27 Sep

Get back inside your box!

Recently I wrote a short article for the My Labels series for the @metroUK @metro.co.uk newspaper on being Asian. I was exceedingly flattered to be asked but wow, what a difficult piece to write. Although I have many attributes that would slot me nicely into that category, I would also say that to leave me there would not have captured me well at all. I started feeling claustrophobic at just having that one designation.


Earlier this week, I posted (a little gleefully, I will confess) an article about women being better traders and investors for they are not prone to panic unlike their male counterparts. Women together unite and cheer, especially those who have been derided ceaselessly by anxiety-stricken men. For me, the main reason for celebrating this article is that women are reputed to be ‘overly emotional’, ‘drama queens’, ‘hysterical’ (see @serenawilliams), ‘nervous ninnies’, ‘hormonal’ – you get the picture, and yet this article proves the reverse. Although I did not particularly experience this in my place of work, I did hear this about others, and who knows what was said about me behind my back? These descriptions take even more significance in male-dominated industries where testosterone-like behaviours are the norm and anything resembling ‘typical’ feminine traits is pooh-poohed.


This article isn’t intended to be a male-bashing one, in fact to the contrary. I’m here today to highlight stereotypes, the danger of succumbing to them with little evidence and thought and the opportunity cost of not looking beyond that stereotype.


My experience of working in the City was remarkably, mostly free of bias and discrimination. My bosses, peers and colleagues were for the most part respectful, intelligent and appreciative of my contribution. Sure, I encountered a few p.erverts and lecherous octopuses (tentacles/hands everywhere) but I’d suggest those exist in all industries and walks of life, male and female. In equal measure, my amazing team members were all male, and to varying degrees, more ‘feelings’ focused than others. Some were hot-headed, others level-headed. We had a nervous fund manager would change his mind about the direction of a trade as soon as the order was given.


The point is that none of these people fit any stereotype and they bring a lot more to the party than the stereotype. And yet, we live in a world where people are so keen to judge and put people in boxes. Psychologically, it is a known phenomenon whereby it helps people sort and process masses of information quickly and efficiently. The former is certainly true but sadly, the latter can lead to some very unhealthy conclusions drawn. In fact, I would just call it downright lazy if one’s opinions are drawn solely from shallow stereotypes and nothing else.


What is a Stereotype?


A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing’            OED


I have been known to remark that ‘stereotypes exist for a reason’. However, I would like to add that, the reason may not be all that good and the stereotype will have failed to take the whole picture into consideration.


Case Study I

I have a lot of clients who will have performed the same role for a long time. As such they get pigeon-holed into stereotypical traits that someone in that position would have. This stereotype is often reinforced by the client himself who starts believing in this proverbial press. Client X is a sales trader and has been doing it for over two decades and is pretty successful in this role. He wants to move on and do something else – hopefully equally as challenging and rewarding but in a different guise. Ideally, it would be in a more senior role either internally or external to his current company. However, he doesn’t know how to go about working out what that new role is and how to prove that he is ready for this new challenge. He has stereotyped himself into believing and assuming that all he has to offer is the ability to buy and sell shares and understand how the markets work. Speaking with headhunters, many only saw him in the same way – someone with all the extroverted and slippery traits of Gordon Gecko ie an implausible offering for management, and nothing else.


Case Study II

Client Y was looking to improve the perception that her fellow board members had of her. She noted that she was proud of the fact that she had been invited to join the board but she felt that her presence was not particularly desired nor respected. Off the mark comments like ‘We were going to ask you to head up this new venture but because we know family is important to you, we didn’t think you’d want this extra responsibility’. How on earth does one not get up and punch the lights out of someone?? Every time she spoke, she was ‘mansplained’ to or interrupted. It was just assumed that as she was a female, she would not understand what was being discussed at board level but they needed a token representative. Irrelevant was the fact that she was the highest performer in her division, she had a PhD in the subject matter of the business and that she had previous leadership roles under her belt. She was deemed a ‘bit of fluff’ to appease the box-tickers.


