Today I’m speaking to Laura Nowell who qualified as a coach six months ago and has since integrated coaching into her existing career.
Claudia: Hi, Laura. Thanks for talking to me today. I just wanted to learn a bit about how your last six months has been since you qualified as a coach. So, I wonder, has it been six months, or has it been longer than that?
Laura: Yeah. I qualified in December. So I did the training relatively quickly. I think, I started in around about August, and then qualified in December, and the reason I wanted to qualify for December was that I was going off to teach. I’m a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist, and I was going off to teach in India for the winter. So I was very keen to have my coaching qualification with me to take to India to work with clients with.
Claudia: Cool. I wonder what made you take the course, to begin with.
Laura: To begin with, I have quite a diverse skill set. So my background is in the corporate world. I worked in advertising for fourteen/ fifteen years, and about five years ago I took a sabbatical and took quite a significant life change and trained to become a yoga teacher, a yoga therapist, and massage therapist. I took this big exploration into the body.
So it felt like my background was in very head-centred and creative work working in advertising, but working in a management role, and then I explored a whole new realm of the body, and it came to a place where I realised that I had this quite diverse skill set and how could I bring it all together? It felt to me, I hadn’t linked that coaching might be the answer.
So that’s why I took the training and I particularly was drawn to Animas because they talk very much about enabling their students to draw on all their skills and life experience as opposed to dropping them and learn something new. So that appealed to me because I really wanted to bring my skills I’ve spent so many years honing together.
Claudia: How much did you know about coaching before you took the course?
Laura: Not so much. I had a couple of – not even friends of colleagues really – acquaintances who I knew were doing it and I was a little bit intrigued, and I talked to them and I started to get the feeling that maybe I was doing it anyway. I started to get the feeling that in my corporate job I had been coaching my team and my colleagues in a way, and I started to realise that through teaching yoga and doing therapy certainly I was already coaching, but it wasn’t formalised, and it wasn’t a qualification, and, yeah, it was a hunch and a sense.
Having said that, I was also pretty cynical as well, as I know a lot of people are as to really what is this thing and it doesn’t seem very tangible, and maybe it doesn’t seem tangible because a lot of us do it anyway, and, I think, a lot of us under the skill of being good at holding a space, or good at listening, can sometimes be undermined or undervalued, but I started to realise, “Oh! Hang on a minute. This is really a valuable skill, and if I can hone it and learn some techniques to strengthen it, then that could be amazing,” and then maybe you can be paid for it then even better.
Claudia: Got it. Had you had coaching before?
Laura: No, not officially, no, but I feel that through my life I have been very lucky to have a few mentors or people I would describe as mentors usually through work, but I also started to realise that these people had been coaching me on and off throughout my life in an informal way based in friendship. So, again, it makes it slightly in tandem, but I started to realise how much I had gained from other people coaching me and wanted to give that back.
I had also had various forms of therapy over the years, different kinds of psychotherapy, psychology, and then more holistic treatment – lots and lots of holistic treatments in my work as a yoga teacher in India. I came across different types of healers. So I received an awful lot, but nothing that I would say was pure coaching, no.
Claudia: So, did you have a sense of what you would get from the course before you took it?
Laura: I think I was a little bit more sceptical than anything, and I thought that it would be challenging for me because I felt like I was going to already know a lot of the content because of my trainings as a teacher and therapist, but somehow something still encouraged me to keep going and to take the training, but that was just a really interesting personal journey for me, and I learnt so much, and there was some recapping of certain ideas, but these ideas are also familiar in the world we live in.
But maybe the problem is we sometimes just get little bits and pieces, whereas putting it all into a training was really, really helpful, and I learnt so much more and learning about myself and learning with the students that I was working with, and from the trainers just giving really a newer perspective, yeah, and making everything kind of coming together.
Lots of ideas I had already were able to come together and this is something that I really feel strongly about coaching. I started to realise that coaching, for me, it’s like the glue that brings together an awful lot of ideas, perspectives, preconceptions, experience, skills, and it can even bring everything together to create something more tangible.
Claudia: Lovely. That’s a really nice explanation – it’s like the glue that brings things together. I wonder how that has manifested since you finished your qualification. Can you tell me what you’ve been up to?
