Life Coaching – Cheaper Than Therapy & It Saved My Sanity

It was two years ago this week that I left the “working world.”  Wait, let me clarify that…the paid working world.  All for a good reason, of course.  Three years of European living courtesy of the husband’s job was like a dream come true.  I knew I would miss working and was definitely a bit sad and sentimental when I walked out of the office that last day.  But I was excited to finally focus more on our family and myself, and do all of those things I couldn’t when I was working full-time.

I couldn’t wait to dive into my “new job.”  I was envisioning time to exercise, explore new places, meet new friends for coffee, have a clean house, and the laundry done – everything in order and in its place.  And now I look back at this girl and her dreamy aspirations, and think “Bless her heart…”

The truth? I was losing myself in the day-to-day “domestics” – dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, chauffeuring the kids to and from school, soccer practice, cooking dinner, and packing lunches.  I was in a horrible rut, and the fact that I had such lofty visions for what I thought my life would be like with all this “free time” made it all the more frustrating.  My goodness, the whole stay-at-home wife/mom gig is humbling.  And the pay stinks.

I should also mention that the other item on my newly-found free-time list was to do some soul searching about what I’d like to do next professionally.  You know, use this time to re-invent myself, figure out my next career, etc.  Needless to say, this “new job” was not what I thought it would be.

Then last summer I began working  with a life coach.  I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t sure what life coaching was all about, but I knew I needed to do something to get myself back on track.  For my sake and my family’s sake.  About 15 minutes into the first session with my coach, Kate, I had the first of many “ah-ha” moments.  You see, in my professional life one of the things I did was manage projects – big, complex projects.  And I was good at it.  But in that initial conversation with Kate when I was talking about my professional background, I realised that I was treating this “new job” like a project.  Except that it was an ongoing, never-ending, one step forward and two steps back kind of project.  No deadline. No completion date.  No project deliverables (except for raising my boys to be decent human beings and making sure that we all didn’t starve in the process).  No wonder I was frustrated!

Over the course of 3 months and 8 sessions, Kate helped me navigate this new phase in my life by giving me the tools to determine my priorities and my passions; essentially developing my own mission statement.  The outcome was better time management, the ability to look at potential work opportunities based on my values rather than my skills and experience, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone to try new things.  I have also prioritised my self-care through exercise, bible study and meditation (well, I’m still trying on that last one…) and I consciously think about the habits (both good and bad) that I’m forming.

For me, the experience was extremely worthwhile.  I learned new things about myself and am now seeing things through a different lens.  I’m more aware of the choices I make because I’ve clearly identified my values and priorities.  I still don’t know what’s next for me and I still get frustrated with the “domestics” at times, but I have a better focus, a better outlook, and better habits.  And best of all, I choose how I want to show up – with my family and with myself.

I would recommend life coaching to anyone who has gone through a major life or career change, or anyone that just needs to hit the “re-set” button on their personal or professional life.  Here are a few tips based on my experience:

  • Find the right coach for you – get recommendations from friends and search the web.  Some coaches offer a complimentary session, which is a great way to see if its the right fit.
  • Commit – do the homework, be prepared and show up for your coaching sessions (both physically and emotionally)
  • Follow through – implement the thoughts and ideas you and your coach discuss.  The only way it will stick is if you put it into practice.
  • Pray – because God has a purpose for each one of us, even if the path he’s leading us down doesn’t seem to be the fastest or the easiest.

I feel like we can read all the self-help books out there (who has the time?), but it’s also helpful to have someone who isn’t our spouse, our friend or our family member help us to take a fresh and unbiased look at our lives. And in the end, remember that we are all God’s masterpieces, being chiseled for His purpose.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  {Ephesians 2:8-10}

Learning the Lingo

When I told people that we were moving to Belgium, one of the first questions people asked was, “do you speak French?”.  Sadly, the answer is “no” (really kicking myself for those 3 years of high school Latin with Mr. Cserbak).

Within 48 hours of arriving here, it became apparent that knowing at least some French would be critical as the very first house we looked at had a landlord that spoke ZERO English.  Thankfully, Tim’s years of high school and college French were extremely helpful.  He is able to communicate at least 90% of the time, read menus, etc. (except for that time he ordered Filet Americain for me by mistake…).  The rest of us are starting with a blank slate.

For the kids, this is great.  They are both at the perfect ages to learn a new language without having to put in as much effort as say, their 43 year-old mom.  When we arrived in March, the only school option for Charlie at the age of 3 was the Belgian Kindergarten (what we would call pre-school in the U.S.) where they speak only French.  When he first started he would come home and say, “Mama, I don’t understand what Madame is saying…”, but after about 2 weeks he was at least understanding what was being said even if he couldn’t speak the language.  For kids, learning a new language is like a baby learning to talk in that they understand before they can actually say the words.  By the end of June he was speaking some French.  He’s back at the Kindergarten and we expect that things will really click for him this year.  

We enrolled Timothy in the American school when we arrived so that he could finish Kindergarten.  However, being on an international military base, many of the larger countries have their own schools (U.S., UK, Canada, Germany, Italy, Belgium, etc) and as the school year came to a close, Timothy kept expressing his desire to learn French.  Dad already speaks it, Charlie is learning and he was feeling a little left out.  After careful thought and deliberation, we decided (with his ok) to enrol him in the Belgian school this year.  Six weeks into the school year and he’s thriving, plus the Belgian school offers a lot in addition to the language – religious education, swimming, and gymnastics are all part of the regular curriculum and he’s also taking guitar lessons one day a week.  He’s learning to write in cursive (or in “French” as he says) and his handwriting has improved tremendously in just a short time.  The only downside (for me) is that every.thing. comes home in French – his assignments written down by him, his homework instructions, notes from his teacher, etc.  When you’re relying on a 6 year-old’s instructions and Google translate, things can be a little frustrating for moi.