Some tips:

  • Think about the stereotypes about you. Where are they correct and how & when do they work for you? Knowing this will help you relate better to how people might perceive you and perhaps you will have better empathy in facilitating improved conversations
  • Think about what there is about you that isn’t the stereotype and which of those are transferable. In Case Study I, sales traders use a lot of other skills such as negotiation; building and managing long-term relationships with clients; understanding clients needs and delivering; the ability to think and act with thought & care but quickly; the capacity to juggle and manage multiple conversations & tasks at the same time whilst still performing a role with focus, care and dexterity; being able to coordinate and collaborate with clients, various internal and external departments for a successful outcome – the list is endless
  • Stand up for yourself and dispel the myths through careful and considered words and action. Prove that you are more than just your stereotype. It will be a very satisfying moment when you show your detractors just how capable you are
  • Constructively and actively challenge the critics. Call them out on their bull sh*t. Try and understand why they think what they do. Engage with them to see if you can help change their viewpoints and perhaps you will be able to do the same for them too
  • There is every chance that the stereotypers and their subsequent behaviours don’t even know they are doing it. It’s that concept of unconscious bias. Help them learn to be less ignorant

Ultimately if you don’t like being stuck in the box that was chosen for you, think about how you would like to be seen and walk the walk!


This article will have barely scratched the surface on the topic of stereotypes but I am hoping that it will have given you something to think about. Stereotypes are not easy and they certainly dumb humanity down a lot if it generalizes people to the extent of sheer stupidity, ignorance and possibly bigotry and hatred. If smart, people will use the similarities and diverse strengths in equal measure that we all have to offer. The world would be a much happier, productive and successful place. You are greater than the sum of all your parts. Get out of your box and thrive!!!!!






Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk


#careergoals #jobsatisfaction #perseverance #grit #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #fun #performance #impostersyndrome #selfconfidence #achievement #overcomefears #confidence #executivecoaching #stereotypes #unconsciousbias #mansplaining #prejudice #bias #ignorance #stupidity #bigotry














20 Sep

You’re a Fraud!!!


‘So, we’d like to offer you this position as head of this division and of the newly merged teams.’



‘Yeah right. Ha, thanks. It’s too early for your jokes. I need to get back and hand out these coffees, teas and breakfasts before they get cold.’



‘Err no. Please can you sit down? I’m being serious. We would very much like for you to take on this role. I know it’s totally unexpected for you but we think you are more than capable of doing it.’


This is a true story and it happened to me. Was I genuinely surprised by the offer of a promotion? Sure I was – one minute, I was the desk junior getting teas & coffees. Next minute, my world was upended and I was given a role that I hadn’t even thought about wanting, let alone getting. The thoughts running through my head aside from ‘F**k!! WTF!! JHC!! Seriously!’ and a few more expletives were along the lines of ‘OMG, I am now in charge of people’s livelihoods’, ‘What do I know about this? Nothing!’ ‘People are not going to take me seriously’, ‘I don’t even know how to decide what to wear in the morning, how on earth can I do this?’. Drama much?? After my internal freakout and a long walk, I pulled myself together and started to put a plan in action. First and foremost, business as usual. Next, clarify and articulate my vision, get the newly merged team on the same page with said vision, talk about the strategy and execute. Market this new plan to clients old and new and garner support from key stakeholders. I ran that team for over twelve years.


Did I feel like a fraud a lot of the time? Absolutely. I seriously thought I had no idea what I was doing. It didn’t help that lots of people decided I was fresh new prey and decided to turn my head to their political agenda. Accusations of sleeping my way to the top weren’t even subtle, implying that I did not deserve the job. Additionally, I wasn’t even gunning for the job so I was wholly unprepared. But guess what? I managed and I managed well. We were the only department to continue to deliver with little to no politics during the merger. We continued to deliver to the highest of standards on our mandate and yet, we managed to each give ourselves a new challenge whilst still having a foothold in the old world. It really helped that I had a very supportive manager and a fabulous team.


What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing that many experience. So what is it? It has been defined ‘as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.’ Wikipedia



My Key Lessons

Looking back at that story, and seeing a similar phenomenon arise again when I launched my coaching business, I learnt two things.


  • One, I am perfectly capable, smart and agile enough to make the most of situations, and to succeed. In fact, much as I hate to admit it, I do thrive when challenged.


