Learning to fly

I've been an Ambassador for this lovely group for a year now, and I'm 18 months into my life leap. It's time to share some of what I've learned.

Like Comment


 “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world” (Brene Brown)

I saw this quote at the top of a Psychologies email that arrived last week, and I thought it was the perfect place to start writing about my first year as a Psychologies Ambassador, and my own life leap.

When I was appointed as an Ambassador for Psychologies, I was already a few months into my life leap, having left the NHS earlier last year.  It was a leap into the unknown, but for me, it was all about daring to be myself.  Daring to present my authentic imperfect self to the world.  Something in me know that I wasn’t expressing my true self by staying safe, and I knew ultimately it wouldn’t make me happy to remain in my comfort zone.

My early wobbly forays into living courageously involved embracing new ways of working.  I had left behind the comfort of a salary, and unlimited work pouring through my door.  I had never used social media, because I was a doctor living close to my practice, and I wanted to keep some professional distance.  I had never presented a public face other than my formal work persona, an armour which had kept me feeling safe.  Suddenly I needed to consider how potential clients would find me.  It felt vulnerable to start speaking, blogging, posting, and it is still a learning process, trying to find my voice.  The wonderfully inspiring thing about Brene Brown’s work, is that she reminds me that vulnerability isn’t weakness – it is courageous, and it creates connections, even if it feels uncomfortable at the time.

There are a few standout lessons from my first year:

If you are struggling to work out “how” to get clients, to get more business, to get heard, it is likely that you haven’t worked out your “why”.  When I first began setting up my business, it was easy for me to get tangled up in wondering “how” to do things.  I quickly learned that I needed to dig deep and explore exactly where my passions lay, what I wanted to do in the world and why, before I could express myself clearly in my business. Once my “why” became clear, all the next steps and decisions became clear too.

“The work is never about you.”  I resisted this one for a while, but eventually I learned that in order to reach prospective clients I needed to stop thinking about what I bring, and start focussing on what my clients could gain.  When I was feeling vulnerable and new, it was easy to focus on me, because I was projecting my fears of “not being good enough” onto my work.  It took me a while to drop those fears and focus on what my clients perceived needs were, and how I could serve them.  It makes a big difference when you get out there to talk about your services, and makes selling easier.

Setting out on your own needs to be sustainable.  Running around like a headless chicken doing endless courses, to placate the fear inside us that we are “not enough” just results in burnout.  The most helpful skill I have used during my life-leap has been practising Mindful Self Compassion, which is I’m now running workshops and courses to share this with others.  Why?  Because I’ve tamed my inner critic, I know I am “enough” just as a I am, I’ve learned to notice when I’m spinning out and take action sooner, and I have a daily resource that keeps returning me to calmness.  It’s been gold dust.  If you are setting out on a life-leap yourself, I would strongly recommend timetabling something self-care at least once a week, if not daily – running, yoga, mindfulness, massage, self-compassion – whatever it is, take it like a daily medicine to keep you sane!

You are your biggest resource.  Many people set out to change the world, without realising that there is something unresolved inside.  Taking a life-leap requires you to get really honest with yourself.  Is this really the type of work you want, and what are you willing to do for it?  Whether it’s changing job, or becoming self-employed, or stopping work altogether, the person inside you will come with you.  You can’t run away from it!  I was really lucky that I was subconsciously cogitating about my life-leap for years before I realised it, and so when I made my decision I felt ready.  Even so, I hadn’t fully appreciated how hard working on my own would be.  I paid for some mentoring sessions at the start, and I sometimes go back for more coaching when I get to a crossroads and need to check my own thinking.  If you can’t afford that, I would seek out a really good listener who is going to let you chew over thoughts, but allow you to make your own decisions.  Because you will certainly hear lots of opinions from others, and their opinions will mostly reflect their own fears, not necessarily great advice.

If you set up a business, it will evolve.  You don’t need to know all the answers at the beginning, and in fact it’s more fun if you don’t because you can take opportunities or explore new ideas as you go along.  As someone who was new to creating my own work, I found this really hard at the start, and I kept seeking out the “right” way to do something.  It was a bit like how I felt when I had my first baby.  As the year has gone by I’ve realised I wasted a lot of energy looking for answers.  What I wish I had known is that I would need to coach a certain number of clients before I saw patterns about my coaching style, and my next steps have always become clear as I’ve gone along.  So during the first few months of any life leap, there is value in just trying stuff, observing, noting how things feel, and getting clear on the “why”.

Get to know your Resistance.  I’ve written about resistance before, but this has been a revelation to me!  If I find myself resisting, avoiding, or feeling distressed about something, nothing flows.  The workshop that I’m not happy about – no bookings.  Those weeks where I feel like I haven’t got enough time to do anything properly – there’s something I’m resisting.  As soon as I work out what my resistance is, astonishing flow happens immediately!  One of the biggest challenges of my first year has been to get really good at noticing my own resistance, and to keep going back and checking in.  It’s not something I can fix, it’s a constant process.

Relationships will change if you change.  This was another bit of the puzzle that I didn’t anticipate, but now I look back it is quite obvious.  When we take a life leap, the dynamics in our closest relationships inevitably change.  I thought I had kept everyone on board, but as the year went on, I realised that some of the plan wasn’t clearly communicated (partly because I was making it up as I went along!).  I learned my lesson and have altered my communication style to listen better and make space for dialogue, but it’s a constant process.  Change can be really challenging for those around us, and if they struggle it isn’t necessarily intentional.  Compassion and listening have been so helpful, and be realistic – if you are changing, those around you will notice. 

Focus on what you want, not don’t want.  When I first left the NHS, I was tired and angry.  I had worked hard at a career for over twenty years (not to mention years of training), and walking away meant owning up to how dissatisfied I felt with the NHS.  This has taken me time to process, and a year later I’m starting to draw out the constructive lessons.  I’m so glad that I had the wisdom to keep that separate from my new work.  I haven’t talked about my anger and frustration publicly, and I think if I had, it would have drawn me back towards the work I’ve left behind, rather than positively moving towards what I really want.  I think my learning from this has been “If you are fired up by wanting to change something in the world, make sure that you give yourself time to separate the hurt from the passion.”  I will write another article about that hurt and anger, because it took me a really long time to work it out.

This amazing journey, with Psychologies by my side, is just beginning.  I’m sixteen months in, and I’m still finding my feet, but I’ve also achieved a huge amount already. 

There has been fear.  There have been days when I wonder what I’m doing.  There have been changes, sometimes quite unexpected ones. 

I think that is what life is all about, and I’m in it for the ride!

Nicola Harker

Coach and Mentor (ex-doctor) and teacher of Self-Compassion, Nicola Harker Coaching

Using neuroscience, self-compassion techniques and coaching as well as high-performance techniques I help my clients free their potential and get back to their true selves so that they can thrive in life.