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Imagine, a very corporate headquarters shod in a slate just the right side of chic. Aggressive stainless steel rails and a swathe of muted ties and suits counting money and setting strategy. Ensconced in a leafy Dutch city and buttressed by a feel-good mission statement. A Very Important job title, a satisfyingly high payslip and a hollowness of purpose crouched behind a 16:3 widescreen sufficient for the most detailed of PowerPoints.

I feel confident that the majority of readers have been in roles they are not sure how they got there or where they’re going. Plodding along silently through the years with nary a light at the end of the tunnel. Grinding through, crossing off days till the next holiday. My own career has been happenstance and unaimed. Lady Luck and my good chat resulted in ‘good’ roles. Until the day I was sitting behind my computer thinking what the fuck am I doing here. It wasn’t a surprise. There are only so many mornings where the motivation to get out of bed and commute an hour became a thoughtless routine. The gaping hole at the centre of the most time-intensive activity of my life was obvious if I couldn’t even be excited when I told people what I did for a living. The pressure for change built slowly but surely. The decision to leave was hard. My ego was tied up in my job. Ultimately it wasn’t just about the job, it was the industry. I simply did not find the industry interesting enough to commit to. I should add that these things reflect on me and my interests, not on the company per se which is doing important work, well.

The need for change chimed nicely with S.’s desire to quit her job. To quit meant at the time that in some crevice of my mind, I had failed in finding ‘purpose’ in my job. Failure is one of many emotions that bubble up as you start doubting if you’ve made the right decision. Thankfully it’s one I didn’t listen to all that hard. Once I had made the decision, an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. There was an irresistible beckoning freedom to getting back on the road.

I didn’t quit with another job lined up. Instead, I wanted to do something else. What, I wasn’t sure, but no worries. In the meantime I would undertake a long stint of travelling. I would hopefully be confronted by an apparition of some minor Saint of Job Advice and it would all become clear to me. I guess I was really thinking that I’d deal with all that when I got back to Amsterdam. Maybe daydream a little on beaches, read some career help books and websites, and bounce ideas off S. Not that I was worrying about the potential of being out of a job, I had experienced two other gaps between jobs. Though stressful at times, it’s also a good time to catch up on ironing, Mad Men episodes and old friends!

The one thing we did plan was book a course in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the very start of our journey. I fell into conversation with a bright-eyed Chilean co-participant. Upon asking him his profession, he replied, “I’m a life coach, I help people to make their highest contribution in life.” Somewhat taken aback (and looking for his halo), I endeavoured to investigate this unusual career. My selfish motivation was to see if he could help me in my search for a job with purpose. This was not happenstance, I was open and receptive to new things, and we were attending a ‘finding your purpose’ meditation course, so not exactly divine providence. I saw in life coaching a potential tool to help me figure it all out. Little did I know where it would take me!

I met Marcelo in the dusty, well-worn lobby of our hostel over an excellent mango juice. He explained what a life coach does and doesn’t do, and I reciprocated by introducing myself and my motivation. Most importantly we ‘clicked’ personally and that’s crucial when you lay your soul bare to someone. I am a true believer in the power of business to effect change for good. I was also not interested in something skin-deep. I needed a cerebral and structured approach. I wanted someone who could relate to my business background. I wanted a taskmaster but also a sense of humour. An international, modern outlook. Marcelo ticked all those boxes and more. The engagement was for six months via regular Skype calls and serious homework in between. A wonderfully fun exercise finding decent wifi in Myanmar!

The decision to push play with Marcelo was not hard. I had an open mind when it came to his methods and I was willing to trust him. I felt like I had been floating along in life long enough and it was time to try something bold and invest in myself. My expectations were quite modest (or so I thought); that at the end of this process I’d have a clear idea about what I wanted to do when I was back in the Netherlands. Perhaps some career guidance, perhaps some improved clarity and skill in choosing priorities and goals. Maybe even a job!