  • Secondly, if you believe you’re an imposter, then so will others. It seems like an obvious observation to make and yet, it’s amazing how impactful this belief in oneself (or lack of) can be. I asked for lots of advice when I started. To me, it was just a process of gathering information, in order to make informed decisions. For the advisors, they saw this as an incompetent young fool turning to the wise old man for the answers. Offers of help turned out to be a wish to puppeteer. Although naïve, I wasn’t a complete idiot and I put a stop to this soon enough.


Some further illustrations

Through coaching my clients, I have seen Imposter Syndrome occur more frequently than I care to admit. Here are two. These clients came to me to learn presentation skills.


X had been working for her firm for over twenty years. She climbed up the ranks from an administrative assistant to a fund manager. She worked very hard to get there, overcoming many preconceived assumptions about her abilities and she now runs her own fund. She successfully markets her fund as she has to and has a great rapport with many of her clients. Unfortunately, when she had to present to clients in front of senior management, she went into panic mode and reverted to being a quiet mouse, afraid of her own shadow. She was unable to articulate herself in front of the audience and she did not voice her opinions. Soon, she was relegated to pouring beverages and was asked to take notes. When we talked about this during sessions, she was clearly frustrated with senior management and for treating her like she was insignificant. However, as our sessions continued, we discovered that she was never fully able to shirk off the administrative assistant coat that was shrouding and suffocating her – in her own mind and that of senior management. By behaving like she did not deserve a voice, she got what she asked for.


Y was looking for a promotion and was told that he had a very good chance at getting an executive directorship. However, he needed to up his game and be more present with people in different divisions etc. He decided to volunteer to speak at a weekly meeting to present his and his team’s views. Sadly this process terrified him. Although naturally loud-voiced and gregarious, Y spoke with little conviction when opining and with little gravitas at these presentations. To him, he didn’t think anyone would want to listen to someone who did not have an MBA and had not travelled the world like some. This is despite the fact that Y was an expert in his area and had climbed the ranks swiftly and without hesitation to his current position. Suffice to say, his standing amongst his peers and colleagues did not initially improve when he first started with the weekly presentations.



As you can see, neither client was really there about learning how to present. Their sense of worth and confidence within their roles and companies were very much influencing how they were perceived at work, thereby affecting their presentation skills.


Some tips

  • Remember why you deserve to be there. If you need to, list your achievements, strengths and look at your experience. Why are you where you are? How did you get here? How do you contribute?
  • If you’re not sure, seek out help from trusted internal and external sources. Get a coach (blatant plug here…) to help you think through your thoughts and your strategy
  • It’s alright not to know everything. In fact, learning should be a continuous process and it will give you an edge over everyone else
  • Do seek out mentors and advisors but be clear on your objectives and healthy boundaries. Advice is just advice, you don’t have to take it
  • Have a vision and be clear about it. The advice you seek will come from learning how to navigate your way into delivering on that vision
  • Be careful what you share and with whom you confide – some might use your insecurities against you
  • Behave like you deserve the role – it’s the biggest draw
  • You’re in charge of your life, not someone else, so don’t let others decide who and what you need to be. If you know you deserve that job, then prove your internal dialogue and the detractors wrong


There is the expression ‘Fake it till you make it’. At times I really dislike it but the gist of it makes sense. For me, it’s about the message you’re sending people when you interact with them. Would you ask someone to manage your money if they said ‘Yeah well, maybe I’ll do a good job. I should OK. I have the qualifications and experience but you know… Hmmmm…’??!!? I’m not in any way suggesting adopting overbearingly arrogant behaviour but you know what you’re capable of. Be bold, be fierce, be strong. You can do it!!




Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#careergoals #jobsatisfaction #perseverance #grit #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #fun #performance #impostersyndrome #selfconfidence #achievement #overcomefears #confidence #executivecoaching







13 Sep

Leading the Charge using your Superpowers

Whenever once brings up the topic of strengths and using it more frequently and more effectively, the overwhelming reaction is usually, ‘But what about weaknesses? One can’t ignore X or Y or Z’.


