It’s 2010 and I’m sitting at a vast mahogany table in a swanky London hotel. Its size distances me not just from my eager smart-casual fellow trainees, but from myself. I’m nervous, small, indignant. I can feel my old Converse trainers on the expensive carpet. Bottles of ‘mountain-distilled water’, delicate little biscuits, a huge branded folder sit untouched by my side. A crisp name badge announcing ‘Katie Duckworth, Life Coach’ hangs at an unprofessional angle on my t-shirt.
As the expert marketer flashes up Powerpoint slides I hardly hear her. I know I’m not supposed to be here.
I’m supposed to be doing something useful, for goodness sake. Up until a few years before I’d had a worthwhile career! Working for NGOs, big and small, I’d been on trips to Africa and India with photographers and inspiring leaders of local communities who were fighting poverty and injustice. Sharing their stories back home, I’d felt I was making a real contribution to the world.
But when my children were born, flying off to meet with ex-child soldiers in Sierra Leone or women farmers in Uttar Pradesh was impossible. I looked for new work that would suit my lifestyle, and trained as a coach (mainly because friends said I was so good at giving great advice over a glass of wine.)
I didn’t know who I wanted to work with or what topic I was passionate to coach around. I was floundering, coaching here and there and running workshops that weren’t even a quarter full. I was feeling flat and unmotivated, worried I wasn’t doing anything useful at all – and deeply concerned my new career wasn’t going to work out.
So, in an effort to sort out my focus I went on a workshop to learn how to market myself as a coach.
The first exercise in that swanky room was about setting our goals and visions. As I sat listening to how the other attendees planned to make big money for BMWs, holidays in the Caribbean and yachts, my heart sank – this training was definitely not for me. These were never things I’d even considered could make me happy.
So, I got up to leave.
But instead of quietly sneaking off as I’d intended, half way out of the boardroom I found myself blurting out, “Hang on a minute! But I just don’t want these things!”
I fully expected the marketing expert to dismiss me with a wave of her hand, return to her slides with a quick, “OK, off you go then,” and for me to slink shamefully from the room.
Instead she turned to me, looked me right in the eye, and said, “So, what do you want?”
I found myself making a little speech I didn’t even know I knew:
“I want children not to die from preventable diseases before they are five.” I said, “I want girls all over the world to get an education. I want everyone to have a roof over their head and enough to eat and to live with dignity”.
There was a long silence in the room in which I was deeply aware of all eyes on me and my tatty t-shirt and trainers.
“So, there’s your business then,” said the marketing guru.
She went on to show me how, if you were as passionate about something as I clearly was, I could make it work. That night I stayed up until 2am to create a business plan for my business, Be The Change.
I would coach and train people in the charity sector to be happier and more effective so they could contribute their very best to their organisations and make the world a better, fairer, more just place.
And here I am now, ten years down the line. My work is thriving and I’m honoured to work with senior teams and the CEOs of charities and sustainable businesses in my favourite sweet spot between doing work that really matters and loving what you do.
If you’re as passionate about your non-profit career as I am about working with people like you – and if you’d love someone at your side to support you, challenge you and cheer you on – let’s chat!