A life coach holds up a mirror to you and tells you to your face, stop buying your own bullshit and get on with doing something that matters. This may require some elucidation. In other words, a life coach is equipped to help someone undertake self-analysis of their past and present. They do this by pointing out both helpful and unhelpful behavioural patterns. The facilitate the creation of a structured approach to identifying a meaningful purpose or mission in life, and help kickstart a plan to get there. Along the way, they keep you on the straight and narrow. Uncomfortable questions asked and pushing you to be more honest with yourself than you’ve probably ever been.

For me, it was fascinating to look through my life with a different lens. Why had I ever thought job titles meant anything? Why did I subconsciously equate material possessions and the outward trappings of success with actual personal fulfilment? What did I actually think about money? Was it healthy? Why were elements of communication within my family so irritating? Why had I not taken great opportunities which in hindsight would have been awesome? It was liberating. I felt sad, guilty, happy, but also cleansed. A brutal process to uncover things I’d been ignoring.

I had realised that for example I’d been wanting change and talking about it but had never taken concrete action to do anything about it. I’d been ignoring it solidly. Next month I’ll have a think. I’ll read that book later. I’d love to do a course but perhaps I’ll do some research next year. Procrastination was deeply embedded.

Sadly a life coach is not someone with a magic wand ready to give you the answers. A life coach is not a therapist or psychologist to help you with past mental traumas or current mental health issues. These are best addressed by relevant trained professionals. A life coach won’t guarantee a result. The result is up to me completely (assuming you have a decent life coach). A life coach won’t give you happiness or the perfect career. Instead they’re likely to leave you with the realisation of how much work you still need to do to achieve whatever it is that will help bring you closer to your purpose in life. This blog post was hard work and time-consuming. Exposing my inner journey to friends and family is hard. Realising I’ve wasted part of my life is hard. Admitting that you’ve been lying to yourself is hard. Changing ingrained behavioural patterns, like being polite to others rather than honest, is hard. Change is hard, but oh so rewarding!

What do you need in order to take on a life coach? I think it’s most important to be open to change & new ideas and be willing to be honest with yourself. These will give you the courage to face uncomfortable truths and go against the expectations of society and those around you. There are two main motivations in life, fear and love. We are driven in some measure by both. By choosing to be less driven by fear, we choose to love ourselves and back our own version of how life should be lived. I was driven by many fearful emotions, like what would people think if I just gave up my job? The reality of choosing to love my happiness instead had a funny result. Virtually everyone supported my decision to quit and travel! “I’ve always wanted to do that”, one envious, workaholic 60-year-old general manager told me sadly.

Every life coach has their own models they use and I can only share my own experiences. We started with slightly metaphysical lessons. There is no objective reality we as humans experience. Everything we observe in terms of external stimuli we process into a subjective reality which makes sense to us, or in other words creates meaning. By understanding this basic truth, I was able to build upon that and start to question other long held assumptions. One example is the beautiful story we tell ourselves of being born, attending university (with attendant student debt), working for appropriately prestigious companies and finally retiring with a pension in our old age. A story reflecting the most worthy of pursuits and one our parents will be proud of. In our individual subjective realities this is a story we can sign on to and pursue. Alternatively we can recognise this story as one of many which may lead to a fulfilling life, one as equally valuable as the other.

We also discussed what I consider the most important elements in my life and covered some emotionally impactful events. We analysed these through different lenses. Once I held up a mirror to my actions, it was much harder to maintain these fictions I had created for myself. Which actions or patterns are helpful and lead to growth, and which actions or patterns are holding me back. Let me be clear, the hard work is done by me through self-reflection, meditation and daily diarising. All of which have become hugely useful to me as they’ve turned into habits. A quick 10 minutes in the morning using the Insight Timer app, and 10 minutes pouring reflections into a Moleskine journal.