And no one has asked you to ignore X or Y or Z. Of course if you’re terrible at general conversation and you’re a sales person, it might help you to hone some skills in that area. However what makes you an amazing sales person might be that a strength of yours is empathy and you have the ability to listen, which means that you are more likely to understand your clients’ needs better than someone who just talks.


Roger Federer is known as one of those rare all-round tennis players. To me, one of his greatest strengths is that he moves incredibly fluidly and with agility around the court, thereby allowing him to have more control of the ball and reducing the probability of injury versus his competitors. His backhand, whilst excellent is probably one of his weaker areas. Naturally he has worked on it and has brought it up to a level that is genuinely threatening. However, the man works extra hard on his actual strengths such as hiring Stefan Edberg to help with his serve-volley game, to ensure that he doesn’t just play average and defensive games, but purposefully plays to his strengths to outplay and to win. He is the Greatest of All Time in men’s tennis for a reason.


So Why Strengths? Isn’t it all a little happy clappy?


Strengths are what sets you apart from others. Strengths are your unique contribution. They are natural and intrinsic to you and used effectively, strategically and appropriately, they are the most powerful force to reckon with. They automatically motivate and energise you. For the most part, they will come to you with ease. So why wouldn’t you want to work with something that you have in abundance?


Whether or not my clients think that I am a good coach, I have found myself a career using my top 5 strengths (@gallupstrengths) pretty much all the time. I find coaching clients an energizing, motivating and rewarding exercise – I’m learning all the time and I try my best to coach my clients out of where they are into a better place. My strengths are relator (great for one-to-one conversations), adaptability (as a coach, not wedded to an idea or opinion but going with the flow to how the conversation is going and helping the client get to where they need to be), positivity (who needs a downer of a coach?), ideation (fascinated by ideas which allows less judgment and closed minded thinking in session), and maximiser (taking something from good to excellent – taking talented individuals and helping them get to best versions of themselves).


Sure, other coaches have different strengths and they will use them in their own unique ways. It’s the combination of strengths used together that makes your offering unique and oh so powerful.


Interestingly enough, I conducted this exercise to review when I was an equities dealer in the City and whilst my team all had the same role as me, we all used our strengths to suit that job, and it brought out the best in all of us. The beauty being that your strengths are wholly adaptable and multi-purpose, and you get to use them in all manner of scenarios and situations.


‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’


So said Voltaire, or if you’re a philistine like me, Uncle Ben in Spiderman. When using your strengths, they have to be used effectively and strategically. There is no point having these innate gifts if you’re going to scatter them around indiscriminately with no clear purpose. It’s like a driving a beautiful Aston Martin on a muddy field to collect hay bales. What’s the point??? By overusing it, you’ll probably burst a few pipes over some rocks on the field too. Not cool, not smart but definitely a little funny….


Joking aside, when using your strengths, be aware that it is also possible to overuse them. Between my relating and adaptability strengths, I could be seen as an easy to confide in person who will adapt to whatever scenario especially if someone shares information with me. In overdrive, I have been told I can appear as someone without conviction and possibly two-faced. That’s not just a little bit offensive and hurtful but likely true…. Who said feedback was fun????


Case Study 1

A board of an investment firm asked me to help them review their board dynamics. They noted that they were doing well but seemed to keep coming across the same problems time and again and could not get over that repetitive hump. Having done some initial interviewing and analysis, I noticed that they kept talking about using their strengths. Promising, I thought to myself. But oh no – in this case, it was used ‘conveniently’ to excuse not taking proper responsibility for where they wanted the business to go and for not actually wanting to do the actual work which was required to continue. What does this mean?


They had one person who was a phenomenally talented sales & marketing creative but who had no interest in the actual business and did not want to understand much beyond finding new ways to make their offering more interesting to the clientele. Another board member was a stalwart in this industry with decades of experience but he was more interested in the academic running of investment as opposed to wanting to run the business. The other board members were perfectly capable and qualified but were not encouraged to speak and contribute. Neither of the two board members recognized that neither had a true vision or plan for the business, and neither had any idea how to strategise or execute their half-baked vision. Yet, once we focused on their individual strengths and put them to use in a more effective and deliberate way – both realized that they were unhappy playing at joint CEOs and that they needed to very quickly hire a CEO to sort their business out.


