Senior lecturer, humanities, AU

What prompted you to try coaching?

I had reached a point in my career where I needed some guidance and mentoring and I wasn’t receiving any internally at work. I had returned to work after two children and into a relatively new job, a mid-career position, and I didn’t know where to go from there. I had also had some things happen with other colleagues in the past that were hindering my confidence, so I wanted to talk to somebody about that.

Janet came recommended to me as someone who understood mid-career women having children and the challenges that come with that, which are many and varied. Just that mismatch between what an institution can offer you and what you perhaps need at that point in your career and life. It did actually help that she had young children herself. She often spoke from that very real personal perspective of experience, without talking about herself as such. It was a very empathetic approach, and that really helped.

Before you started, what was your main hesitation?

It would have been the cost, but in the sense that I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of it, because I hadn’t had coaching before. It was really about whether it was the right decision for me. Janet was always very productive in talking through what I wanted from the whole thing. And being honest about what she could and couldn’t give, but then also being reflexive. I remember she would reflect on her own practice as well. I really liked that.

Overall she totally gave me what I wanted, but in those early sessions where I wasn’t sure exactly what I was there for, in a way, she was very good in that scenario. About my second or third session I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is right for me to keep going’. She gave me the window to withdraw and I appreciated that, but then I also appreciated that she helped me keep going, which it turned out was the right thing to do.

It takes a while to know. You can’t know straight away, so there is an element of trust – with Janet, but also with yourself that you have made the right decision. It helps very much that Janet is an empathetic, very smart person who can just read the situation intuitively and respond appropriately to keep communication always going.

What would you say to a prospective client with the same concerns?

I would say trust the process. Janet is very experienced and skilled and trained and smart and she has probably seen it all, so trust her and trust the process. And give yourself the opportunity to keep on going and working through some of the things that you might not think you want to be talking about, because they may be things you do want to address. But also, be direct – if you don’t think that everything is being addressed that you want to be addressed, you have to say that. It has to be dialogic. You have to be open to mutual change.

I’ve come out of it with the highest regard for Janet and I don’t want to let her go. I will consult her again. I can see that it is not just a one-off thing to me. And actually that’s reassuring because even though I know it is a financial commitment, it’s a worthwhile one, it’s an important one. And really I just can’t see getting what she offers from any other source. It’s not the same as talking to a friend, it’s not the same as talking to a boss, it’s not the same as talking to an HR consultant. It’s something very particular that is honed out of her skill set but also her personality. She is excellent at what she does.

What were the key issues or themes that you worked on with Janet?

Consistent themes were about dealing with institutional frustrations and developing, I suppose, resilience techniques for maintaining a career. There are options on the table such as leaving the academy, but if you’re going to stay, can you do it in a way that is productive and good for your mental health and wellbeing?

Some of the issues I had about bad experiences with colleagues we addressed indirectly through talking about collegial cultures, and how I can work with my own dispositions and nature and preferences to complement the work culture in which I operate. It was about negotiating my place in the institution. That was a long-term thread, as well as career direction – ways of thinking about moving into the next phase of my career and what that might involve – and also some really short-term things that Janet helped me with.

One really valuable thing she did was when I had a radio interview, she gave me this phenomenal assistance in preparing for that and then she listened to it when it was broadcast. She told me how it went, and of course she said I was great. It was just amazing, nobody does that, and I knew she wasn’t blowing hot air. I knew that she would give me the feedback I should hear. And she has helped me with writing projects, strategies about finding time with family and work-life balance. There were multiple things we talked about. It was really great. To reiterate, you would not get that from any other source. It is a really unique mix of things she can offer. It’s a kind of tailored workplace resilience.

What progress have you made on these issues, during or since the coaching?

I have made a lot of progress in many areas. In some areas I can still see some things I’m aware of having to work on.

Were there strategies you developed during the coaching that you could apply to those areas?

Janet was very good at making up little metaphors to communicate a key idea. So because we both have daughters interested in Dora the Explorer, she developed this Dora the Explorer analogy of taking my map and my backpack to the campus and taking it on and navigating it. That is such a strong metaphor; I carry that around in my head with me. So it’s strategies for thinking and also strategies for practice, pragmatic ways of organising time that she suggested and I still adopt. She has informed and transformed my practice in significant ways. Definitely, I will carry those forward. I remain cognisant of many of the things that she gave me.

One time there was this metaphor that she gave me and I didn’t like it. It didn’t work for me at all, and I told her about it – that’s what I mean about making it a dialogue. By my telling her, she could understand an extra part of what I was saying about the situation, and then from there we could go into a new space of thinking about that scenario differently and I could move forward with it. She was really great that way: she didn’t always have to be right – even though she usually was!

Recognising that your achievements are 100% your own, do you believe the coaching was helpful? What difference did it make to have Janet in particular as your coach?

It was definitely helpful: definitely. Janet is very empathetic, she is the sort of person I would want to hang out with, but she is very professional. Warm, able to get onto my wavelength – but I don’t think she would just be able to do that for a midcareer woman with children. I think she would be able to do that for many different clients with many different needs. I don’t think it’s about where she is with her life. It’s her capacity, her ability and talent. I wouldn’t want another coach – I would just want Janet.

Anything you particularly enjoyed, that surprised you, or was uncomfortable or unique?

I did particularly enjoy sharing personal anecdotes. I enjoyed us being able to meet as people beyond the coaching relationship. It surprised me that she, I thought, went beyond what would be required of her. Following up on a session with emails, being so responsive. When I had the radio interview we didn’t have a session booked but she was able to ring me, she sent me notes. I didn’t expect that she would modify her practice so much around my needs, that she could be so responsive. I really appreciated that. I thought that was really great.

There was one session where I was frustrated with the process and unsure of it. I think she handled that very well, very professionally. She just encouraged me to interrogate my frustrations, which I did and then we were able to move past that really effectively into a good space with it all. I wonder if actually that is a necessary part of a coaching relationship – you may have to get over some humps initially and find a good rhythm. So that was great.

If you would be comfortable recommending Janet’s services, to whom would you recommend them and why?

I certainly think women with children would benefit. I don’t want to reduce Janet to her personal circumstances, but because of her personal context, she kind of gets it. But I think all academics. I think men could really benefit from a woman like Janet because she didn’t reduce things to gender all the time. She wouldn’t indulge me in gender politics and I quite liked that. She wouldn’t let me go down that path of ‘I am being treated like this because I’m a woman’, and I think that that was great because that’s not necessarily right or the best tack to take. She sees past gender – she sees it as a structural force affecting the institution but not as necessarily a force that determines personal behaviours and needs and requirements. I believe she is an academic specialist, but I think anyone would benefit from her approach because it’s not just university specific. What she offers is workplace-specific but also me-specific, so in that sense it could be anyone.