The relationship with my coach Marcelo very quickly evolved to a friendship. He’s my cheerleader, supportive of my ideas and encouraging of action. Coaching is an ongoing process, a deep relationship which will likely be ongoing given we’ve shared so much with each other. I’m deeply appreciative of his insights and his enduring positivity of what the future may hold for me.

One visible result of my journey was a purpose statement (in bold). This reflects my strengths, values and interests and states the motivation upon which I will base my work and personal life for the foreseeable future. This is accompanied with a vision statement of my life in a few years. I had doubts about sharing this with the internet (have slightly edited it to withhold some elements relating to my personal relationships). As Marcelo quite rightly pointed out, making yourself vulnerable is a great way of encouraging personal growth so I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

My vision is that in five years I will be living my purpose. My purpose is to empower people to become aware of their impact on the environment so they can take responsibility in creating a sustainable future. I wake up every day and remind myself that I am living my own dream and am fully capable of creating my own reality, this gives me a feeling of empowerment that at any moment I can change direction. I am authentic in every interaction I have with others and myself. I decide how I spend my time, and am not pushed by others to fit in with their needs. I treat my body like the unique temple it is and keep it well-tuned with daily meditation, regular exercise and balance in what I eat. I feed my soul by regularly accessing nature and sourcing strength from this connection. I am selective in who I spend time with and have surrounded myself by loyal friends who contribute to my curiosity and philosophical questioning of the world and left other relationships behind which do not add to my life. I live my life with the realisation that this is the only life I will get and that this environment is the only one we have. I go to work in the morning full of enthusiasm that I am doing something worth doing. Something which makes a difference to one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today. I work with young, enthusiastic and intelligent people in an inspiring workplace where innovation is threaded throughout what I do. I earn enough to support a lifestyle free from financial worry and am driven by meaning, emotional wellbeing and am driven to serve a greater good. I am happy, tired perhaps but feeling good in my body. Mentally I feed myself by reading regularly and leaving the distraction of my phone as much as possible. I am aware of my autopilot/un-present self and try to remain as conscious of my behavioural patterns to see whether they add to my life or not. I am learning a new skill which exercises my brain. I diarise every day and have a creative writing outlet. You’re OK. You’re alright. You’re loved.

The purpose and vision translate into actions I intend to undertake in the coming years covering both my career and my personal pursuits. The career path will be driven by an intention to work in an industry driven by sustainability values and one which is creating change in the way we live on our pale blue dot. My plan is a structured multi-year series of stepping stones with a deliberate destination. It’s also flexible as I learn more about where I want to head to and as my own life situation changes. I may share more on this in the future as it becomes clearer.

Making a purpose statement is like making sausages. You really don’t want to know how it’s done. It’s messy, full of uncertainty over wording, misgivings over direction, fear about setting dreams down on paper and fear of committing to one thing only. I went through many iterations and it may still change. The point is I have something to aim at now. To give me guidance when I’m lost and reassurance in the low periods to come.

I wanted to also give you some headline benefits of my life coaching. As a result of the coaching I:

  • Feel empowered to do things I’d never have done before;
  • Realise that I’m in charge of creating my own experiences;
  • Have increased my self-awareness;
  • Have put life tools like meditation and daily reflection journaling into practice;
  • Am more honest with myself and others;
  • Have gained a clarity of longer-term purpose I’ve never had before;
  • Changed my career aspirations significantly;
  • Worry less about the future;
  • Care less about what other people think;
  • Care more about the people who matter; and
  • Love myself more.

My main long term expectation from this life coaching transformation process is that I will continue to work towards aligning my work and personal activities with my purpose on an ongoing basis. End result, net increase in aggregate happiness.

It’s an ongoing journey or process and there are no quick answers or easy wins. I am also aware that the above can sound like the ravings of someone who has just come out of a Landmark Forum seminar. I’ve spent the last six months reading books, writing self-reflectively and conversing with Marcelo, S. and a few friends. It’s been an intensely internal process with little external to show for it. I don’t expect people to say, wow you’ve changed! But instead to see subtle changes in how I see the world and what I choose to spend my time on. Over time hopefully the results will speak for themselves.

