Tell me about your professional background. What kind of work have you done?
My professional life reflects the organic approach to living that I prefer. For me that means that my path has been a twisty-turny one; a meandering bi-way if you will, rather than a fast, efficient super highway. As a quick summary, here are some of the titles and positions I’ve held over the years:
1996- present Founder & President, Odysseys Unlimited Inc.
2002-2006 Co-founder & Executive Director, WEL-Systems® Institute,
1993-1996 National Director, Phone Power, Stentor Telecommunications
1990-1993 Director, Employment Equity Programs, Bell Canada
1987-1990 Director, Marketing, Mediatel, Bell Canada
1980-1985 Assistant Director in several departments including Revenue Estimates, Regulatory Matters & Common Language Bureau, Bell Canada
1976-1979 Admin Officer, Memorial University of Newfoundland
1975-1976 Secretary, Leeds & Grenville Board of Education
1970-1975 Secretary, University of Alberta, Edmonton
1966-1970 Misc. Secretarial and Office Admin Positions
Which professional highlights stand out for you?
The professional experiences I’ve had that include the experience of insight, of seeing myself or the world through new eyes, seem to be the highlights that are most meaningful for me. Here are a few of them.
My Professional Moments of Insight
1. Importance of Skills/Job Match – I spent years as a secretary and office administrator. I wish I could say that I excelled at these things, but the reality is that I was pretty mediocre. I suspect that if you talked to colleagues and bosses from those days they wouldn’t have much inspiring to say about my skills. This was a time in my life when I was completely unaware that there was such a thing as a “skills match” regarding jobs. I thought women did certain kinds of work whether they found any pleasure in it or not. I can’t tell you how profoundly impacted my life has been since I realized what was possible when skills are matched with performance needs. Here’s a little story that illustrates that:
I am a great starter-upper who gets easily bored with routine. I create something out of nothing easily. I talk readily with people, and in many settings can be seen as nosey. It really was only when I, quite literally, fell into a marketing position that my career started to take off. Secretaries and administrators, at least back in the old days, needed far more decorum than comes easily for me. Even in jobs where I excelled, there were always long lists of required improvements at each performance review. Sometimes I totally failed to make the grade and was dispensed with long before review time came around! These types of jobs required a stick-toitiveness and attention to detail that I can only seem to muster when a project is highly compelling to me.
Once I discovered the world of marketing my career took off like a rocket. Being nosey, always wanting to improve the status quo, being curious about how things work or why they dodn’t work and always being willing to wander around and talk to a variety of people were attributes that not only were required, but they were rewarded! Who’d have thought. I just went into marketing because I heard they had good parties!
Discovering the need for a ‘job match’ become hugely valuable to me in working with people who feel trapped in jobs they hate; who haven’t noticed that the context for work is at least as important as the technical knowledge they’ve acquired.
2. Do something you love – Another career highlight for me happened one day when I was involved in Employment Equity work. I had just completed a phone call with a special interest employee group. As I hung up the phone it dawned on me that I was being paid for my ability to comfortably explore topics that many other people considered to be political hot-potatoes. I chuckled at the thought of being well-paid for having public conversations about subjects my mother would have lectured me for even bringing up. This same capacity to be fearless in pursuing the course of a conversation turns out to be a key attribute in leading personal growth, creativity and retirement workshops as well as in coaching conversations.
3. Be non-traditional if it feels right – A much earlier career highlight was a summer spent working on a fishing barge out in the middle of nowhere off the coast of B.C. It was my first opportunity to experience work that was not office-based, where any kind of supervision was geographically distant (we were a 2-day boat ride from civilization and if the clouds were just right over the mountains on Tuesday morning we could get a signal from our Citizen’s Band radio to order supplies), and which involved long stretches of isolation when our fisher clients were off catching salmon. While that experience happened about 40 years ago, it is still fresh and alive inside me. It taught me that I didn’t need a boss hovering in the background to get my work done. It also taught me that the life skills I’d learned growing up on a hobby farm were extremely useful in some work environments.
4. Don’t let fear stop you – Late in my organizational career I chose to step into an opportunity to take accountability for a corporate culture change initiative. This turned out to be a life altering decision. As I educated myself about the dynamics of change, I began to explore a whole new world of personal growth, based in the assumption that you can only lead others in change to the degree that you can lead yourself. Through these learning experiences and the incredible conversations (and rows) I had with team members and colleagues, I realized that finally, after 30 years in the corporate world, I had discovered the work I was meant to be doing. My shift into the world of entrepreneurialism seemed like a natural evolution, although a scary one at times.
I’d like to know about you as a person. What is it about you and your life that you think is important for people to know?
