Don't overestimate what you can achieve in a year. Don't underestimate what you can achieve in five years!

Dr Nicola Harker, Empowerment Coach, reflects on a decade of change.

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As we come to the end of the decade, these words, spoken to me by my coach some time ago, feel particularly on point.  It’s become a mantra for me – reminding me to be patient but to have ambition too.  I’m sharing my story for life-leapers who are considering making a change, because you just don’t know what the next decade might have in store for you!

Back in the second half of 2010 I had my second child, a little girl, and the task of juggling a busy GP job with a baby and toddler, and a husband who was often abroad was just beginning.  I loved my work, and it didn’t cross my mind that I would ever work in any other job.  I was a GP, and a Mum.

In 2011 I was back in my practice after 9 months’ maternity leave.  My little girl had joined my son in nursery and I was back at the helm of my work.  It was slightly complicated trying to breast pump in my consulting room between surgeries, whilst ploughing through administrative tasks and blood results, and I was grateful for the lock on my office door!  But I was a GP, that’s what I needed to do if I was going to be a mum as well.

In 2012 I became a trainer, supervising doctors as they moved from their hospital training into the less protected world of general practice.  I enjoyed my work, although I felt frustrated by the distinctly biomedical model that prevailed.  Many of my patients most needed someone to listen, and much of my work involved domestic violence, child protection, chronic diseases and cancer.  I quenched my thirst for knowledge by reading a lot of books.  I questioned the system, but I didn’t expect to leave it.

In 2013 I fell whilst cleaning the kitchen windows ( I know - what was I thinking?!).  I didn’t fall far, but it was an uncontrolled fall flat onto some stacked roof tiles and with my neck inches from hitting a stone well.  I couldn’t stand up, and the pain was intense, but my husband got me back on my feet.  Since I could feel my feet I pragmatically decided that I was fine and stupidly didn’t attend A&E.  I was in intense pain for three months before I caved in and sought urgent medical help.  An MRI scan showed that I’d not fractured my spine, but had dislodged my lumbar vertebrae hard to one side, leaving scar tissue and intense muscle spasm.  Sitting for hours every day as a GP was contributing to my pain, and I was exhausted from lack of sleep.  I found a very helpful physio, I took a break for a few weeks, and I started my recovery.

It was during this time that I noticed that my back pain was increased by the distress of nearly breaking my neck in front of my children, and feeling distraught that I could no longer pick up my toddler.  I discovered that mindfulness meditation could drastically decrease my pain, far better than any painkiller I was taking.  So started my regular practice of mindfulness that continues to this day.

In 2014 I sought the help of a coach for the first time.  With her help I realised that I was assuming that I had to work the same pattern as my GP colleagues, but this wasn’t working with my back rehab.  I found a GP practice close to my home, and they agreed to let me work shorter hours as long as I covered the “tough days” (Monday and Friday).  For the first time in my life I had dared to ask for what I wanted, rather than just doing what was expected of me.  My coach impressed me with her ability to focus in so quickly on my blockages and assumptions, and her communication skills.

In 2015 my personal development continued as I read books, took courses, watched TED talks, and explored coaching.   I found a Pilates teacher who helped my back recovery.  In my GP practice, and my role as Cancer Clinical Lead for the NHS, I was working very hard, but I thought I was also taking care of myself.  I thought that I would continue in these roles, but I didn’t realise then that I was gradually heading for burnout.

In 2016 I undertook training with a coach in London who was trained by Brene Brown.  She opened my eyes to my potential and the mindset required to “Dare Greatly”.  It was she who suggested that I read “Mindful Self-Compassion” by Kristen Neff – the book that changed the direction of my life.  As my eyes were being opened, my work in the NHS was steadily becoming more fraught and frustrating.  We suffered staff losses, and struggled to maintain the clinical standards to which we aspired.  Austerity was kicking in, but the public were unaware of the hidden cuts and pressures.

In 2017 I travelled to Holland to undertake training with Kristen Neff herself, left my GP practice, became an Ambassador for Psychologies magazine, completed my coaching training with Animas in London, and launched my business.  I’ve written before about this big leap – it was a combination of survival, and realising that I had ambitions that needed to be explored.  I had no business experience!  Hell, I’d never even had a facebook account before, but I was excited and focused – I was following my dreams!

In 2018 my coaching client base grew from local interest, to working with women across the UK.  I undertook MSC teacher training and started running Mindful Self-Compassion courses, and retreats for women.

In 2019 I realised that I couldn’t reach enough women with the self-compassion courses, and I had a million ideas for other specific support for women that complimented what I’d learned about self-compassion.  Boundaries.  Self-care.  Mastering our inner critic.  Presence and compassionate leadership.  Strengths and values.  Mindset and why we self-sabotage.  Connection and living deeply.  I put together an online learning programme to run alongside my coaching, bringing together skills and resources for my clients.  It was exciting to notice that I tackled all the technical aspects myself, someone who was previously quite nervous of computers.  I partnered my business with One-Tree Planted, planting a tree for each new client.  We planted over 50 in 2019!  I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book alongside other women entrepreneurs (due out in March 2020).  And I started writing my own book.  Quite a year!

I reach the end of the decade hardly able to remember what it was like to be me in 2010.  The changes have been enormous and the rewards have been massive.  As I head into the next decade my children will soon become teenagers, and my role in their lives will adapt again, but I feel more like me than ever before.  And I’m having way more fun! 

So, have you thought about what you can achieve in the next ten years?  It’s mind-blowing when you consider the question!

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.