Amazing what a dose of self-awareness and a focus on strengths can do…!


Case Study 2

Two major divisions within a large corporation were merging as a result of cost-cutting measures. Clearly this was going to be a tough, painful and contentious slog. Many had to reinterview for their roles. Their workloads amidst and post this transition was only going to go up. The mood was somber, full of people who were weary, suspicious of others and resentful. Lots of assumptions were made about others who were, only a few weeks ago their friends, and now due to the reduced but merged team, with a new leader, the individuals were distrustful of each other, focusing on the negative and what was. The first thing I did was to get the newly merged team to sit together and to talk about what their objectives as a team were – their vision, aspirations and their mission. This gave them a sense of unity and combined purpose. Thereafter, we went through their strengths, as individuals – self-described and what others thought of them. The outcomes, especially when described by others, brought about much positive embarrassment and surprise. The new team members looked at their new deliverables, and together reconfigured their roles and responsibilities to how they wanted to work and according to their strengths. This was as opposed to legacy ways of doing things, based on someone telling them how things needed to be done, instead of exploring new ways. The result brought about a newly energized group of people who were able to view themselves, their roles and their work with a brand new lens, and with much motivation and energy. The change in attitude and demeanour was astounding and their output, even with a smaller number of people, has never been better.


It was incredible to see the power that focusing on strengths could bring to such a broken and disparate group of people.


Some would argue that strengths are really easy to see and weaknesses are harder to identify. Others would argue the reverse. Either way, I would suggest a large dose of self-awareness would help, as well as asking others what they think your strengths are. You may be pleasantly surprised. However, knowing your strengths isn’t enough. The question is, how do you use them to help you be the very best version of yourself? Do you recognize when you overuse them? How do you stop yourself when that happens? And yes, it’s worth doing this exercise with your weaknesses too. But if you’re even a little lazy like me, why wouldn’t you want to do what comes easier, is more energizing and way more fun for you?






Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk


#boarddynamics #teamdynamics #careercrisis #careeradvice #career #midlifecrisis #jobchange #change #leadership #adventure #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #mindfulness #performance

06 Sep

My First Mid-Life Adventure (read Crisis) and Career Change

Credit: Pexels @Pixabay

According to Woman’s Day the Bible of all Bibles, there are 13 signs to a midlife crisis, and they are:

  1. You’re asking yourself deep, probing questions
  2. You’re making rash decisions
  3. You feel like you’re slowly losing your mind
  4. You can’t sleep through the night
  5. Your vision of the future is dismal
  6. You’re constantly bored
  7. You have an overwhelming sense of loss
  8. You become overly concerned about your appearance
  9. Or you stop caring about your appearance completely
  10. You rarely (if ever) have interest in sex
  11. You think of yourself as an ‘old person’
  12. You think your best years are behind you
  13. You think every bad day means you are having a mid-life crisis


Aside from the fact that I want to yell ‘discrimination’ (because this article being aimed at women, does not bring up the motorbike or sports car, the too-tight skinny jeans, the hankering after way too young companions and the late onset tattoos – all things which are ‘typically’ associated with men), I have to confess that a few years ago, I did experience most items ticked on the list.


My Story

My story is age old and not unique. Like a good girl, I studied hard at school and university. My only rebellion was to opt for an Ancient Greek & History degree as opposed to a more ‘practical’ one, which my father would have preferred. I left university having loved my degree but hated that I struggled to find a job because it was not as practical as ‘business studies’ or ‘economics’ or ‘law’. However, after a couple of months of searching and accidentally dialing the wrong number, I found myself a job working as a junior analyst at a private client stock broking firm. After 18 months there, I moved to a large UK asset management company to be an equities dealer and there I stayed for nearly two decades. I loved my job even though I really didn’t think I would initially. There were many challenges associated with it but mostly of the growing kind and I thrived. What really made it as excellent as it was, was my team. Each member was just brilliant and to this day, I still miss them. My other colleagues were a great laugh too and today, I still crave the camaraderie.


