Monthly Archives

January 2020


Why outplacement may not be good for you

I’ve taken voluntary redundancy twice in my career and both times it was a shock even though I chose it. A real wrench in both cases so I can only imagine what it must be like if it’s forced on you, worse still, you don’t see it coming.

The second time, I was offered outplacement coaching which I leapt at like a drowning person grabs a plank of wood in the water. However, it was a mixed experience and it taught me some useful lessons. The way it works is that if it is offered, the company letting you go have a contract with an outplacement company whose job it is to pick you up, shake you down, help you find a new job and get you on your way again, thus assuaging the guilt of the company you’ve just left. You’ll get help with your CV, lessons in how to network and interview techniques and you throw yourself at the mercy of the headhunters.

All good if you’re at a T-junction. In other words, if this direction hasn’t worked out, just try something similar going in another direction. Same kind of role, same level of seniority, same or related industry, nothing too different. However, what I discovered you don’t get with outplacement coaching is the answer to dilemmas like, ‘I don’t know what to do next’, ‘there are too many options floating around in my head’, or ‘I want to try something completely different’. It might feel like being at a spaghetti junction.

A lot of these kind of questions can be second half of life questions. You’ve ticked all the boxes. You’ve chosen a career, you have a life partner, you might even have been able to afford your own home and you might have some children. Tick, tick, tick. Now what? There’s a niggle. It’s all lovely but. Is that it? There’s got to be something more but you can’t think what.

What if you had some time out of the rat race just to think and answer some of these questions? What if you had that instead of outplacement? What might that open up in your life?


When you get that diagnosis

It was the last thing I expected even though I had been called back after having a mammogram. I’m extremely health conscious, eating and exercising as I should. Nothing in my family. But there it was: breast cancer. A huge shock.

I was very lucky in that my local NHS hospital, a fairly standard hospital in a provincial town, was one of six in the country to be able to offer a revolutionary treatment whereby radiotherapy is given at the same time as surgery (IORT, intraoperative radiotherapy), and nothing more is required. Also lucky that I could be given hormone treatment and didn’t require chemotherapy, so I was in for surgery and radiotherapy on Thursday afternoon and back at work on Monday. In those circumstances, it’s hard to take it in, for it to make a dent on your consciousness.

Not long afterwards, someone asked me, ‘What did you learn from your experience?’ and I looked at him blankly. Despite being very keen on learning, it hadn’t occurred to me that this was an opportunity to learn anything. However, the question stayed with me and some weeks later, I realised that having got the diagnosis, it didn’t make me question what I was doing with my life as what I was doing and how I was living was exactly what I wanted. It didn’t make me question or want to change anything.

Having spoken to others in the same position, I’m aware that not everyone has this reaction. For many people, it’s a wake-up call, perhaps to live more healthily or even more, to question whether they are really living the life they love, doing what matters and is significant. For them, it’s an opportunity to consider how to write the next chapter of their lives.

What if you got a wake-up call like this?


When the door closes

A phone call. An accident. An unwanted medical diagnosis. A ruinous investment. Failure. It all comes crashing down. Any of these can act as a huge shock. We struggle to make sense, adjust, make amends or try to correct and then we come to the realisation that something has changed. Life isn’t going to be the same. It can leave us feeling marginalised and isolated – the rest of the world seems to be getting on with their lives in the same way, but we’re on the outside. This was a feeling I had in a busy shopping centre one Christmas when I was unemployed in the last recession, having had a successful career up to that point. It’s very painful.

It can be that the answer is simple. You just need to find another job. However it can be that what we’re experiencing as a disaster is a door closing on a chapter of our lives, perhaps a way of life. Then what? It feels as though it is calling into question all that we have ever hoped for or believed of ourselves and the universe.

What if the door is closing on something that wasn’t right for us? What if something is trying to tell us that there is a better way? That there might be something of real significance round the corner?


What’s the script of your life?

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, ‘why does that keep happening to me?’ or ’why do I keep doing that?’ Do you see patterns in your life or even notice that the patterns are similar to those of your parents? If so, what you have stumbled on is the concept of life scripts, the idea that from a very young age, encouraged or shaped by our parents, we make up a story about our lives and how they are going to be. They help us to make sense of our lives and shape it.

Because they are formed at such a young age, we are not aware of them and keep acting them out. Archetypically we see such patterns in the woman who keeps forming relationships with men who abuse her for example, or more positively that we have to save the world. My parents were missionaries so perhaps that forms something of my script – the temptation to try and save the world!

What were the catch phrases in your home growing up? What were the constant ‘don’ts’? Don’t be selfish, don’t show off, don’t show feelings, don’t have needs? Just some of mine.
What title would you give to your life story; your script? What type of story is it; happy, a tragedy or a rom com? Who are you in the story, a victim or a hero?

Because we made the decision in the first place, we have the power to change it. Once our script is brought into our awareness, there is hope that we will be able to do things differently.

The greatest power that understanding life scripts gives us is the ability to change them. Listen to yourself. What are the stories you are telling yourself about your life. When do you say ‘that’s not me’ or ‘I couldn’t do that’? What are the patterns you seek and avoid? What excuses do you make for not doing things?

What’s stopping you is your current life script. What if you knew what it is? What if you could change it? What if you had another view of your past life? And how is it going to end? What if you could write a different end to the story?


The road less travelled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem by Robert Frost has always fascinated me and I’m sure many others. How many of us look back on our lives and wonder about the road we might have taken and what difference that might have made to our lives? Going to one university rather than another? Marrying this person rather than that person? Taking a particular job?

And now perhaps, we’re at a point in our lives where the roads diverge and we wonder which one to take. Is there a choice or are we bound by all the previous decisions we’ve ever made? After a life which seems to be one where we’ve always done the right thing, conformed, met the expectations of our families, perhaps we are longing to kick out and try the road less travelled. We’ve had a dream of something we have longed to try, to make that great idea into a new business, to make our lives count on the bigger stage of life, to live our own lives as opposed to the life  which has lived up to others’ expectations. What would it cost to try something different? What if we took the risk?


Revaluing your life



  1. an act of moving back or withdrawing.
  2. to go to a quiet safe place in order to avoid a difficult situation.

These days so many different kinds of retreats are being offered, from greater wellness of body and mind to religious retreats and business retreats. It is interesting to speculate whether they’re simply a way of avoiding difficult situations; but our experience of running retreats they should be much more about a move in a positive direction, inspiration and renewal not avoidance.

They offer a time to step back, to think, plan and to refocus away from all the pressures of everyday life. When we first started running them, we wondered if the opportunity of space and time would simply lead to participants going back to their emails. But quite the opposite.

It helped that we were in beautiful countryside with opportunities to walk, run, cycle or take advantage of the spa and swimming facilities, even in the dead of winter…all to aid reflection about themselves, their businesses and their leadership.

It may also have concentrated the mind that the following day they were due to present their plan and priorities for the next year so there was certainly some expectation. We wondered if there would be a chorus of ‘You mean you’ve dragged us away from our business for this? Complete waste of time!’ but not a bit of it. That time and space was so valued that in subsequent retreats, CEOs who have got used to that space protest loudly if that open time is structured.

In our experience what makes for a good retreat is:

  • A framework that rests on a calm, reflective safe space
  • Activities and input to stimulate thinking both at a business and personal level
  • Participants committed to using it well
  • Honesty about what is really going on
  • Making the most of the group of people who are there, who in an environment of confidentiality will offer feedback, support and challenge
  • Useful, actionable results.

What if you had the opportunity for this kind or retreat?



On coming to a crossroads in life

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra

But there is so much that stops us from taking the risk. We are accustomed to being able to quickly find information – ‘just Google it,’ and there is no shortage of life coaches, wise people and gurus who can give us answers as soon as we want them. The clue is in the word ‘quickly’. We find it hard to be ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ as the poet John Keats put it.

