From Trader to Executive Coach, We Talk to Karen Kwong About Her Stress Management Workshops by Rosie Markwick
March 21, 2017
We caught up with Karen Kwong, who’ll be leading our stress management workshops in Koh Samui this June. She will also be doing one on one coaching sessions with all guests with some pre-arrival work to make sure you get the most out of your session with her.
Having spent 15 years heading up a trading desk in London, she is now an executive and business coach, working with individuals and organisations to reach their full potential. She is the Founder and CEO of Ren Organisational Consulting. Her clients include people and companies from all sectors but especially in financial services. She also works with many start-ups and entrepreneurs, helping them grow and build resilient and flourishing businesses.
We asked Karen some questions about her career change and what you can learn at her stress management workshops.
Tell us a bit about your work and how you ended up doing what you do?
I suppose for the most part I am an executive and business coach but I am a ‘pluralist’ (which is the hot new lingo), therefore, have a portfolio career and so I do lots of different things. I fully embrace this as opposed to having a job title, I like to think more about what my main goal is when it comes to my work. For me, this is to help people grow – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
I realised in my last job as a trader that I loved the day to day diversity but by the end, I realised I wasn’t growing anymore. So I took a year out. Somewhere in there, I became really interested in the fact that people spend 65% of their lives working, and yet, many feel and accept that being stressed, unhappy, anxious and depressed in what they do is the norm. So I decided to do a Masters in Work Psychology to help guide people to make the best choices for themselves and to lead more fulfilling lives.
What is the best part of your job, what inspires you to get up and do this work?
The diversity of my clients, their jobs and all the different things I do each day. Really no day is the same and so certainly one of the best parts of my job is the freedom. I manage my own time. In terms of what inspires me – it’s the people I work with and the positive energy I am privy to everyday. When I have a coaching session, for example, I am supporting them in creating a state of productive flow and when I am doing that, I also get to be part of that really positive experience. I am so grateful for that.
Tell us a bit about what you will be offering on the E:scape retreat?
Part of my Masters was based on the psychology of the working individual. Normally organisational psychology is very team focused but this section was based on the individual and their psychological health. I want to state quite clearly; anxiety and low-level depression happens to all of us. What I am addressing here is that most people don’t recognise it when this becomes chronic. The workshop I will be offering is based on ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy). ACT is all about accepting what is and isn’t in your personal control, and committing to action that enhances and enriches your life. It has been found to be very effective, as it promotes acknowledgement of the stress and anxiety that we all have and uses it to learn and to grow. It has proven to work clinically all the way to performance at work.
With that in mind I will be offering two workshops during E:scape that deal with the physiology and mental part of what stress is and then changing the relationship you have with your anxiety and stress. Secondly, I will be offering one on one coaching for everyone on the retreat with some work beforehand to help you get the most out of the session. These sessions can be linked with the ACT work or they can just be an opportunity for you to talk to someone objective about whatever you want.
What advice would you give to an individual who was feeling really stressed out?
It sounds very cheesy but I would encourage the person to take a step back and breathe. Notice the thoughts going through your head, and rather than get caught up in the emotions, notice what they are, wait a little longer, and then a little longer, until your thoughts and emotions are less fraught. And if you need, take a little longer. In essence, I am suggesting that you do not react in response to the stress, but to proactively respond to the situation. Picture someone drowning. They are flailing in the water, expending energy in a directionless way, often attacking the person trying to help them not drown! By breathing (and therefore calming down), the drowning person is likely to be able to tread water on his/her own and is more able to receive the help needed.
Have you ever been on a retreat?
Yes I have been on a few! Most of them activity-based retreats such as hiking or yoga ones. Even if the process isn’t so fun or is hard work at times, I always come back feeling really energised and that is why I love them. The variety is great, you meet new people, explore new places. What’s not to like?
What advice would you give to someone who was interested in starting their own company?
Be really sure that it’s what you want to do!
And then when you are sure, listen to the advice you will undoubtedly be given by a variety of experts, veterans etc but fundamentally if it doesn’t ring true to you, take what you can from it, but stay true to your course.
Also it takes a lot longer than you expect it to! Be resolute in your objectives and your values but always be prepared to learn and adapt to that learning. This will make your proposition more resilient.
What does your morning routine look like at the moment?
I am definitely not a morning person. However somehow, I am up at 5am each day and usually by 8am I will have done a run and a yoga class. The only reason I do it first thing is because I would not do it later in the day, and I would find any excuse to avoid doing it! So I do the things that I know will energise me first thing.
I do check my phone and technology early on, which I know can be controversial but something I learnt in trading was if you know you are busy do the boring stuff straight away and get it out of the way. Attack those things head on before you know that you will be distracted by the rest of the day.
Do you follow a wellness routine?
Apart from my morning routine, I always try and walk between meetings. Walking where possible is such a great way to make sure your body keeps moving. Yoga is new for me and it has helped so much with my injuries and calming the mind – which for me isn’t easy.
Where is your favourite place to travel to and what travel destinations are on your wish list for 2017?
There are so many I could say! For now Chile is certainly somewhere that I really loved – it is just so varied. Patagonia at one end and the Atacama desert at the other. And the food is amazing!
In terms of wish list destinations I’d like to go to Uruguay, Easter Island and to hike Bhutan. I have no idea if these will happen this year but those are constants at the top of an ever growing list.
And of course, Koh Samui!!!
What is something (in one sentence) that you would like everyone to know?
This is YOUR life, make it a story that you’re proud of and that makes you happy.