Why I became an executive life coach.
Throughout my years of coaching, I have found that most of my clients share one commonality – they don’t need motivation. They’re very successful people and they know what they need to do to reach their goals. What they actually require is for things to be simplified, so they can get back to the foundations of who they are, dig themselves out of the clutter to find clarity and purpose in their daily routines, and live a full life without self-destructing in the process.
My life has been a truly big journey. I think I wanted that from the day I was born. When I saw the movie Wall Street in 1987, I was seventeen years old and trying to decide what do with my life. All of that power, wealth and success was hugely appealing to my adolescent self, so I committed to getting a job at a high-profile stockbroking firm – and pulled it off. But there was increasing pressure to gain a degree and I hated studying, so after a few years I chose more life experience and began looking for my next chapter.
Aged twenty-one, I set off to explore the world. I backpacked through Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa, working my way through kitchens and bars. I slept under the stars high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, dozed on a small wooden boat on the river Nile, swam in the Dead Sea and waitressed in the ski resort of Mürren, Switzerland, home
of the James Bond 007 revolving restaurant. I hitchhiked through Spain, sleeping on many rooftops and staying everywhere from basic rooms to the odd grand castle. It was the most wonderful adventure.
After two years I came home and went back to the stockbroking firm, but I didn’t feel challenged. Trying to be true to myself, I decided to swap numbers and stress for something completely different and took up an assistant role in a golf management company. Soon I was negotiating contracts, managing professional golfers, travelling on tours, organising corporate golf days and learning everything there was to know about running a business from the ground up. It was a time of major growth.
Then, as often happens when you least expect it, life threw me a curve ball and I was asked to join a high-profile sports eyewear company as their sponsorship and PR manager. Overnight I went from managing a dozen golfers to working with more than 100 world-class athletes in Australia and internationally. By most people’s definition of success, I was living the dream. It was exhilarating, satisfying and demanding all at once. It was also incredibly intense.
As a high achiever I was used to overloading my life, so when the stress and exhaustion mounted I brushed these warning signs aside as the price to be paid for the kind of success I craved. I believed I was strong and nothing was going to hold me back from having everything I wanted. I was both unwilling and unable to slow down, and eventually my body delivered a devastating reminder of its need to be cared for, abruptly giving way to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
It was debilitating. Virtually bed-ridden for twelve months, I lost everything that mattered to me – my sense of self, my network, my ability to do the simplest things. My body just wouldn’t respond. Sinking towards depression, I felt overwhelmed with shame and failure, replaying why things had gone so wrong over and over in my mind.
It took me a long, slow three years to fully recover, but with help from a life coach I eventually regained my energy, clarity and motivation to move on. It took several more years before I realised what a blessing my illness really was – a gift that allowed me to see life’s grand picture.
I have also (unforgettably) witnessed many elite athletes self-destruct once their sporting careers were over. This, as well as my own experience with burnout, inspired me to get over my distaste for study and embrace extensive training to become an Advanced Certified Coach. Who would have known I could be a committed student? I could see an opportunity to coach sportspeople to become whole people rather than has-beens, with the purpose and vision to create the life they want, both during and after their short athletic careers.
During this productive time, I loved taking myself away to health retreats to recuperate and recharge. I recognised that I also needed to find a way to integrate these stress-busting, restorative strategies into my everyday life. It’s no good if you can only find that clarity when you’re away from your ordinary life. So I have tried and tested strategies to get that balance – to find depth and calm in my work, joy and contentment in my family, and vitality and vibrancy in my life. To build a rock-solid foundation based on my purpose; a valuable, personal definition of success to guide my choices and behaviours as I go through life. To do whatever I can and live without regrets.
Over a decade on, it’s my passion for managing time so that it works for us – rather than against us – that means my services are in constant demand with high achievers. We all want a good life, but for many of us this has become increasingly challenging as we’re mentally ambushed at work, over-connected digitally and yet under-connected in our most important relationships.
Working within large corporations coaching senior executives, sales teams, individual business owners and contractors, I always focus on the foundations. By going back to the basics, we can regain control and therefore make clear, informed decisions and also build supportive habits to create lives we love living.
Shannah Kennedy – Executive Life Strategist, Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker