Tag Archives: Coaching

Ten years on

It was on this day ten years ago that I finally lost my remaining vision. Between February 2004 and December 2005 my eyesight rapidly deteriorated until finally the last of it went literally overnight. I clearly remember sitting up in bed and reading a large print book through the most powerful magnifier it was possible to get at the time. I could only see four words at a time so it was slow going, but I enjoyed reading and was determined to do as much of it as I could before the sight failed completely. Unfortunately the next morning I woke up and found that I couldn’t see anything but dull grey light. I’d already lost my right eye so all I had left was the small amount of vision remaining in my left. Needless to say it was quite a shock to wake up like that and it took me quite some time to get a grip on myself.

 

Now this blog isn’t a woe is me piece and I’m not going to start going into the details of my adjustment into life as a blind person, but there was nothing that could be done to restore my vision and I knew it. It took me some time to adjust from being a fully sighted, working, driving man in my late twenties to a completely blind, unemployed chap who was not able to drive any more. Anybody who has gone through the same or similar will be fully aware of how it affects your capacity to function on a daily basis and of course your state of mind. Luckily I’m pretty resilient and have a stubborn streak about a mile wide so I made pretty steady progress. I want to make it clear here that I absolutely am not saying that it was easy, it is without exception the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced and quite honestly I wouldn’t ever want to go through it again. It was of course incredibly difficult for my family too and I can say with utter certainty that if it hadn’t have been for the support that my family and friends gave me I wouldn’t be sat here writing this now.

 

So why am I writing this blog?

 

Well, as today has approached I’ve spent quite a lot of time reflecting over the past decade of my life, the highs and the lows, my achievements and what’s changed.

 

If someone had asked me just after my sight had failed if I thought I’d ever have the life I have now and be doing what I am doing now my answer would’ve been entirely negative. Just as most people would have done, there was no way I could imagine anything further ahead than the next twenty four hours.

 

So what happened to get me out of that situation?

 

The short answer is sheer bloodymindedness. The full answer is that although I was bloodyminded and refused to curl up in a ball and let it beat me, I had the support and help of my family and friends. More than that, I started getting involved in things and interacting with people.

 

I started volunteering once a month for my local visual impairment charity BucksVision and as a result got to interact with other people with sight loss as well as fully sighted people. I initially started volunteering at the local resource centre and started learning about assistive technology as well as getting to talk to other people that had either been through or were going through losing their own sight. Before long I found that I was really enjoying helping people as well as being able to learn about how sight loss affects different people. It allowed me to evolve my own coping strategies and use my own experiences to help others. Within a year I was volunteering once a week and ultimately became the person who people met to discuss and try out assistive technology. This went on for several years with my getting more and more involved until in 2011 I became a Trustee/Director of the charity and then in 2012 became the Chairman of the Board for a year. During this time I continued to have a lot of contact with other visually impaired people and did some mentoring and development work with some of them.

 

This all gave me the inspiration to retrain as a Coach and also to get some proper qualifications to deliver training on assistive technology. I didn’t know exactly what I’d do with the qualifications once I’d got them, but I had the beginnings of an idea. Although I was quite anxious about it at the time I did spend all of my savings and get some help from a local charity to fund my training and I have to say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. By the end of 2013 I had become a certified accredited Executive Coach, become a Dolphin accredited trainer, Dolphin Guide certified software specialist and completed my Apple certified support technician training specialising in VoiceOver. So the next decision I needed to make was, what to do now I’d retrained.

 

Initially I thought I might get a job as a coach in a local business or perhaps even with the RNIB or similar organisation as some sort of assistive technology trainer or something. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that I didn’t actually want to work for anybody else. My previous work background was in retail where I had been a manager and trainer, so I knew I had a good foundation of experience to start from when thinking about running my own business. In the end the decision was really made for me when it became abundantly clear that no local business was interested in employing a blind chap regardless of previous experience and/or qualifications. I’m sure that anybody with any kind of disability reading this will know precisely what I mean as well as how incredibly frustrating it is to be swept under the carpet. So that was what I was going to do, I was going to start my own business as a Coach and assistive technology trainer.

 

Now I have to say here that starting your own business is not for the faint hearted. Whilst it’s not impossible when you’re blind, it’s certainly not easy and you find yourself having to think about things that wouldn’t even come into consideration normally. After spending a couple of months getting everything set up I started trading as Alternate Visions Coaching and here we are nearly two full years further down the line. I love my job, it’s interesting, I meet some fantastic people, I work with both the sighted and visually impaired, I get to help people by sharing knowledge and experience and I get the satisfaction of seeing people develop. Working as an independent Coach is incredibly varied and working as the only male Coach in an organisation called The Bird Table is fantastic. My colleagues are not only talented Coaches but are also genuinely good people. The Bird Table is a coaching organisation that specialises in business development for women running SMEs or who work in Tech. My work day is never the same from one day to the next and I am constantly learning, which is something that I never want to stop doing.

 

So, you’re probably reading this thinking that this is all a bit of a pointless blog and that I’m just trying to promote my business. Well no, I’m writing this because if one other person who has been affected by sight loss reads this and can draw even the slightest inspiration from it then surely that’s a good thing. It’s very easy for people to sit and feel sorry for themselves or feel that they are not valued by society; I know because I’ve been there and gone through it myself. I’m also not writing this to boast. At the end of the day my life isn’t perfect, nothing ever is. I still have those down days and feel sorry for myself every now and then wishing I could still see, but the fact of the matter is that I can’t and never will again. What I can say is that if I can do it then there’s very little reason why others couldn’t too. I firmly believe that mindset and attitude contribute hugely to the way in which we all, disabled or not, move through our lives. Would I do things differently if I could live the last decade again? No, definitely not. There have been some horrendous times, some average times and some amazing life changing times and it’s because of this variety of experiences and life events that I am who I am today. The saying goes that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and do you know what, I think that’s spot on.

 

In the space of ten years I’ve gone from feeling that my life was over to trekking across the Sahara desert, winning bronze and silver medals at national level as a member of a shooting club, flying a microlight, driving a tank, becoming a Trustee/Director/Chairman of a charity for the visually impaired and running my own business and all of it since losing my sight.

 

I was dreading today, I didn’t know how I’d feel or even if I’d want to acknowledge the significance of the day. But I think it’s important for other people to see that having a disability is not the end of the world or the end of your life and who you are. My life could be a whole lot worse than it is, I’ve only got to listen to the news to know that, but on a more localised personal level I mean that I could easily have made it worse for myself. I’m very grateful for the chances I’ve been given to do these things, but equally I’m glad I took the risks I did and persisted when at times it felt like it would be easier to give up.

 

I don’t want this to turn into an Oscar acceptance speech, but I owe a lot of thanks to some people and I’m going to do it here. Thanks to the staff and volunteers at BucksVision, all of the medical professionals who got me through my sight loss, my colleagues at The Academy of Executive Coaching, my colleagues at The Bird Table, the team at Dolphin Computer access, John Panarese of Mac For the Blind, my assistant and friend Jan, my friends, my family and finally my partner Sarah. Without all of these people life would be very different and I appreciate everything you’ve done to help and support me more than you can possibly imagine.

Super Sense makes an impact at Servant Leadership Conference

On Friday 7th November AVC’s James Goldsworthy attended the #Greenleaf #Servantleadershipconference. Fellow #Supersense creator/developer Andy Shipley also attended and the two of them delivered a Super Sense taster to a group of forty delegates. 

 

James and Andy split the delegates into equal groups and introduced those groups to what Super Sense is and how learning from it can benefit participants in their day to day lives.

 

Andy took his group out on the street for a short walk down to a nearby shop for a brief blindfolded shopping experience. James kept his group inside and took them through three different blindfolded sensory exercises.

 

These different tasters enabled the delegates to tune into the use of their other senses as well as allowing them to stretch their communication skills and increase their awareness of the environment surrounding them whilst taking them far outside their normal comfort zones.

 

The two groups were then swapped over and got to experience what their fellow attendees had in the other group. The taster session was a great success and although fun was had by all that took part everybody learned something valuable about themselves and how engaging their other senses really can make a difference in the way they communicate with others, their awareness not only of their environment but also of the moods and feelings of those around them.

 

One delegate said “I never realised just how much you can see without your eyes.”

 

Another said “I can’t quite believe how much it makes you change the way you communicate with other people. I found I became much more concise and listened much more deeply.”

 

The event organiser, John Noble said: At our recent conference we had a very modest taste of what Super Sense involves, and that really whetted our appetites for the full programme! James (Goldsworthy) and Andy (Shipley) were working with a diverse group of around forty individuals and, with a mixture of quiet assurance, lightness of touch and considerable humour very quickly got beyond any initial hesitations and put everyone at ease. It was made clear right at the outset that participation was voluntary, yet when explanations were over every single delegate chose to take part.  The whole unique exercise took only an hour and a half, yet, in that short time, it was evident that everyone had experienced something challenging, enjoyable and unquestionably very special.  It was an extraordinary session.

Exciting news from AVC

It has been a little while since I wrote a blog entry, but to be honest I have been kept pretty busy with one thing or another. My projects with #BOBcatDigitalLimited, #DolphinComputerAccess and my private #Coaching and #AssistiveTechnology training clients have all kept me working hard.

 

Yesterday I had a very pleasant interview with the delightful Lei Chan, Editor of #ChamberMK magazine #InBusiness. AVC will be featured in the magazine’s first edition which is due to be published on 19th November 2014. 

 

In other news, I am very pleased to announce that AVC has secured an agreement with assistive technology providers Dolphin to deliver their UK telephone and Skype training to new and existing users.

 

These are exciting times indeed.

My first networking event

Today I attended my very first networking event. I don’t mind telling you that it was a pretty daunting prospect going to an event where I knew absolutely nobody and for all intents and purposes I would be alone at. If nothing else I was worried about walking into people with my white cane and potentially embarrassing myself. But I am pleased to say that I didn’t in fact do my human cannon ball impression and I seemed to be well received. 