At the time, it was easy for my to miss the signs listed above, for I was caught up in some internal politics which pretty much took up most of my mental and emotional space. As a result of this issue at work, I started losing bits of myself and I lost focus on what was important – to be a good leader for my team. As I had been performing the daily task of dealing for so long, I was able to continue to work hard and deliver – which was a relief. However, little things that never used to bother me, were amplified disproportionately in irritation levels. I definitely felt like I was going mad and as a result of that, my decision making, when it came to my personal life, was erratic at best. Everything was a trauma and yet I was bored to tears. My coach was a saviour (eternal gratitude to @Jane Thompson) and she was the only person who could really help me see through the mire that was becoming my reality. I guess subconsciously, I had been thinking of leaving but the actual conscious decision to leave was one that was pretty much made in a couple of minutes. I did talk to the board about my intended decision and some attempt was made by me and by them to help place me elsewhere internally, but I knew that was the wrong thing to do.


Who the f**k knows what’s next?


The panic struck the day after I officially resigned. What, where, how, when, who? I was certain I did not want to go elsewhere to do the same job. Why on earth would I do that when I had the perfect set up where I was? I wanted a new challenge. I was beyond stale and bored. I wanted to learn, try new things and have an adventure. So I took myself off travelling for a little bit, climbed a few mountains, attempted to learn a new language, started some new habits and generally took some much needed time for myself. This is not to say that any of it was relaxing for my mind. On a constant basis, I was still petrified and anxious about the ‘what next’. It didn’t help that people in my industry kept asking me that question whilst others assumed that I was lying when I said I didn’t know. The rumour mill was quite hilarious – I had become a lesbian and wanted to be free of City life as a result (not sure the correlation but…), I had a job as the Head of Sales Trading at one of the largest US investment banks and I had gotten that job because I had slept with one of the directors there, I was moving to Australia after I met a sheep farmer, I was moving to Sweden… Don’t let anyone tell you that people in the City lack imagination….


I ended up choosing to do a masters in Organistional Pyschology – mainly because I wanted to buy myself more time. I would have preferred to do an MBA in California (or anywhere in the US) but I’d have to wait for 2-3 years. No thanks. The masters to me was interesting because I was fascinated by human behaviour at work – why some thrive and others don’t. How some cultures really worked and others didn’t. Why some people behaved liked a**holes and got away with it and others were out on their ears very quickly. The course was pretty intriguing especially the focus on workplace wellbeing – something that I observed was sorely lacking in the City and amongst many of my friends in any demanding job. In short, I soon founded my business and became a coach.


Although this account is massively abbreviated, I’d like to highlight some of the lessons learnt and observations made on my journey. It might give you some food for thought, and some of my anecdotes have certainly helped some of my clients.


Some lessons on my journey – in no particular order:

  • The journey is never over. If you keep learning and wanting to learn, it shouldn’t ever get stale, but it might mean moving from where you are, or staying but with a different lens or tools
  • Try new things – you might as well, and it certainly gives you some perspective. Like I’ve lived in this area for nearly 15 years – I didn’t even know there was a school nearby until I stopped working in the City. People do the most interesting jobs, have the most diverse activities. Partake away!
  • Take time out for yourself to make good decisions. I don’t think I would have made a proper change of career if I didn’t buy myself that year off and year on the course. Job offers came for me to do similar roles and I was sorely tempted. But I had to remind myself that I had to respect the decision I made to leave. I have seen many a panicked client jump from the frying pan into the fire job-wise, and they have never been unhappier
  • However, it can take far longer than you’d planned or the outcome is not quite as you expected, so do have some savings set aside. That said, enjoy the ride!
  • You might not find the perfect job but that doesn’t mean you can’t like and really enjoy it. I am one of these people who likes variety enormously and I do think I have found one of my callings – I LOVE coaching. But I find I miss the banter and camaraderie, something that doesn’t come with coaching. So I find different ways of getting that interaction
  • It is all very scary and don’t let anyone tell you any differently. Work can really be awful but what you do have is a monthly paycheck. The question is, is that paycheck enough to keep you there? There are no right or wrong answers
  • Trying to go back into industry after time out, no matter how legitimate, is really tough. Especially if you want to go back in, with all your experience, in a slightly different capacity. The number of headhunters who have looked at my CV and said it was ‘quirky’ or ‘unusual’ is beyond high, even though in theory, they say they are looking for diverse experience. When you pivot, do take the time to list out where your knowledge and background are transferrable, and that your ‘different’ knowledge is seen as an advantage rather than an anomaly.  Find a search specialist who understands that companies need experts as well as people to ameliorate businesses, ie the world isn’t a box ticking exercise (see the fantastic @Philip Darling)
  • Do speak to people – network, ask for advice etc from respected peers and friends. Although I did find that making such a huge decision about leaving a job as well as changing careers was too much for nearly all my friends. Virtually all asked me not to do it for fear that I would never find anything as good. I heard what they were saying and they absolutely meant well but this was something I had to do for myself. Do be careful who you ask – most can’t help but project their fears onto you. It’s perfectly normal but do watch out for it
  • It gets easier and easier each time to try something new