I hope you get something out of this post. Something that spurs or inspires you to take action of your own. You deserve it!

As Howard Schultz says, “onward!”

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I’ve always wanted to see the Alhambra fortress. It has cast alluring glances at me from many an airline travel magazine. The Alhambra is located in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia, close-ish to the beach town of Malaga. It was the capital city of the Moorish Islamic caliphate in the Iberian peninsula until the last Emir surrendered the city in 1492 to the Catholic monarchs, who were undertaking the reconquest of Spain amid liberal stake-burnings and the imposition of the Inquisition.

The city goes back past Roman times.  We stayed in a really beautiful suburb overlooking the Alhambra called Albaicín, which is cluttered with small, cobblestoned lanes and hidden houses. This is partly the bequest of the Moorish inhabitants who built their houses in the Arabic style with interior courtyards and water features such as fountains and ponds. We stayed in an Airbnb from the 14th century with an original restored wooden balcony and doors.

The Alhambra is chunked on top of a promontory overlooking the whole city, the fortress part of it at the nearest city side, its cannons well able to dominate the lowlands below. The most beautiful aspect of the Alhambra is the series of Moorish palaces built by the Nasrid dynasty. All aspects are in tune with one another, rooms of delicate wall carvings, reflecting pools, balancing shrubberies, long colonnades opening into enticing vistas and everywhere the repeating geometric tilework so subtly decorative. We were funnelled along with the tourist crowds from one chamber to the next and eventually wound up at the ‘summer’ palace (Generalife) where the royalty retreated to in the heat of the summer. Here we came across a set of stairs where water gushed down three flights of handrails. Cooling in 38 degrees!

Granada is oozing in history and we only scratched the surface. Delicious food, museums, churches and monasteries, squatters living in limestone caves, a young, urban vibe but above all, everywhere you go, the beauty of the red stone of the Alhambra set like a pearl in its emerald green forests.

Hellacious heat has sapped my motivation to write but nevertheless, I have continued my daily diarising so can provide you with the highlights of our month-long sojourn in the land of tasty tagines, fasting Muslims and crusty camels. Morocco, as a deeply muslim country, begun observing Ramadan the day after we arrived and this means that nothing must pass the lips of a participant. No water, no food and no cigarettes so long as it’s light, roughly 4.30am-7.45pm. Rough in the summer months!

Taghazout. I will admit to a shameful secret. I can’t surf. I know, it’s embarrassing as a New Zealander. However, S. and I were keen to rectify this state of affairs so we enrolled in a 5 day surf camp, living in a lush surf house and were fed to bursting every morning and evening. It’s a very laidback spot and combined with a daily 7am yoga course plus a weight-adjusting stomach bug which swept the surf house, was a most envigorating experience!

Essaouira. We shuttled up the coast to this salty ex-Portuguese city and loved it. Superb food, hugely atmospheric windy alleyways, the continual cawing of seagulls and the smell of sea in the air. The small fort has starred in Game of Thrones and the  imposing walls have no doubt protected legions of fishermen and traders from marauding privateers in their day. The seafood available was a highlight.

Marakkesh. The big kahuna of Moroccan cities. We dived straight in having been warned about the shark taxi drivers and aggressive marketsellers. With this in mind we booked an incredible riad so reminiscent to us of the hotels in Iran. A gentle fountain decanting into a swimming pool in the middle of the lobby, a tiny 4 room hotel with lavish decorations including a small tortoise wandering about the breakfast area. The heat put a little brake on our programme but we hustled about visiting museums including the stunning botanical garden of Yves Saint Laurent which contained a superb small museum covering the desert Berber people and their customs. We also visited another Berber museum established by a Dutch anthropologist. One of my secret passions is well-labelled museum signage… We finished by heading to a cooking workshop which sponsors a cooking school for disadvantaged women. S. and I plumped for the chicken almond pastilla, a taste bomb of incredible deliciousness.