Laura: Yes. I went to India where I worked in a retreat centre in North Goa, and so it’s my fourth season working there. I went a season, and I offered it as pure coaching, and I called it “Transition coaching” and I thought a lot about what would I call it? What’s the right terminology?
I have a lot of experience talking to the kinds of people that come on yoga retreats in India, and I had noticed over the past few years that lots of the chat I have around the dinner table were very often about people making big life transitions, and, in fact, that reflected a truth in me that I had gone through my own personal transition in changing career from a corporate world to the holistic world.
I had also experienced my own personal transitions in moving countries. I have lived in Australia and I come back and forth from Asia to Europe quite a lot, and I started to see this reflected back at me that in the age we live in, there is an awful lot of transitions being made, whether it’s between relationships, countries, careers, and these transitions are a common place, I think, in our parents’ generation, or a generation ago, or two.
Typically, people would have one job, one career, and if you had one of those or both, then you would keep it, and I know my mother has often been sceptical or raise an eyebrow at how often I seem to make big changes in my life, but it’s almost like a muscle that needs to be exercised and we get better at it.
However, when going through them, I think, we need support. It’s like we shed layers. Even if you are just moving a house, you shed a layer, and then you move on to something new, and I believe in these transitions we all need more support than perhaps we think we do.
So it’s the process of letting go, but also the process of defining a new version of yourself, and I started to realise that a lot of people come to yoga and meditation and some spiritual practices in order to assist them through these transitions, and I saw a huge opportunity for coaching – some talking-based proactive strategy-based work to help support people going through these transitions.
So this is what I want to take to my retreats as an offering. In reality what happened was, not so many people went for the pure coaching. I had four or five clients who did, all who came quite sceptical and all who had very positive experiences. However, what I learned was that I was using the coaching skills in everything that I was doing, and again, this comes back to my point about it being like the glue.
So, I was teaching. I teach big classes – about thirty people. I teach people one-to-one, I do yoga therapy and massage, and I teach meditation and mindfulness, and I also did a few workshops, and, without question, my Animas training enhanced all of those skills and all of those offerings, and I realised more and more that what I had learned from the training was just naturally coming out of me in the way that I was working with people.
The thing at the end of the day, this training, whether or not you go to become a pure coach, it can complement any skills that you have working with other human beings, and, I think, most of us, in our work are working with other human beings.
So there are a few ways that I noticed myself integrating the skills mostly through listening and through getting better at holding space with silence. This is something I learnt very profoundly in the Animas training. We talk a lot about when you are coaching someone, are you able to allow silence and are you able to allow yourself as the coach and your client to sit in a space of silence while they reflect, think, and feel what’s really going on?
Having the courage to be able to sit in silence, whether it’s in your own personal meditation, or whilst you are on a yoga mat, or whether you are talking to a family member, or whether you are working with a client in a therapeutic way, being able to hold space and not be afraid of the silence is incredibly powerful because I do believe that in holding particularly discomfort, particularly in holding that kind of energy is where transformation can occur and does occur, and in my experience I started to see how precious that was.
I started to drop expectation of myself as needing to find my clients an answer, Or as a yoga teacher getting them to a specific place, or feeling, or sensation, and I started to really let go of the outcome whether it was a yoga class or a one-to-one session, and to trust energy, actually, to trust energy that’s running through me and through the people I work with, and through the environment we inhabit.
Claudia: Yes, it sounds like you’ve not only been able to integrate it into the skills that you use in work, should we say, with the massage, and the yoga, and the yoga therapy, but also that it has really come into your personal life. You speak about holding space with your friends and family, and also about letting go of attachment to outcomes.
Laura: Yeah. In fact, right now, in my life, it’s the most valuable tool I have because I’m going through yet another transition as I seem to do quite often in different ways, and I feel like it’s a practice in itself transitioning well, and transitioning keeping your cool, keeping connected to your heart and your mind and your voice and your gut.
I learn all of these skills through physical practices that I do, but to have the skills I have learned through coaching and through the Animas training, I have really enhanced that, and now I feel more inquisitive; more curious about myself in the way that I would be with a client. So curious, “Okay, what is this discomfort that I feel? Can I sit with it? Will it transform? Can I be playful with it?” And these things really do start to happen. So, I appreciate that I’ve been training myself in various skills for the past five years; in fact, probably for my whole life. The coaching training has underpinned all of them.
