Stepping Aside and Making Space

On April 23rd, 2005 my life swung into a completely new direction when I became a 24/7 single parent to Tegan, my teen-age daughter. Overnight I felt that I was facing a whole new set of challenges for influencing her in motivation, self-esteem and relationship management. Adding to the challenge, Tegan was adamant that she would not continue with any of the professional help she’d been receiving in these areas. A new approach was needed.

First I wanted to get clear with myself on the kind of help I could actually offer. The challenges my daughter faced were outside my own experience growing up. They were also well beyond any parenting skills I’d picked up or seen demonstrated. Solutions offered by family, friends and professionals gave little to work with either. Recognizing I was out of my depth, I decided to step back from trying to be an expert in my daughter’s life. I would become a facilitator for her to achieve her own objectives.


As it turned out, Tegan already had lots of ideas for where she wanted to start. Always an avid reader, she suggested we look together for books on handling challenging emotions. After beginning with Daniel Goleman’s classic Emotional Intelligence*, we read an eclectic range of books, both nonfiction and fiction, touching on subjects from self-awareness and happiness to the development of behaviours and beliefs. Through learning about, discussing and practicing new approaches in these areas, Tegan shifted her old ways of enduring and evading unwelcome challenges to a new process: stepping back, reframing, identifying positive goals and moving forward. With this approach she was able to open new options and opportunities in several areas, including gaining renewed confidence in her career aspiration to be an artist, and in achieving academic goals that had once seemed impossible to her.

Today Tegan works as an independent illustrator for private clients and video game production. A highly challenging career, it requires a deeply instilled capacity for self-motivation, a grounded and appreciative self-esteem, and powerful skills in building and maintaining relationships with others – abilities she identified and realized according to her own needs and priorities. I’m deeply indebted to Tegan for the unique opportunity she gave me, both as a parent and as a coach, to experience the power of stepping back and making a safe, supportive space for her to follow her way. It’s an experience that’s enriched both of our lives fundamentally.”
* A verrrrrry big thank-you to my friend Edna Downey for suggesting this book to us :).

Beyond Willpower: Finding an Ally

Beyond Willpower: Looking for an Ally
Sylvia Atkins came to life coaching looking for an ally.

With a year of dedicated planning behind her, Sylvia thought she’d covered everything she needed for launching her new business. She had a clear vision of how it was going to develop and the direction it would grow. She had strong networks of potential customers, partners and service providers. She had simple, manageable processes for keeping her business running smoothly on a day-by-day basis. Most of all, Sylvia had an enviable track record developing and delivering innovative projects for well-know clients like Linen Chest, L’Oréal and BF Goodrich.

There was just one element missing: her own conviction that she could make it happen.

“I found myself stopped dead in my tracks by a flood of self-doubt. Who did I think I was? How could I have ever taken on something so risky?” Sylvia’s response to this kind of negative self-talk was to fight back and tough it out. “I saw it as a matter of willpower – I wanted to just cut through that voice and get on with my work.” Unfortunately the negative thoughts were only getting stronger and Sylvia’s resolve increasingly overwhelmed. It was time for a new approach.

“When Robert asked me how I would rather be working, I imagined the power and inspiration I’d have if I were able to have a strong, positive voice inside me instead. A voice that could keep me grounded, focused and productive. We did a short visualization exercise together. That’s when I first met my African Dancer – a fierce and joyful warrior full of crazy, unstoppable energy – I could call upon for help whenever I found myself starting to go off track.

Willpower, Awareness, Knowledge & Language
Curious to find out more about different approaches for handling self-doubt and negative self-talk?  You might like to check out Willpower, Awareness, Knowledge & Language: 4 Paths to Self-Management.

After a number of months working with her African Dancer, Sylvia was ready to start dealing with her inner critic directly. Using the approach outlined in Love Your Caustic Self-Talk in 3 Easy Steps, Sylvia began to greet her negative self-talk with curiosity, helping it to spell out specific, actionable challenges that they could work on together.

“When I first met my inner critic, I realized that it wasn’t the big scary monster I’d first imagined. It was really just a frightened baby doing everything it could to get my attention. I picked her up in my arms, gave her a name and went from there. The amazing thing is that, as I learned to work with her, this little baby began to grow, first into a young girl then into a precocious teenager. And her ability to articulate her needs and work with me grew too.”

Today Sylvia’s inner critic has grown into a young adult capable of pointing out potential trouble spots and proposing potential solutions. Rather than fighting inner battles, Sylvia is, for the first time, developing a relationship with that other side of herself, learning to overcome her fears and pain – and build compassion for herself. “It’s not simple or easy – more of a learning process. It’s a whole new beginning.” Through life coaching, Sylvia found exactly the ally she wanted to start moving ahead in the way she wanted – herself.