When we sense that something has changed, that we have come to a crossroads, we are either paralysed trying to work out which way to go or we thrash around trying one thing after another. It is so much easier to be doing something rather than nothing for most of us. Sometimes what we need is to just stop. Give ourselves time and space. Unlike the implication of the opening quote, perhaps it does matter which way we go. Crossroads can be really important moments when the direction of our lives might be changed irrevocably. Such moments deserve to be honoured with our attention.

Sometimes we need to go deeper, question what the crossroad is about, what decision we are really having to make, what is being required of us, what our deepest truest self is seeking. What if we stopped to listen?




Mid life crisis

When I was in my mid-forties, it occurred to me that there was something wrong with having feelings of longing to retire, but those were the thoughts I was having. Something was wrong but I had no idea what. It wasn’t until I embarked on a further degree that all of a sudden, I started questioning aspects of my life which turned into a full-blown mid-life crisis.

These kinds of crises can happen at many points at different life stages. In our twenties, it can be about getting a good job, in our thirties, whether it is the right career, but stereotypically, the mid-life crisis happens in our forties, when we have achieved a certain amount of success, perhaps not as much as we had hoped, or perhaps with the realisation that perhaps this isn’t what we set out to do in the first place and that we can’t see ourselves doing this for the rest of our lives.

For me, everything changed, what I valued, what mattered, my friendships, my job and ultimately my marriage, which sadly, wasn’t going to last anyway. It took a lot longer than I expected for the dust to settle, but I emerged a much happier person, more honest with myself and others, less afraid of what people thought of me, more prepared to experiment, a better leader, more self-aware and able to be myself.

The psychologist Carl Jung said that we cannot live the second half of our lives in the same way that we live the first half of our lives without doing damage to our souls. The first half of our lives is rightly concerned with establishing ourselves in a career, settling down, and having a family, but in the second half of our lives, we turn inward, take stock, and it is at this time that questions of meaning and purpose arise.

For me, this was a frightening time and at times I thought I was going mad. It was a major upheaval, and at the time, no one around me seemed to know what was going on or could help me. I don’t regret it, so much changed in my life, but I would have loved to have had a guide to help me through.  I didn’t want a therapist who would take me back to my childhood, I wanted someone to help me discover who I was as an adult.

What if you were able to look at your life differently? What if you could take charge of it and live the life you want to live?




5 signs that it’s more than the post-holiday blues

It’s happened to all of us. We come back from holiday with that warm glow and the suntan that hasn’t yet faded and reality hits on that first morning back. I used to spend the first few days back from holiday planning the next one, before I got re-engaged with my work. But perhaps something has been niggling you for a while. There’s a gut feeling that something isn’t right. Here are 5 reasons why it might be worth paying attention to the niggle.

  1. You don’t feel you fit in the company anymore. You’ve been there a while, there’s been a change of leadership and the culture has changed. New people have come in and you don’t recognise it as the place you used to love. You don’t feel able to give of your best anymore.
  2. You’re bored and you’d have to confess you’ve been bored for a while. It’s an effort to drag yourself out of bed every morning.
  3. You’ve outgrown the job. You’ve learned a huge amount since you’ve been in this role and now you need a new challenge.
  4. You look at other senior positions in the company and they don’t excite you.
  5. You’ve lost a sense of purpose and can’t connect with the business purpose. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere that you think matters. You can’t get excited about the new plans and direction and find yourself fantasising about how you would do it differently or even the kind of business you’d be excited to start yourself.

This is not a sign that you should immediately up sticks and throw it all in. But have you talked to anyone about how you’re feeling? Have you considered what the options might be? What if you opened Pandora’s box with someone who could support and challenge you and support you in exploring some new directions?

Hilary Rowland, business adviser, coach, TheNextChapter. We offer retreats for people at critical turning points in their lives who need space and time out to imagine and design the next chapter of their lives. These life transitions might be a career change, selling a business, mid-life crisis, a medical diagnosis, burnout, divorce, bereavement, wanting to leave a legacy or give something back.

Twitter @hilarytnc



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