Another observation of working with people who are exploring a spiritual path – I know that word can be polarising – but people who are exploring the realm of self-development, I guess, when you are on that path, often, you can feel quite bombarded. One can feel quite bombarded and now I certainly have with lots of different techniques whether it’s through physical therapy, talking therapy, yoga styles, yoga teachers, philosophies.
There is so much out there and now that I work in that world, I’m kind of responsible for introducing people to books, thoughts, ideas, practices, and it can get overwhelming, and when you are starting to uncover your own self or your own truth, and you’re doing it in a fairly isolated way, I actually think it’s big. People can go through big shifts and changes in their lives, and I really think there is a role of coaching to support that, and that’s probably where I see myself going in the future, is being a coach, a personal development coach, perhaps.
This is what I’m seeing that I’m doing for myself, but I also see it in so many of my clients that it’s a real need in this day and age where people are exploring quiet deeply themselves, and, I think, that requires support.
Claudia: Yeah, and, I think, that that’s something about the Animas course does do quite well, which is equip coaches to work on these big questions and on things which are really coming up for people at the moment, and that was going to be my next question which is around the role the coach in today’s society, and what you think that might be.
Laura: I think, actually, the role of coaching can be misunderstood as being therapy, or about needing to get someone out of a hole, or problem-solution focused. I like to think of coaching as a slightly more positive start point, and that there doesn’t need to be a huge problem or a lacking, as it were. There often is, and that will often be uncovered, but the start point can actually be, how do I want my life to go? How can I start to take control and take responsibility for what my life could be, and what is my passion, and what is my place, and how can I follow these things, and how can I create strategies to take me forward?
This, to me, is really exciting, and this, to me, is anyone and everyone who has energy and desire to create change in their lives, and this is kind of infinite. So, I see the role of coaching is to enable and assist people on that path, and I think, there is a big job to do with PR actually in this broader sense of coaching and what it is and what it can do, and the marketing of that.
There is a huge opportunity for coaches to define what they do, whether it’s in a niche way or in a broad sense; to start to highlight to people, to potential clients, how coaching can help them and benefit their lives to really be an enhancer.
So there is just one way to look at it, and, of course, it’s totally valid to work with a coach on working through a problem, or an issue, or going back into the past, but it’s not all about that, and whether we are working with projecting to the future, or fixing something, or sorting something out from the past, the whole work happens in the present, and this is something else that’s very beautiful about coaching for me, is that it all happens in the here and now, and there is so much to be gained from training ourselves to be more present and to feel, use our bodies, use our breath, use our thoughts to really see and be truthful about what’s happening now.
So, to me, it’s really about mindfulness. In its broader sense, I believe, coaching is mindfulness, and it something, I think, can benefit everybody.
Claudia: You touched on that earlier and you said that you were in a period of transition, but do you have hopes for how you might use your coaching skills in the future?
Laura: There are two areas where I believe I could take my coaching skills now: it might be both, but I’m keeping them separate to start with. In my career as a yoga teacher, in the work I do with people in the more holistic world, I believe that I can use coaching to support people going through personal development processes, and I really do believe very strongly in the physical experience off existing with the more esoteric and mental experiences of existing, and I would like to use coaching to help people as they travel along their spiritual paths.
Having worked in the corporate world, and having gone through pretty much a real joy and passion for what I did in working with a very creative side of the corporate, and yet, at the same time, experiencing burnout through stress and anxiety and pressure, and seeing it happen to so many others of my colleagues and peers and friends, I now feel I have a deeper understanding of that tension between loving what you do, but just not feeling that you have the energy or the capacity to give it anymore, and I think, the corporate world loses a lot of people, and probably not just the corporate world – I’m being very generalised when I say that.
I think, a lot of talent is lost because people aren’t supported enough in being human beings, and, I think, there is a huge role for coaching to come in and support and facilitate industry leaders; to help keep that talent healthy and happy and strong in all senses, and through personal experience, I feel that I could contribute to that particular issue which, I think, is a huge issue.
