During the first day of my coaching qualification I was asked repeatedly 'who are you?' by other trainees on my course. And when I say repeatedly, I mean for an hour, by several people who took it in turn for 10 minutes at a time.
We weren't allowed to repeat anything we said before, we had to answer something differently every time we answered. It felt uncomfortable, it was hard, and yet the more I answered the more I found myself answering things at a deeper and deeper level. When you move past the superficial layers of name, age, occupation, kids, and interests, you start to get into the really meaty stuff, and, as I discovered, you get to things that you didn't even know existed.
It was during this question that I found myself say for the first time ever that I wanted to start my own consultancy - where on earth had that come from?
I'd always seen myself just developing further and further into an HR role. I'd seen myself as global HRD in a large global company with lots of travel, a big team, huge budgets and lots of things to change and improve for the people in the company.
Start my own consultancy? Never had I thought that, not ever.
And yet once I'd said it, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. What would I do? How would I do it? Could I do it? How would I do it? On the train home from London that night I mapped it all out, and three months later I'd resigned from my HRD role, walked away from my salary and my team and started Chrysalis.
That was over 6 years ago and I've never looked back. To say I've not had moments of despair would be a lie. Three months into starting the company and with an important proposal to submit to a potential client, my largest and most important so far, my laptop and printer died. I was stuck. And in that moment I realised for the first time that I was all alone. I had no team around me. I had no IT support, nobody to call to help me. What was I doing? I was stupid to think I could do this. I was stupid to have thought that I could make a success of this. Everything was falling apart and I was falling apart.
In reality it wasn't all doom and gloom. It was one issue.
I got on the phone and called the owner of an IT company that I'd met a couple of weeks before. My IT issues were fixed almost instantly, and I realised that what I needed was a coach. I'd not had one since starting the business and I needed someone to guide me, someone to vent to, someone to help me feel less alone and more in control. And so I reached out to a coach who's workshops I had attended in the past and asked if she was taking on additional clients. She lives in the US, came back to me almost immediately and we worked together for the next year.
Through her guidance and coaching, I found my confidence, I got rid of the voices in my head telling me I couldn't do this and I doubled, and then tripled my prices and still to this date, nobody has queried me on price.
When I signed up to train as a coach I didn't think for one minute that I would be coached, but that's what happened for the next year. Regular coaching from my peers alongside the coaching from my coach.
With every qualification and training course that I have been on since I've learned in ways that I never imagined. I have discovered answers to questions that I didn't even know I had and I grown in ways that I never thought possible.
And it all started with who are you?
I've always been a lover of learning. For me, if I'm not learning I'm not growing and if I'm not growing I'm not moving forward. This can at times cause a bit of frustration for me, my partner and my team as I'm always on the next thing to learn wanting to explore new things and learn new and often better ways of doing things. But whether it's a book, a course, a qualification, something to help me and my clients, I love to learn. It's part of who I am.
Perhaps the deepest and most powerful training course I have ever attended was the four day empowerment course I attended to learn new skills to help my coaching clients move forward in more powerful and empowering ways. The four days felt like seven, but the learning was phenomenal, and the changes I was able to make as a result even more so. When I see my clients moving forward in the same way it makes it even more worthwhile.
I believe that as we do the work on ourselves, we want to explore more. We realise that whilst we are learning, we actually still no very little in the scheme of things. Each time we develop, it's like peeling back the layers of an onion as we dig deeper and deeper and uncover new depths and discover new answers.
I've outgrown coaches, I've outgrown people and I've outgrown situations, and I don't feel sad about that. I'm grateful for everyone who has come into my life and everyone who is still yet to come.
For me who are you? is still a question I journal on regularly, I love to see what other questions I can answer and reflect too on how far I have come.
If you could sit who are you? for an hour or more, what might you discover that you might have never have known before?
It's one of my favourite coaching questions, when the time is right, and it's always a pleasure to ask. The lightbulbs that illuminate as a result of the answers always make me smile.
Who are you? And who could you be if you knew?
Kelly is Founder of The Chrysalis Crew and a Global Empowerment Coach for Leaders and HR Professionals at kellyswingler.com. She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can change the world of work.