I have recently discovered myself to be a creative person. Now, many of my friends have been telling me that for years. Finally, somewhere inside of me, I connected with creativity and can look back at my life and see all the many ways in which creativity has asserted itself. I’m also clear that for me, creativity only matters if it has some sort of use or application. I’ve noticed that models of thinking that can’t be applied to daily living don’t hold my interest for very long. Art that is too abstract leaves me cold. So my creativity is always based in life: cooking a great meal; painting a picture that I can hang on my wall or illustrate a book with; resolving a life issue in an unexpected way; traveling to places I’m interested in learning more about; creating a leadership model that helps people think differently; developing a marriage or business relationship that changes as people’s needs shift.
I am one of those people who started life old. For me, aging has been a process of discovering how to play, how to become younger in outlook. Interestingly, as my ability to play has increased my ability to be creative has expanded.
I have also discovered that the internal images we carry about ourselves, the metaphors that we use to define ourselves, powerfully create the experiences we get to step into day, after day, after day. For years, I saw myself as someone who excelled at getting past hurdles …and guess what? My life felt like one long, on-going series of hurdles that had to be surmounted!
Now that I define myself as creative …it shows up everywhere!
I believe that our minds are the most powerful and potent asset we have. We create our world with our mind. Since I’m up for a large, expansive life I make certain to feed my mind regularly: I read widely, I travel, I talk to people in all walks of life, I read and watch TV voraciously, I write, I paint. Many years ago I saw a teacher being interviewed. She talked about being at a science museum with her class of Grade 3 kids. The tour guide asked them to name 1 new thing they’d learned in the past year, and each one of the students did. She realized to her horror that she had stagnated; she hadn’t learned anything new. That small news clipping was a wake-up call for me too. Since that moment, I’ve made certain that I’m always learning something new. Not like it’s an obligation, but like it’s a joy.
My life isn’t perfect, nor is it always easy. I have times of financial and marital stress like anyone else. I sometimes feel let down by my friends, my step-children, my clients, my spouse. I sometimes let other people down. But through it all I have come to a place where I know that I am awake and that everything that happens in my life is something I’ve created for my own growth and evolution. It’s a wonderful place to live from. …now if only I could find the “on button” for liking exercise!
What is the vision that guides your life? Where do you see yourself being in the unfolding of that vision?
Let me tell you about the four ‘rules’ that govern my life, both personally and professionally. They are not a traditional ‘vision’ but they constitute the framework within which the vision of my life unfolds. They keep me on a very clear path without limiting its direction or the opportunities that surface as I move forward.
Gwen’s Rules for a Great Life
1) If it isn’t fun, don’t do it. (and if it ceases to be fun, stop)
2) If I have to write a proposal to get the gig, I’ll pass, thank you very much.
3) If I have to wear pantyhose to be accepted, they can’t pay me enough
4) I’m only looking for the people who are looking for me.
Having finally found the work that it feels like I’m here to do, what drives my life is being the invitation for other people to discover that they can create work that feeds their soul as well as their bank account. I spent many of my early work years unaware that some people actually enjoyed their jobs …for me work was simply something you did to earn money so that you could ‘live’ on the weekends.
Now that I have experienced the awakening process and have mindfully created my life the way I want it, I feel compelled to let as many other people as are interested know that they too can create this for themselves, regardless of their backgrounds.
My roots are very modest ones. I am one of 10 children of a working poor family that didn’t believe in educating girls beyond high school. I was a secretary/administrator for the first 15 years of my working life. When I was widowed in my mid-20s I realized that I’d better be prepared to take care of my own future. So I did an undergraduate degree at nights. It took me 10 years to complete that degree, but it was the starting point for me taking charge of my own life. I completed a Master’s degree in my mid-fifties only to discover through the process that I had no interest in practicing in the area of my specialty – corporate culture change!
Where I am in the unfolding of my vision probably can best be answered by “it depends”. Creating OUICoach with its focus on helping people create lives that works for them and stepping into the last part of life with vitality and vigor is extremely gratifying. When I am involved in those activities I feel like I am moving forward wonderfully and making a real difference in the world.
However, catch me on a day when I have just talked to yet another person who claims to want change but doesn’t want to consider anything that is really going to rock the boat of their life and you may get a different response. Yet I know that these are only brief moments of challenge. People who are intent on having their lives be different and creating more compelling lives always surface to remind me that I am on the path that makes a difference.
Why do you do the work you do?
- I do this work because I simply refuse to believe that there aren’t other models of what life can be like out there awaiting creation and discovery.
- I do this work because I know that our world is undergoing a sea change of consciousness and that the frameworks, the underpinnings, the paradigms of success that have come forward from the Industrial Age simply won’t withstand the need for individuality and individuation that the Quantum Age requires.
- I do this work because I don’t think the ‘waking up’ process needs to take as long as mine did, nor does it need to be as painful!
