In 2015, whilst on maternity leave with my second child, I felt a sense of restlessness and a loss of identity. I had a sense that something needed to change but I couldn’t quite identify what. Unable to get clarity, I asked myself some of my favourite questions I’ve asked my coaching clients and then I reflected on the answers in my journal. Some of these questions were:
- What would things look like if I reframed my uncertainty as curiosity?
- What are the ingredients of my best day?
- What is the evidence for the beliefs I hold about myself?
- When do I truly get lost in ‘flow’?
- How do I nourish myself?
The journalling trigged a series of revelations and the short version of this story is that a few weeks after I returned to work from maternity leave, I became a student at the Open University studying part-time for a Bachelors Degree. Did I think that this was where my reflections would take me? Of course not, but then that’s the beauty of powerful coaching questions!
Part-time degree studies with the OU have a commitment of around sixteen hours of study per week, for eight months of the year, for six years. I’d been putting it off for a lifetime. I was guilty of exactly what I see in many of my clients – waiting for the perfect time to pursue a goal.
I was under no illusions that it would be easy and I didn’t have a plan yet but change doesn’t start with a plan, it starts with a sense of what needs to change. Often, we can talk ourselves out of something because we haven’t got all the steps mapped out. I’m a firm believer in starting where you are, with what you have and taking one step. After that, it’s a bit like the maps you see at malls with ‘you are here’ – as you proceed, the next step appears in front of you and you know where you are again.
Although I didn’t have a plan, I did have a purpose. Purpose is inexpensive motivation and is the ‘why’ for your aim. I was really clear about why I had chosen to study and why it had to be now, when I had my hands full with a job, a baby and a toddler.
As well as juggling my studies with work and family life, I experienced a number of challenges whilst studying. Redundancy, starting a business, bereavement and moving house are just a few of the things I have dealt with over recent years, not to mention the national lockdowns over the past fourteen months. There were many occasions when reminding myself of my purpose helped to keep me on track.
If you’re working on an important personal project whilst managing a busy life, overwhelm is never far away. I’ve learned that balance is key. Not the ‘spinning ten plates and trying not to drop one’ kind but the responding intuitively kind. Accepting the fact that your plans can be disrupted by external factors (not to mention your own commitments, energy and mood), allows you to be adaptive. Ploughing on regardless towards your end goal is counter productive.
This week I handed in the final essay of my final module. In 2015 I couldn’t have even pictured that this day would come. And the baby and toddler? They are six and eight years old respectively and looking forward to seeing Mummy in her cap and gown.
Being a mature student has taught me a lot about myself but it’s also taught me the importance of having supporters. When we’re chipping away at a goal, it can be tempting to keep quiet about it. We’re fearful of embarrassment if it goes wrong or the disappointment if we fail. In being open about my goal, I gained a team of supporters. Some of them were energetic cheerleaders, some gave practical support and others gave me a kick up the butt when needed. Some of the support even came from strangers – the online OU community rallies round each other.
Now I’m looking forward to a summer of freedom from study (and freedom from lockdowns) because in the autumn I do it all over again… I start a Masters. – Michelle
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