If any of the early part of this article resonates with you, take some time out for yourself. Have a sabbatical, speak to someone who has no axe to grind – like an independent friend or coach. Try new hobbies and meet new people. It’s amazing how huge the world is out there. Boy is it frightening and at times, anxiety inducing but that’s why I call it an adventure, not a crisis. I am also pretty sure I will have multiple adventures, not just the one. Stay tuned!


See below two really interesting quotes which reflect some of what I’ve written. Perhaps they will inspire you too.



Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.

Charles Stanley
“What holds true for the individual holds true for a society. It is never static; if it does not grow, it decays; if it does not transcend the status quo for the better, it changes for the worse. Often we, the individual or the people who make up a society, have the illusion we could stand still and not alter the given situation in the one or the other direction. This is one of the most dangerous illusions. The moment we stand still, we begin to decay.” 

Erich Fromm






Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



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03 Sep

Are you choosing to burnout?

Last week, we introduced the subject of burnout, having looked at Elon Musk’s occasional meltdowns during an interview. We looked at a couple of my clients and some of the conversations we had around the very subject, and the constant state of denial or lack of awareness they were in.


When many of my phenomenally talented, ambitious, driven, bright and determined clients come to me for coaching, it’s usually around something practical and developmental. Such as improving their communication skills, presenting better, leadership skills, taking the business to the next stage, getting a promotion, managing team relations better etc. However, with the very nature of these individuals being driven, ambitious and talented, it does often also mean that they are more prone to overusing these strengths, which over time leads to derailment, which often can lead to burnout. In short, they never come to me, At least initially, to fortify their resilience and never to focus on improving their psychological prowess. It will never have crossed their minds that their mental, physical and emotional wellbeings are just as important to their professional and personal lives, as to their businesses. It is only after we start our work that these issues arise and become apparent.


‘There is a huge amount of pressure as a founder to never show weakness and to be the cheerleader in all internal and external situations.’

S Altman, Y Combinator



A client recently talked about her need to progress within her firm and to keep getting promotions every two years. Aside from the arbitrary deadlines, there was little awareness of the learning journey, just a need to achieve for the sake of it. She didn’t think it was right to take holiday because people depended on her and she didn’t want to let the side down.


Musk himself confessed that he was unable to get away from his business because people’s livelihoods depended on him. Another client of mine swore that if he slept any more than 4 hours a night and that if he ate more than 1 meal a day, he would be losing out on business.


It’s lonely at the top – or is it?


We’ve heard it before and no doubt we will keep hearing this trope again and again. And whilst I can’t deny this is true, it doesn’t mean that it has to remain that way and that you don’t have outlets to help you in your quest. You can confide in a large variety of people – be it your peers, your board, or if neither of these are possible, close confidantes, mentors, coaches advisors. You don’t have to do it on your own!


Additionally, a responsible and forward-thinking CEO or team leader should build businesses that are sustainable for now and into the future. This means thinking and working strategically, setting up structures, teams and people who can help, support and enhance your business. As opposed to relying solely on you and your sheer willpower to see you through the days.


Me, myself and I


How does your ego fit into this? This is not easy to hear but many a leader cannot help but build a team or a business based on him/herself. Sure, of course the vision has to come from somewhere and mean something to the founder. However, as soon as you get your first client and/or you have your first workmate/employee, everything ceases to be just about you and your ego but it is now about your division or your enterprise.