There were around 40 people in attendance representing all sorts of businesses ranging from a vehicle leasing firm to a national insolvency company. The event was run by the Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce and was hosted at The Brasserie in Bletchley College. Delegates were treated to a three course lunch prepared by the colleges catering students and I have to say that the food was superb. 

The format of the event basically meant that all delegates got to interact with two thirds of the attendees, which for me was great. There was perhaps fifteen minutes or so to stand and chat before the lunch was served. Then everybody took their seats around one of four tables and got to exchange business cards with those present before giving a brief introduction about themselves to the table as a whole. From that point on and for the remainder of the course (around 20 minutes per course) everybody was able to chat and make connections with whoever they wished to around the table. For me this was fantastic as it removed the awkwardness of me potentially barging in on others conversations as well as eliminating any possibility of collisions as I tried to navigate around. The same process was repeated for each of the three courses and by the end everybody was sporting bulging pockets or handbags from the number of business cards stuffed into them. 

Finally two business cards were randomly selected from those that had been dropped into a box as each delegate had entered the Brasserie. The owners of the cards were given the opportunity to deliver a five minute talk about what their business/company is about and what they offer. I thought this too was an excellent touch. 

All in all I felt it was a very well organised and thoroughly worthwhile experience. I feel that I have made a few good connections that may result in further networking opportunities or even some work. 

The Jaffa Cake cheesecake wasn’t half bad either!

The Wall

A breathtaking view

Last week my partner and I spent several days up in Northumbria staying in a small bed and breakfast right on Hadrian’s Wall. On the second day we decided to walk the five miles to the nearby Housesteads Fort following the route of the wall. Predictably perhaps, the weather decided to make things just a little more challenging for us that day and as a result we ended up battling through driving winds and temperatures very nearly at freezing point. The rain had done its preliminary job of saturating the ground through the previous night so it was no time at all before we were getting bogged down in glutinous mud that came over our ankles as we negotiated the harsh rocky terrain.

As we struggled over, through and around that terrain and my partner described the environment around us as well as the breathtaking views all along the route I got to thinking about how we as human beings not only have to overcome obstacles and barriers throughout our lives, but also how we create them.

More specifically I was thinking about those that we create for ourselves that prevent us from achieving what we want to. Naturally there are those that we consciously put in place marking our boundaries and setting the extreme borders of our personalities; but what about those that we subconsciously put in place?

When thinking about self created obstacles I was considering examples like:

– The individual who wants to work their way up the ladder of seniority in their work but makes or finds excuses as to why they cannot go for that promotion they have always wanted.

– The individual who doesn’t have confidence in themselves or their abilities and has anxiety around making themselves heard, therefore creating an obstacle from their own shyness or fear.

On the surface these examples do of course appear to be more conscious obstacles, but those conscious obstacles more often than not have deeper root causes.

It can often be very difficult to get to the bottom of these root causes with a client, but ultimately that extra discussion and exploration can uncover multiple reasons for the given issue to have manifested.

I then thought about what obstacles and barriers can mean to different people. To most they will mean physical or mental things that slow a person down, something that is difficult to get through, around or over or something that can be intimidating as well as seeming impossible to face. Does this mean these obstacles are insurmountable?

I come across examples much like the ones I have used above regularly in my Coaching and I invariably ask my clients almost the same couple of questions each time. “How do you think you could find the courage to face these obstacles?” and “What do you think could help you overcome these obstacles?”

Almost always the response is the same or similar. “I don’t know” or “I was hoping you could tell me.”
Half way and it's getting colder!
Now, as my partner and I slipped and tripped and scrambled over that terrain along the route of the wall I thought how much I’m like my clients and my clients are like me. Not as silly as at first you might think.

I am blind and so to navigate successfully over that terrain I needed the help and support of someone I trust. Not to walk the route for me you understand, but to help me discover the best path for me and my particular needs. After all, my partner wasn’t carrying me, I trod the path myself.

In the same way (although metaphorically of course) my clients have the same handicap as I do in the way there is fear of the unknown; perhaps they don’t have the confidence or do not have the bravery to embark upon such a path alone, and ultimately are as blind as I am because they cannot see what is over the crest of the next hill.

So it is since making that slightly odd (but in my opinion, very relevant) metaphorical observation that I intend to use that walking experience in my Coaching to encourage clients to explore their fears and anxieties and to help them find the root issues that cause them to create their subconscious obstacles.

I would like to leave you with something to think about before I go.

Imagine yourself if you will, in the situation I was in on that long cold windy walk over incredibly wet, steep and rocky ground and see if you can apply that metaphorically to a part of your life that you are struggling with right now. It can be your home life, your work life or your student life.

Now consider how you feel at the beginning of the “walk”, how you could improve that feeling or indeed who might be able to help you feel better about it. Also think about what you are likely to find particularly difficult over the route of the “walk” and consider what or who might lessen that difficulty or help get you over that particularly high and nasty looking hill strewn with rocks. Now think about how you will feel when you get to your destination knowing what you have just gone through.

Feels good, doesn’t it?

James Goldsworthy.
AoEC Accredited Associate Executive Coach.
Founder of Alternate Visions Coaching.