Relationships with Vision

Seven years after launching his dream business Espaces Viridis, Pierre Duranleau felt he’d hit rock bottom. His business as a garden designer was going nowhere. His business partner routinely belittled his ideas and efforts. His customers constantly flip-flopped on requirements and welshed on agreements. Worst of all, Pierre was stuck on a treadmill of projects that neither interested nor inspired him. “It was sucking the energy out of me, my family and social life – my whole sense of self. I just wanted out.”

Coaching offered Pierre a space to step back, reconnect with what really mattered to him and take concrete measures to regain control over his situation. “In my very first session I saw that I’d been dumping a lot of responsibility onto those around me. I’d become so busy building up my “hapless victim” story that I’d given up taking action to turn things around. From that point on my goal in coaching was to make a difference in my situation. To rekindle my original vision and enthusiasm for my business.”

Small but intimate back contemporary court garden located in the urban residential area of Pointe-St-Charles just South of Montreal’s down-town core. (Photos: Daniel Renaud).

Much of the work Pierre took on in coaching centred on communication and relationship-building. “Before I started coaching I’d come to see my role as mainly technical. Come up with the right design . It was up to everyone else to live up to their part of the bargain. I came to see that my real challenge was in expressing my own expectations and needs. To set clear commitments with the people I was doing business with. Technical expertise is just the tip of the iceberg when running your own business.”

Today Pierre runs his business very differently, with strong relationships and shared goals providing the foundation to every new project. Customers recommend him for the conscientious, accommodating, knowledgeable and creative professionalism he provides each step of the way.

Since finishing up coaching in 2012, Pierre’s Espaces Viridis has been the annual recipient of Best of Houzz awards for design and client satisfaction, and this year his work is featured in the April issue of Fleurs plantes jardins magazine. “It’s amazing – I’m getting exactly the recognition and work I’ve always wanted – all because I’m clear on what I’m out to achieve and sticking to that vision.”

Pierre Duranleau’s strengths as a garden designer lie in his ability to capture, translate, express and facilitate his customers’ visions from the initial information gathering and conceptual phases to the actual realization of the final product, while always respecting his customers’ intentions, needs, goals and budgetary requirements. High on Pierre’s priorities, is the broader context of creating projects that are as environmentally sustainable as possible, utilizing local resources and services, while also employing seasoned, experienced and professional local experts and suppliers.  Find out more by visiting

Revert Back to the Practical

Alexandra Alexandra Clark was disillusioned with her job and fed up with the direction her life was taking. For Alexandra, it all boiled down to her being surrounded by frustrating people: her boss was ineffectual, her colleagues self-absorbed, her family manipulative and her friends unavailable. By the time Alexandra began her coaching sessions, she had already cut contact with most of the people from her personal life. She was now thinking seriously about quitting her well-paying and steady job – a move she knew she could ill afford.

Coaching quickly became a place for Alexandra to develop a new awareness of herself. It was as if all her difficulties were played back to her. “You’re hearing how you sound, how you’re saying something, how you’re thinking.” Alexandra heard herself echoing the communication styles, assumptions and expectations that drove her crazy in her family. She got to see how sensitive she was about certain things and how she would tend to give too much of herself in certain situations.

Through hearing hers own words in a situation free of judgement and instruction, Alexandra’s attention had shifted. She was no longer preoccupied by the faults she saw in others. She was now focused on spotting opportunities for her own development of practical skills and habits to handle day-to-day challenges. “In every coach session we would always revert back to the practical.” Over the following months Alexandra’s sessions concentrated on her integrating simple, effective strategies for maintaining emotional equilibrium, setting appropriate relationship boundaries and establishing personal priorities.

Alexandra decided to remain at her job, lopping 20 per cent of her full-time hours off her schedule so that she could pursue other interests and opportunities for professional development. Alexandra has established sustainable relations with members of her family and continues to build new friendships and connections through her new pursuits. “Coaching really has made a big difference for me. Robert helps you find the right tools to be who you want to be.”

The Rewards of Completing Commitments

Kathering KnightKatherine Knight was facing a daunting set of challenges when she first began her coaching sessions with Robert last year. “I was co-directing and co-producing two documentary films in Toronto, Newfoundland and France; preparing new course material for teaching at York University; and about to launch a major house renovation.” Each of these projects involved new ways of working with other people, organizing schedules and negotiating routines.

