Moms Doing It For Themselves: Sarah Courtney
If you’re thinking of taking the new business plunge take inspiration from Sarah Courtney of sarahcourtneycoaching.ie, she set up a maternity coaching business for mums who want to get the most of out their working and home life. Mammy guilt is such a waste of your energy - Sarah says, and we agree wholeheartedly!
Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)
I have a degree in Business and Legal Studies from UCD, I’m CIPD qualified and I trained to be a coach with the Irish LifeCoach Institute in 2013. My career has been in Human Resources within banking, software and EdTech in a variety of roles, but coaching is, without doubt, my passion.
Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?
Yes. I liked my job and I worked with some really talented people, but I think deep down I always felt I could be doing something more. Although, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise I never took the time to explore my options. I just went with where things took me. At the time I really believed that’s just how things were. If you didn’t want to be a ‘doctor’ or a ‘solicitor’ then you just had a ‘job’, got paid and my world away from work was my real life. Having my first child made me really challenge how I was spending my time. If I was going to be away from her, surely I had to do something that fulfilled me. Completing my coaching training gave me the realisation that I could do something for a living that I loved, and that shift in mindset was life changing. Gaining that awareness changed my outlook on many things.
What changes did you make to make your career work for you?
I tried different combinations of full-time and part-time work in order to find the right balance for me between work and home, but the workload didn’t really change, so I was constantly checking my email at home and feeling guilty about leaving work at 5.30pm. I often felt like I was going to drop the ball and that made me feel uneasy a lot of the time. I found that frustrating. I didn’t have time to focus on my coaching so in 2014 I took a big leap of faith and left my secure, well-paid job, to give it a go.
How did you feel when making these changes?
In the run up to making the decision I wavered between feeling sick with fear but then at other times I could almost taste the freedom of ‘what if’. I constantly challenged the ludicrousness of what I was thinking of doing. I had a child. I wanted more. What was I doing walking away from security into the unknown? In coaching, we are taught to be careful of language and internal dialogue. I had labelled my part-time HR job as the Holy Grail and it was my coach Liz Barron who reflected that back to me and helped me re-assess those beliefs. That was an eye-opener for me. What if the Holy Grail was indeed a Poisoned Chalice? There were a few tears that day, but that’s the beauty of coaching. It helps you find space and options and that can be pretty emotional…in a good way!
Did you receive support from your employer at the time?
Yes absolutely, they allowed me to try the part-time role for a while and they financially supported me in my coaching training which was fantastic.
How did your partner support you through this time?
I know I wouldn’t have done it by myself. Tim is so calm and confident and he always has my back. Every time I started to back down from resigning from my job, he’d remind me of why I was doing what I was doing. And when I bit the bullet and had days where I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere, he was always there to take the seriousness out of it and to reassure me that it was all going to be fine. To him, it was a no-brainer. He says I am a different person when I coach. When I coach, I am me.
What worked and what didn’t work along the way?
I’m learning all the time but finding my niche was key, as was realising that I needed to partner with companies. Being able to describe what I do in one sentence is so important, otherwise, you lose people. But that takes time. Asking for help; making it really clear where I was trying to get to, and realising that I have to keep things fluid has been critical for me. I have also learned to be really patient. A coffee with someone a year ago could lead to a new business contract, you never know where your next great client will come from so every meeting has value.
I think we all stand in our own way. Fear of putting ourselves out there, the embarrassment of not being good enough, low confidence. I work with so many fantastic women and I would say that that is the constant issue that comes up, no matter how perfect things look from the outside. And I’m no exception. I went through those feelings many times in the early days and it takes a lot of trial and error to form new habits that actually let you see that you are making progress.
Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now - how have they improved/decreased
I am a happy person and I have always been lucky to have a lovely life. But my contentment levels have gone through the roof. I think that’s a little different to happiness. My children make me happy. My work makes me content. I have a deep-seated contentment with what I am doing professionally and I am so excited because I have only scratched the surface. Through coaching, I am also a lot more aware of my happiness whereas I think before sometimes it just washed over me and maybe I took it for granted. I practice gratitude every night and every morning and I believe that re-wires your brain to scan for the positives in life. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of off days but overall, life is very good.
How do you rate your work/life balance?
A work in progress and that’s 100% ok. It is how it should be I think. I have young kids, a business I am passionate about and a husband with his own thriving career. It’s a constant ebb and flow. Some days we get it right. Other days it’s far too rushed and I snap at the kids and collapse in a heap at the end of the day. But the difference now is that there is purpose and there are little wins all the time. As a family, we have really clear goals of where we want to be and how we want to live our lives. Little by little, we are getting there and we are enjoying the journey.
Three bits of advice for working mothers?
- Know that you are doing great. As a society, we still haven’t reached equality and it generally remains a fact that working mothers are juggling a unique set of circumstances. Everyone I coach is doing their best and I would hope they can see that.
- Try to accept your choices. It’s a funny one but a recurring theme, which I have experienced personally, is the guilt of working part time/leaving work on time. So many of us still feel like we are letting our colleagues down because we choose not to be at work as much as we used to be. My advice is that if you make a decision, then really own it. Embrace it. Of course, it has consequences but if you can’t be at peace with it then maybe you need to reflect on whether it’s the right one for you. Guilt is such a waste of your energy.
- Streamline: If it’s not working then stand back, take a breath and try to understand objectively what needs to change. Maybe the kids can do less after school activities, maybe budgeting for a cleaner becomes a priority, maybe a prepared and well thought through conversation needs to happen at work. Life is simply too short not to enjoy it.
Would you like to be featured in our mompreneur business mom series? Or know someone who might?Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about your career and how you manage to balance your work and life balance.