Why do I talk about this? In the examples used above, and frequently when working with my clients, the subject of the ego arises time and again. Why is it that it’s so easy to comment on someone else’s success and failures objectively, but not one’s own?


The need to not show weakness is in equal measure about one’s ego – being too afraid to show weakness by asking for help. Despite the fact that the ego might in actual fact take more of a beating if one burns out and almost inevitably, the business fails. The assumption that you cannot take time away to relax and to become more productive and to improve your performance (through better health) amounts to your need to feel self-important and irreplaceable. Sleeping for 4 hours a night over several years and eating one unhealthy meal a day doesn’t make you Superman or Wonder Woman. It makes you that person who checked into hospital from nervous exhaustion and it is what kept you there for 3 months. True story.


Are you actively choosing to burn out?


Who on earth would actively choose to burn out? ‘Not I!’ you all shout indignantly.


The thing is, with all these clients, this is exactly what they were all doing. Their thinking, be they CEO of a business or working as a leader within a larger organization, the thinking is not so dissimilar to that of Ben Horowitz below.


“I have seen CEOs try to cope with the stress by drinking heavily, checking out, and even quitting. In each case, the CEO has a marvelous rationalization why it was OK for him to punk out or quit, but none them will every be great CEOs. Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweat, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary founder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say: “I didn’t quit.”

Ben Horowitz — Loudcloud, A16Z


So here’s the thing. No one is asking you to quit, let alone suggesting it. The question we’re asking is,


What are you doing to ensure that you build a thriving and sustainable business?


Every time you ignore sensible and definitely not frivolous human activities such as sleeping and eating well, exercising, living a balanced and healthy life – you are actively and determinedly saying that you don’t want to build a thriving and sustainable business. You do not choose efficiency, productivity, innovation, clear and well thought-out decision-making, high performance and longevity. Your ego is getting in the way of your success and you can’t even see or accept it.


Take a really close and objective look of yourself. Which part of you is making the decisions? The bright, talented, strategic go-getter, or the ego? The decision isn’t binary – sleep or no sleep. Eat or don’t eat. Your professional journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Use that genius brain of yours and do the right thing for you and your business!


Some basics to help in the interim….




There is a reason why sleep deprivation has been chosen as a form of torture. These poor prisoners, already on edge and lacking proper nutrition, are delirious going on a little psychotic. That is what you might be like at work, whilst pretending to be Superman.


Sleep is hard for those who suffer from stress and anxiety. I’m no expert but I would say, little things to help you prepare for bed really help. These include stopping all work at least 2-3 hours before you head for bed. That means no phone, no calls, no reading for work-related stuff. Try and practise some mindfulness such as doing a body scan before you sleep, to further calm the mind. If you prefer exercising in the evening, do also try and do this at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. You don’t really want to be all pumped and hyped up before you try and sleep!




Eat badly and this will lead to unstable blood sugars which in turn will lead to fatigue, mood swings and poor concentration, as well as that pernicious diabetes which is just round the corner from you. Too much caffeine will lead to poorer productivity & concentration, as well as affecting cortisol levels in your blood stream. This in turn will exacerbate your stress levels. With all these really fun side-effects and with you being an absolute joy to work with, you might end up being even more constantly & gravely ill than the office hypochondriac.




The healthier your body, the healthier your mind. Aside from staving off that heart attack, physical exercise brings about clearer and more efficient minds as that healthy blood gets pumping round the body.


This triumvirate of basics will help keep that burnout threat away. Others include general relaxation, socializing, holidays and hobbies, as well as a host of diverse options. The question I ask is:


Why wouldn’t you want to be in peak condition whilst leading the charge?


Last week I wrote about some of the things you can do to help prevent burnout. I aim to start introducing some of these concepts to you on Wellness Wednesdays. The reality is that there are far bigger experts on this matter than I could ever be, so I will defer to them. Today, my aim was to offer some little tips and some food for thought.


Remember, every time you choose your ego, you choose to burnout. There are enough challenges in life – don’t let your ego add to that list!



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



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