What prompted you to try coaching?
I met Janet at a workshop and warmed to her immediately. I thought she was very good: clearly in tune with academics and academic life and the challenges that face academics – clearly very experienced in those kinds of issues.
At the time I was doing fine at work, but I had a bit of a monkey on my back in terms of finishing my book, which had by that point been under contract for over two years. I had to finish it, but I just kept putting it on the back burner. I needed to finish in order to be considered for promotion, but I was struggling and something was making me write other book chapters and other conference papers but not actually face this thing that I really needed to do in order to move forward.
So when I met Janet, I told her about this and took on a one-hour session with her, and that session really helped.
Before you started, what was your main hesitation?
The first thing coming into my mind is cost, because it is quite expensive. But when I could see the benefits of it, I soon realised it was more of an investment, and I started to look at in that way. I thought that the sorts of things that I could get out of it, I could apply to other situations and not just the situation that I was going through. So I realised it was more of a long-term career investment, as well as the fact that it was likely to help get me through an extraordinary time. I think those two things together helped me to come to that decision.
What would you say to a prospective client who might be hesitating due to the cost?
I would say that you are not simply buying a short run of coaching sessions. You are investing in a relationship that is going to help you with skills you need in an academic workplace that can be quite high octane and competitive. Whether it’s research, whether it’s education or your generic career, you are making an investment in that. So whatever is going to help you in getting through the situation that has drawn you to coaching on this occasion, you are also going to be able to apply to other situations in the future.
Even more so than at the start, I now see the coaching as a long-time career investment. Sometimes we think nothing of spending $1000 on books or on a conference registration or some sort of other work-related thing. It’s the same thing. And coaching is transferable – you take the skills with you.
What were some of the issues or themes that you worked on with Janet?
One thing that was great about having Janet there was that I would make an agreement with her as to what I was going to do. ‘I’m going to do this particular section of this particular part of the book, and next time I speak to you I will have done it.’ And I would then write to her and gloat that I had done it.
There’s something about accountability for research. We are accountable in our teaching, because if we don’t do it properly our students will complain and get bad results. If we don’t turn up to lectures, there are going to be consequences. Whereas if we don’t do our research, if we keep putting that on the back burner, all that happens is that we feel crap about ourselves, but no one is going to die and nothing bad is going to happen. And so I think making yourself accountable to somebody – accountable to yourself, actually – for what you are setting out to do, and being able to have somebody else there reminding you of your priorities, is really, really, useful.
I suppose to some degree you could do this without a coach, but there was something very motivating about working with Janet. I really did feel accountable for my actions. It was like if I don’t follow through I’ve got to face somebody, and I’ve got to tell them and I’ve got to explain. And you know, I didn’t really want to do that!
But then due to [the challenging situation in my work area] every day became about survival. It was a case of just trying to get through it. There was only one thing I wanted to do: keep going, keep doing the job with integrity and professionalism – to take each thing as it came and just try my best to work through it as well as I could, and not to react.
What Janet did was remarkable. Before I was working with Janet I would have reacted [to inflammatory behaviour]. But one of the things she helped me with was reacting in a really positive way and to ensure that you do yourself justice in terms of keeping your professionalism and keeping your cool. To say that was invaluable is an understatement. Had I not been working with Janet, I would have gotten drawn in.
That coaching around your reaction and taking control of how you respond to situations, recognising and exercising your choices: I didn’t know quite how powerful that was until it came through in the coaching sessions with Janet. Had it not been for her, goodness knows what trouble I’d be in, but as it is, there was nothing untoward [in my handling of an extraordinarily difficult situation] and that is fully attributable to the work that I was doing with Janet.
What was it like to have Janet as your coach?
Just brilliant: really, really, good. She is an excellent listener, she takes everything in, and she reminds you of stuff. We would get three sessions down the line and she would be picking up stuff I said in the first one, and I was thinking, ‘Goodness, how did you remember that, and how did you make that connection?’
She was able to pick out things in what I was saying very well. It was really good in helping me come to decisions. One time I was having a conversation with her about the job and what I wanted to do. And she said to me, ‘Your tone of voice changed – when you were talking about your research you were really excited and your eyes are lighting up.’
She is just an amazing listener, very good at making connections and joining up dots between different parts of what’s going on in your world. And very, very, good at suggesting really useful strategies for getting to the heart of whatever it is that you want to do.
I would not have finished my book had it not been for Janet. Because long after the coaching sessions I was still writing to her, just dropping her an email now and then, going ‘I’ve got this left to do on the book and next week I’m going to do this bit and then the following week I’ll email and say I’ve done this.’ And I did! I submitted the manuscript two days before my promotion interview and I ended up being promoted. So it’s a success story. But I would never, ever have managed to finish a book in the same year that I was going through all that without her. And without the strategies that she gave me to enable that to happen.
If you would be comfortable recommending Janet, to whom would you recommend her and why?
I think I was probably an ideal subject and I’m a mid-career academic, so yes, mid-career academics who perhaps want to get to the next level or are stuck in ruts they want to get out of – whether that’s in education or research or just in academic life generally.