What kind of people seek out your coaching, retreats and workshop?
Most of my clients are in search of something more in life. Most are highly successful in life and work: good jobs, good marriages, great kids. And yet there is some aspect of their life that isn’t working for them. Or life in general feels flat and empty.
Some have a secret despair that they’ll never find work that gratifies them. It is amazing how many successful people feel empty and unfulfilled inside. Perhaps they know they love their spouse but notice that they are still drawn to other people, whether they act upon it or not. Some know they are committed to their marriage but are dreading retirement because they don’t know if they’ll have anything in common with their spouse. Others know that they are depressed or have problems with some aspects of their lives: they are estranged from a parent or sibling, they are drinking, shopping or gambling too much, their health is deteriorating for no real reason.
The reasons clients are drawn to me are many. Some have tried counselors, other coaches, religion or the many other ways of seeking resolution to their problems. One other thing they tend to have in common is that they aren’t looking for someone else to resolve their problems. They know they need a fresh perspective that will invite them to discover their own resourcefulness and possibly. They want to see their issues from a fresh, original perspective so that they can create their own solutions.
Who are your favorite clients? Who are your least favorite clients?
My favorite clients are the ones who like to live large, who like intensity and who are deeply committed to their own evolution. One of the very few rules I have in life, and this applies especially in my work, is that if I’m not having fun, I don’t do it. As a result, the ‘least favorite client’ question seldom arises because I quickly pass these folks on to someone else they’ll connect better with. I don’t think that I can provide the quality of service and creativity a client deserves when I don’t enjoy working with them.
Clients who respond less well to what I have to offer are those folks who continue to look for highly structured, linear approaches to life’s issues or those folks who think they truly want to have their problems resolved but are unwilling to engage life any differently. Because of this, my process always starts with an initial interview where we explore the client’s needs and my approach. Based on that interview, I am able to refer people who I don’t think are going to tolerate the ambiguity of my highly organic process to colleagues provide more structured approaches to coaching.
Do you feel that you are creating a legacy? If so, tell me about the legacy you’re creating.
Not really. Creating a legacy doesn’t enter life’s equation for me. I create what I create because it is important for me in the unfolding of my life. If it turns out that someone after me can get something out of it, great. I am much more interested in, and committed to, making a difference as I move through the world than I am in focusing on a mythical future.
What makes you unique or different from other coaches?
Besides the obvious fact that I am a unique individual, I know that because of the life experience and education I’ve acquired I bring a unique perspective to my clients. People are frequently surprised to discover that they have had their own answers all along and my job is to help them surface them. With the thinking frameworks and body/mind/spirit approaches I offer, the process is a remarkably quick one. Long term coaching contracts are not required; I find that most people are experiencing a remarkable difference in their lives after only 8-10 hours of coaching. Clients don’t have to tell me their story one more time because I know that it is context, not content, that makes a difference. We quickly begin exploring deeper states of mind and higher levels of thinking that quickly help to ‘pop’ insights and possible resolution.
Beyond the coaching and workshops you offer, I know that you are a speaker. Describe the sort of speaking engagements where you think you make the biggest impact?
My approach to speaking with a group is that there is no group. There is a collection of interested individuals who have come together to engage in a conversation with me. My job is to be as authentically present as possible and to engage in a series of meaningful one-on-one conversations with participants.
Let me start by saying that over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a wide variety of people on a wide variety of topics. What I’ve noticed is that a forum which allows lots of opportunity for interaction and one where there is an absence of fear on the part of the organizer or sponsor creates a great space for meaningful conversation. That means that an organizer has minimal need to manage the speaking topic or try to ensure that a specific result is achieved.
Talking with people about personal growth and evolution and what it takes to change requires a willingness to propose and consider radically new ways of looking at old issues. Otherwise you’re really just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic! Paradoxically, many say that they want to shake up their life, organization, association or marriage in order to achieve change and then they hand me a list of all the topics that are considered off limits, too contentious or politically incorrect for public discussion. In other words, they are looking for some sort of inspirational, let’s all feel good about ourselves salve that can be applied in a motivational 90-minute segment but that doesn’t really require anybody to seriously question the status quo. In my experience, this is definitely not the pathway to evolution and change!
So, for me, the times that I make the biggest impact in my speaking engagements are those times when I work with fearless folks who are up for a big conversation, including some potentially challenging moments. Regardless of whether I am speaking to 10 people or 200, I make my biggest difference when there is lots of space to explore new ways of thinking about issues. My perspective is that I don’t have some new Truth to enlighten anyone about. Rather, I have discovered some things that have made a profound difference in the quality of my life and I’d like to share them with others in the belief that they might make a difference in theirs. The choice is always up to the listener.