Katherine’s goal in working with Robert was one that is familiar to many artists earning their principal income outside their art practice: to be the best artist she can be. “Early on I discovered that my most immediate challenge for reaching this goal was to ensure I had the skills, structures and support in place for completing my project commitments on time.” The most ambitious of these commitments was to have Spring and Arnaud, one of the films then in production, ready by year’s end for submission to the 2013 Hot Docs Festival.

still from SPRING AND ARNAUD, 67 minutes, © 2013 site (media)

This year Katherine begins touring for screenings of Spring and Arnaud across Canada, the States and Europe. At the same time, work will be wrapping up on Todd Saunders: Wild Architecture, the second film in production, as Katherine returns to her photography practice for a major show planned for spring 2014. “Throughout, I look forward to continue my coaching work with Robert and developing my ability to become the best artist I can be.”

Spring & Arnaud Official Trailer from Site Media inc on Vimeo.

Katherine Knight is an award-winning photographer known for evocative landscape based photographic works with a strong narrative atmosphere. Katherine’s documentary film work began with the founding of Site Media with her partner David Craig in 2006. In conjunction with her artistic career, Katherine has held numerous management positions in arts and educational institutions, and is currently an Associate Professor of Visual Arts at York University, Toronto.

Getting Satisfaction

NoraNora Page came for coaching shortly after making a career move from journalism to public relations. Nora’s previous job had a punishing schedule and paid only lip service to balancing family and career. Her new posting offered more reasonable hours and the stability she required for her family life. However, there was a problem: Nora’s new job lacked the excitement and creativity of her old job.

Nora’s sense of this problem grew profoundly with the arrival of a new, more corporate, boss whose sentences were peppered with “measurables” and “deliverables.” Her old job, with its variety, intensity and colourful stories to cover may have had its shortcoming but it never ventured into boring corporate speak.

Through her work with Robert, Nora began to identify activities that engage her and make her feel more creative. But instead of seeking it out in her workday, she looked to her leisure-time activities. There, she found biking, gardening, singing and reading to be passions. Nora next mapped out how these activities could be brought together into an action plan. She gave it a playful metaphor: her yellow brick road. Nora quickly saw how she could set aside time for creative pursuits, such as joining a choir or even letting her mind wander – just the kind of thing creativity requires.

Nora’s old line of work provided a creative spark in her life. Through coaching, Nora saw that the creative challenges she craved could be achieved in her off hours – leisure hours her new job provided. Nora could have the excitement and creative outlets she was missing, along with stability that her new job offers.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Megan PenningtonMegan Pennington began coaching so she could sort out things that were overwhelming her. A registered dietician, Megan was planning to set up a clinic for holistic health counselling, the kind of place where clients could bring in other issues that played a role in their overall nutritional health. Her plans included setting up an office, launching some marketing, establishing a French presence and acquiring 10-20 clients.

The whole plan felt gargantuan. How was she going to get all this set up the way she wanted it? How would she serve all of those new clients? For the self-described perfectionist, her recent efforts were not meeting her ultimate expectations, as her vision for the clinic was not being realized.

Her plan needed to be slimmed down, so to speak. Through her coaching sessions, Megan developed a clear overview of her actual needs. She didn’t need to have that full clinic set up right away and so many things ready all at once. She could simply start with one client. And work on some other aspects of the clinic further down the road. The dreams for her nutrition clinic would still be nurtured. She would just be taking smaller bites.

To find out more about Megan and her holistic health counselling practice, visit

Growing Your Business

Wendy was busy running a holistic health practice, but was feeling she should do more. She wanted to grow her business. The task seemed daunting. It took her right outside her comfort zone.

In her first session with Robert, Wendy came to realize that, while she was very capable working with her clients, she was less comfortable with the planning and entrepreneurial aspects of her business. She also felt nervous that introducing marketing and sales practices could close the door on potential clients who wanted meaningful and trusting exchanges with her.

Robert introduced Wendy to some resources that offered solutions for small business owners. Wendy quickly recognized problems she had in common with other professionals in private practice. It confirmed her sense that she needed to go beyond simply being a practitioner with professional skills and experience. She would need to develop new skills and take on other responsibilities if she wanted to grow her business.

With this new understanding, Wendy began working with Robert on how to better manage her time and energy, how to focus on the days ahead and to set out a vision for her company. As for that ambivalence about marketing and sales, Wendy has found a more comfortable way in which she can both respect her own values and her clients’ best interests.

To find out more about Wendy Ayotte and her holistic health practice, visit Wendy’s website Ease Your Emotions and link up with her on LinkedIn.