Moms Doing It For Themselves: Suzanne Leyden
Changing from a high-powered career to a more satisfying vocation as a health and wellness coach has made Suzanne Leyden realise what’s really important in life. We caught up with her to hear how she made those changes in her career and home life work for her. Changing people’s health for the better through www.suzanneleyden.com is her calling!
Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)
I am a Nutrition, Health and Wellness Coach and work with groups and individuals to help them to reach their own personal goals in their own chosen specific areas. It's a very holistic approach and it's so interesting to go through the process with my clients. Often they want to lose weight or change their diet to a healthier one. We then look at all aspects of their life to try to bring balance across all areas, but the goals and choices and steps are all chosen by the client. It's very empowering and proves to be very successful for long term sustainability. My range of clients is very diverse, however, I have a Pregnancy Wellness Programme which helps focus women on nutrition and lifestyle for pregnancy, the majority of which is relevant for long term healthy living.
My path to becoming a coach was not straight forward! My degree I did straight out of school was a BA in Management Science and Information Systems Studies (or MSISS for short!). It was a fantastic base and gave me many skills, which I still find that I use today, and take for granted too. After travelling I came home and worked in TV and film production for almost 15 years. I worked in a number of different areas but ultimately owned my own production company producing TV commercials for the likes of VW and the RSA’s Safe Cross Code. I found it tough juggling the demands that are required for this kind of work when I also had a young family so I followed my passion for health and wellness and went back to study with IHS (Institute of Health Sciences) to becoming a Dietary Counsellor and Health Coach.
Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?
My priorities got turned on their head once I had our first baby. It took me by surprise because I was so driven and adored working in advertising production. I had fulfilled a lifetime ambition of having my own production company and had even made certain career choices which would potentially work well with juggling family life. But I realised I really wasn't happy the way life was. Something had to give.
I really wanted to improve my own health as I have had IBS for my whole adult life, and I also wanted to know that I was making the best choices for a healthy growing family. So when my second son was two months old I signed up to go back to college to become a Nutrition, Health and Wellness Coach. It was a massive decision, but I literally have never looked back!
What changes did you make to make your career work for you?
I made quite dramatic changes to make a career work for me by re-inventing myself. I had a fear of starting all over again but I realised that although I may not use the same day-to-day skills, there are so many practical and life skills I bring to my new career which can help make me a better coach for my clients. I can also appreciate how making big changes in your life is challenging, but how rewarding it is at the other end!
It’s good to have someone to talk things through when you are having a wobble about your choices. From a practical point of view, I have strict working hours so that I can be laser focused both when I work and when I’m with my kids and having family time. Being present is so important to children and you see their behaviour change for the worse when you are overly distracted on an ongoing basis. I also offer Skype sessions with clients both for their and my own flexibility. It really works, and I’ve even had clients in New York which have worked really well.
How did you feel when making these changes?
I went through a rollercoaster of wondering how crazy I was; to knowing this was a perfect fit for me. Anyone who makes a massive change to any aspect of their life will have moments of doubt. Once I started getting clients I felt like I was fully on track and that all the time sacrificed by both myself and my husband, and kids, was not in vain and that now I have the career I want for me and my family. We also have much healthier outlook on life and more interesting and healthy food stocked in the house.
Did you receive support from your employer at the time?
As I was self-employed, there was a transition period where I worked to financially support the career change, and I naturally let things wind down. Starting to study for the career change while on maternity leave was helpful in the transition and meant I could start afresh having had a natural career pause anyway.
How did your partner support you through this time?
My husband was amazingly supportive. College was scheduled on the weekends, for approximately one intensive weekend per month, so for two years, he had the kids for the whole weekend while I was in college.
He also gave me the time I needed to study, and the financial support to enable me to do this. The two grannies were also very helpful and then as I started getting clients in we were able to get a minder. It was a challenging time but we both value my new career all the more for it. We had our third baby shortly after I graduated so we're back to more challenges but I feel my career is established now.
What worked and what didn’t work along the way?
I think choosing to make the career change when I did was the best thing I could have done. It fits so well with me personally that it has allowed me to feel more authentic and so there is much less need to switch on and off. There's no such thing as the perfect time, I could have easily and genuinely had excuses to not make the change until X, Y and Z were perfect, but if you waited for that we'd probably never do anything!
Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now - how have they improved/decreased?
I think my base level of stress was so high before I changed career, and I didn’t realise the extent of it until I made fundamental changes to my career, nutrition and lifestyle. The very nature of what I do now allows me to manage my stress well, have more energy and face the challenges that life throws at you when parenting and working and living!
How do you rate your work/life balance?
My work/life balance for the stage our family is at is great. I’m around for the kids but I work too, which I relish. The other really positive aspect of having a career change around the time of having a family means as they grow and become more independent, so can your career flourish and take more precedence if you want it too. It’s an exciting time!
Three bits of advice for working mothers?
- Planning is the key to calm and happiness. The more you can stay on top of the daily grind the more you’ll have time for the fun stuff.
- Accept any support offered. Too often we forge ahead and do everything ourselves, but take any help you are offered. It may only be offered once and you will have missed out. It’s so important to have support while working in order to relieve as much stress as possible. Our lives as working mums can easily take the shape of work followed by kids and house leaving no time for ourselves or other aspects of our lives that give us fulfilment. It could be someone looking after the kids while you go to a class or for a run, or for a coffee or drink with your partner, or for a sleep, whatever it is… take it!!
- You are AMAZING! Parenting is a tough job and with today’s prevalence of social media we are exposed to false perfection and this often leads to feeling like we’re not doing the best job… well, you are! Remind yourself of this every day, it’s amazing what impact a positive affirmation has on your day. By the way, you’re beautiful too!
Would you like to be featured in this series? Send an email to our Editor firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about your career, how you manage to balance your work and life balance and let us know if you've made any drastic changes to facilitate your family and career.