So, it interests me to work with human beings in any capacity, in any industry; so I’ll probably end up having a big decision to make as to which direction I take myself in, or perhaps there is a way that I can do both. I don’t know. But the other area I’m very interested to pursue and to learn about next is workshops. So, I’d love to learn more about how to work with people in groups, and to use coaching of groups or of particular teams.
Something that has happened since I qualified is, I have started to notice that certain people, brands, colleagues, who are setting up their own small businesses, very small businesses, or have a little idea for a new product, or something like that, are coming to me to ask me about strategy, or the name of a new product, or something like this, and I have realised in short conversations, or sometimes a slightly longer workshop session, I’m using my coaching in order to create a business or marketing strategy.
This is where my skill set is starting to come together, and I’ve only seen tiny little clues of this happening, but this might be the future of what I do, is to use my coaching skills to work with people in small businesses who are setting up and defining a new direction for themselves with a new product or service. That might be where my skills align because, at the end of the day, it’s either business strategy, or human strategy, and I feel that there is not that much difference between the two, and to put them together could be quite beautiful.
Claudia: Lovely. Yeah. I have had sessions with branding agencies which have felt like coaching sessions; where to get to the answer you need to start with questions, like, what’s it that you are here? What’s the impact that you want to make? And you can ask the same questions of organisations that you ask of human beings for their own life and their own purpose. So that’s really interesting.
Laura: Yeah. What happened actually when I was in Goa, I was brainstorming with a friend who is a strategy director in advertising, and she is just setting up her own freelance offering, and I am just starting to think about setting myself up as a coach, and we would brainstorm together quite a lot; we both used to work together in advertising, and we started to realise that what we were doing was the same thing, and we had so many ideas that were the same.
It was amazing to think, ‘Yeah. These tools, we can really help each other and complement what each other is doing,” because she is working with brands, I’m working with people, but, yeah, it’s all about whether you are a brand or a person, how do I get from A to B? How do I create this change in my life? How do I sit in a space and be honest about what’s happening right now, and how do I use the truth of who I am whether I’m a brand or a person to project myself into the next stage of my evolution?
Claudia: Absolutely! It struck me as well when you were speaking about corporates losing their staff, losing their employees because of these burnouts and I forget if you used that term, or whether that’s the term that popped into my head because that’s also my experience in the social justice set, so where people are hugely passionate about what they do, and they live and breathe it, and it’s very much aligned to their purpose, often, as an individual, and yet there is huge burnout because there isn’t a structure to take care of the human being behind the role that they play in that world.
That’s actually why I came to coaching witnessing that, and just thinking, “What a waste of hundreds of thousands of people that are very passionate and want to give their all to something, and they are just unrecognised as people that might be struggling with certain things, or might need a little guidance in their career, or with confidence, or whatever it might be,” and just that little extra acknowledgement of those challenges and supporting dealing with that could just transform movements in sectors is my belief. So, I wonder, just to finish up, whether have there been any surprises along the way?
Laura: The thing that surprised and delighted me the most is when I’m coaching, the clients I tend to get tend to reflect back to me some part of myself, and this is extremely humbling and this is a recognition of the fact that we are all so interconnected, and I do believe that the clients we attract as coaches are all exactly who they are supposed to be, and, often, they do come and they bring “generous.” Coaching is so generous. It brings new perspectives to myself because I’m always seeing myself reflected back in my clients, and this is affirming. I think, it’s life-affirming and coaching-affirming.
We have to be a little bit careful when we see something reflected that we believe we know, not to then put our own judgement on that, or our own personal life experience onto that because coming from another human, of course, it will come from a very different place. However, it’s the thing which, I think, connects us all, is that we are all so similar. We are different in many ways but we are all one at the end of the day, and this I see a lot through coaching.
Claudia: Yeah. That’s lovely. Thank you. It has been really lovely to hear about how coaching has been integrated into your career, and also, how it has been really enriching to you personally. Thank you.
I think a lot of people have a similar experience as they were off to qualifying as a coach. Our work lives often change as we integrate coaching skills into what we do, or we set up a coaching practice, but equally notable and sometimes less expected is the impact of being on the coaching journey on our relationship with other people and ourselves.