, and went to the gym very regularly.  But I was also nervous about the idea of stepping away from my beloved career path. Who would I be without my work and all the privileges that came with it?

Eventually, having a pretty awful car accident a couple of days after my 30th birthday was the biggest wake-up call I could have had. I wouldn’t wish this horror upon anyone, but at the same time I am tremendously grateful that a young-ish woman, who must have been texting rather than looking at the road, drove straight into the back of my car in the middle of a state highway. Thank god everyone was okay. I honestly don’t know if anything less life-changing could have jolted me out of that frenetic state so I might get onto a better, healthier path.  It took a fair bit of time to slow down and step out of my circumstances, but I couldn’t not.  Having that accident left me with a changed perspective, and an unshakeable feeling that continually reminds me of the fragility of life, and the value of time.



Over a year later and I can honestly say I am no longer fuelled by adrenaline. I have learned the value of slowing down, of considering before acting, and of not pushing to get things ticked off a list. Much to a rushing woman’s horror, I’ve let myself have evenings and weekends where I do very little, and where I have to sit with my thoughts and truly face myself, rather than chasing distractions. Many of us feel truly uncomfortable doing so. I have discovered and started to pursue three things that I am truly passionate about. None of them involve pushing myself to be a high-achieving career person.

We are all a work in progress, but I’ve now started to see the light and enjoy the benefits of a healthier life-work balance. In doing so, I’ve often caught myself feeling sorry for people who rush from meeting to meeting, exclaiming how furiously busy they are. It’s as if having far too much to do has become some sort of status symbol, some revered state. I certainly used to be one of those people – but I don’t think I ever legitimately aspired to be like that. I was just genuinely overloaded. And I couldn’t get away from it. But then I remembered, just last night, a scenario from my days spent in London. We were out for dinner one night with friends, and I was in the middle of planning towards a big campaign at work. I needed to check my emails urgently, and was having issues logging in. When I apologised for being rude while we were meant to be chatting at the dinner table, one of my acquaintances sort of shrugged and said ‘don’t apologise. I actually kind of feel sorry for you’.

At the time, I thought that was a pretty snarky comment. But it’s ironic that now, some six years later, it’s the exact same train of thought I have each time I come across a ‘rushing woman’.  Yet another member of a not so exclusive club that I am deeply satisfied to say, I have chosen to revoke my membership of.

Confessions of a workaholic, one year on