Timo hw

hw

assignment

I am a “student” again too though, taking French language classes two days a week. I’m learning the essentials, but not soaking up things nearly as fast as the kids…who correct my pronunciation at every turn.  Even though I’m only in my 4th week of class, I do find myself understanding a few more things when I hear the language spoken out in town.  It’s not easy, but it feels good to be using a part of my brain that hasn’t been worked in a while.  And because the kids are learning too, with Tim to help all of us, I can only hope we’ll return to the U.S. with our horizons broadened.

If nothing else, I’ll be able to introduce myself in French and not order steak tartar by mistake.

filet americain

To market, to market…

One of the biggest lifestyle changes we’ve experienced since living in Belgium is how we eat and shop for food.  Gone are the days of Costco and stocking up for fear we run out of something, and don’t realise it until 10pm at night while Tim is deployed.

Belgians buy what they need, cook it and eat it with in a few days.  Weird, huh?  We thought so too, especially since the house we rented has a beautiful new refrigerator without a freezer – yes, NO FREEZER, but people here really don’t need one.  (Fear not, we have an American style refrigerator/freezer in the garage for our ice cream, ice, frozen peas and beer.)

Most people buy their food at the local markets (what we would call Farmer’s Markets back home) – think fresh produce, meat, fish, cheese, bread, pate, foie gras, homemade quiche, honey, rotisserie chicken roasting in the truck right in front of you.

market produce

market cheese 2

meat

chicken truck

bread

And livestock.  Yep, that’s right – your goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits.  (I’d love to say that people are buying them as pets, or for the eggs…but, I’m not so sure that’s the case 100% of the time!)

chicks

rabbits

goat

ducks

Our local market is on Tuesdays.  I love going because it gives me an opportunity to practice my limited French (my numbers and foods are coming along nicely though!) and just wander the different stands and see what’s available.  Although some days, I’m on a mission and like to get in and get out.  And now that I have my fish guy, my chicken lady, bread lady and cheese guy, I know exactly where to go and what to order.  The prices are unbelievably reasonable too.  I’ll never forget the first time we bought some steaks – 4 beautiful filets sliced freshly for us, and we thought it would easily be 25 euros at least, and they were only 12 euros.

On base, we have a very nice French grocery store (a Carrefour) where we can shop tax-free and get our essentials.  An since we’re pretty much on base every day M-F for work and/or school, we pick up what we need when we need it.  It’s been a hard exercise to re-train ourselves not to buy 6 of something just because we go through it quickly, but it’s really taught us how to shop more efficiently and cost-effectively, and eat a healthy diet of locally grown foods.

The “New Normal” ??

We are approaching the 5 month mark in Belgium and while we are absolutely loving it here, I haven’t quite gotten a new routine down yet.  Don’t get me wrong, life in Europe is great and just the break we needed from our former crazy life schedule with two demanding full-time jobs and the stresses that placed on our family life.  However, I thought with me not working, things would be so much more organised and less chaotic – I’d have more time to do things with the boys on our first “summer break” ever, more time to exercise, our laundry wouldn’t pile up and multiply at at an alarming rate…I know all of my SAHM friends are laughing at me right now thinking, “Oh Jen, you foolish, foolish girl…”.

In the 5 months since we’ve been here, we spent 45 days in a hotel room before moving into our house.  May was spent unpacking and trying to get settled.  June/July were filled with visitors and summer break started for the kids.  And the laundry??  Well, it takes about 2 days to do a load of laundry in a European washer/dryer…

You can bet your buttons, I never thought I'd be doing this...

You can bet your buttons, I never thought I’d be doing this…

While crazy and fun, these first few months have been anything but “normal”.  However, school starts August 26th, so I’m looking forward to finding my “new normal” – whatever that is!

A New Chapter

I wrote this on my last day of work (February 20th)…

Today was my last day at work.  While I’m ready for this new chapter and to have more time with the boys (all 3 of them!), I’ve spent 8 years with the same company.  It’s the longest I’ve spent at any job in my 20+ years of working.  Eight years is an impressive run, especially for a military spouse.

The biggest events in my life happened during this time – I became a wife, a mother and then a mother of two.  A full-time working mom/military spouse/community volunteer.  Whoa.  Time to get off the train – literally!  And while I won’t miss feeling guilty for missing a field trip or dosing my kids up with Motrin so I can get a few hours in at the office before  they get sent home from school, or getting the 911 call in the middle of a meeting to let me know my child just threw up, or the conflicted feelings I’ve had over the past 5 1/2 years about missing things with my kids, but loving my job anyway.

But this place…the corporate world with my own office, where I’m called “Jennifer” and not “Momma”, where I’ve been able to do some pretty cool stuff and know some pretty great people – I will miss that.

Walking out of that building for the last time was a strange feeling and seems like a lifetime ago.  Six months have passed and while I do miss the pay check, I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to live in Europe, travel, and be different kind of mom to my kids.