Toubkal. The great Mount Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa. Fancying ourselves fearless climbers we opted for a guided hike to the top. Our Berber guide was snaffling bread and the occasional swallow of water despite Ramadan. A cheeky lad of 52 (and five children), I have imagined him as a real ladies man in his day. He had non-stop stories until the heat put the kibosh on our patter. Once we reached the base camp (refuge) we encountered a group of Russians singing and drinking cognac, smart stuff at over 3,000m altitude! We woke up at 4am for our assault on the behemoth. We reached the summit (4,167m), sliding on loose scree and the odd snow pack, to survey the Atlas mountain range which extends its ridges through the whole of Morocco. On a good day we were assured a view of the Sahara desert and the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn’t a good day but we were almost the first climbers up the hill and down by 2pm. A serious saunter of 24km in a day.

Death. At this stage we experienced the most affecting moment of our trip. We were jammed in our train coupe with 6 other Moroccans on their way to Meknes with grandma, mum and new baby. What was a bubbly scene with a burbling baby being bounced from knee to knee changed with a phone call announcing the death by car accident of the son of the older lady. Quiet weeping and shocked, hushed conversation. As they departed at the next station, one of our other coupe neighbours was carried into the coupe after collapsing in the corridor due to a dramatic reminder of the death of his own grandmother. He was laid across the seats with his head in the lap of his wife, as she fanned him as he slowly regained his senses. We broke fast with them as the sun slid behind the hills, with sweet honey biscuits and milk, and improved the mood with broken talk in French and received an invitation to visit them in their village.

Meknes. To the west of Fes lies the relaxing town of Meknes which we quite liked. It is a former royal city and has plenty of sights to see like the stables of 12,000 horses (if you believe that), former royal gardens converted into an inner-city 9-hole golf course for the former king and a more manageable souk to potter about in and look for souvenirs (none purchased).

Fes. A little known fact, I own a small print by the NZ artist Stanley Palmer of a tannery in Fes. The image struck me as exotic and an old-fashioned ideal of how stuff used to be made. The souk (market) is a confusing rabbit warren of lanes stuffed with bric-a-brac, dozens of touts wanting to be your guide or alternatively aggressively promoting their own hash. The north of Morocco is the largest supplier of marijuana to Europe. The riad we stayed in was truly beautiful, a family home turned into a six room hotel. We ventured out to the woodworking museum, an ode to the excellence with which craftsmen have embroidered homes and mosques here for centuries. We also suffered from the heat, about 40 degrees C, plus a curious lack of decent culinary options in our budget. As I was moaning in bed from a dodgy stomach, S. stuffed me full of Imodium and dragged me to the bus station to Chefchaouen to escape the furnace of Fes.

Chefchaouen. Named the ‘blue city’ of the north due to the enthusaistic application of blue wash to the walls and floors of the walled city. Traipsing over the walls, the city bent under the stone massif at its back, it’s also a hub for hiking in the adjoining national park. To be honest, we just wanted to celebrate my birthday in a place with a pool and achieved this in spades. From Chefchaouen we barrelled in a bus to Tangier and onto a high speed ferry to Spain and Granada!

Our impressions of Morocco were coloured by Ramadan. The sloth-like inhabitants, the short tempers, the energy-sapping heat and the awkwardness of eating and drinking in front of those fasting meant it wasn’t our favourite country. Despite some excellent meals, the food became a little samey after awhile. However the culture is fascinating, with the Islamic influence on architecture and dress obvious given our Iranian reference point. The Berber people bring a unique twist to what is otherwise quite Arabic in culture. The natural beauty of this land is clear and it’s a shame we were not able to experience a trip to the desert.