Jumping ship - Kelly's journey towards building her own sustainable future

By Kelly Coombes

I have a bit of a story to tell.  A friend suggested I write a blog and start with my experience to change myself and my work as he believed that there would be others that related to my story and may inspire them to maybe do the same.  I know I am not alone as I have met others doing the same life changing developments; funnily many of them also have a green directive.  Their journeys have inspired me to stick with it and embrace the process, so I share this on their behalf as well.

I needed out.  I was stuck.  Though I didn’t know it.  I wasn't connected, empowered or responsive to the work I was doing and work community around me.  My break came when I was made redundant in Oct 2018 and after a month, I knew in the core of my heart I could not go back.

There was some ‘burn out’, but I needed to see it was also not the entire truth in my case.  I was no longer interested in me and who I was.  I was waiting for retirement to get on with my life, stop associating myself with my work, and enjoy the fruits of my labour.  I was wishing my life away. And I thought that this was normal because don’t we all wait for the weekend?

It was not an easy process for me.  For months I walked the dogs for HOURS daily, listening to podcasts broadly about sustainability and climate change.  I read loads and did what I could to meet and speak with people who were doing what I thought might be interesting to pursue.  At one point a click moment came when I realised I didn’t have to return to the same type of role, or something in the same industry.  So, I stopped looking there.  ‘This life is more than just a read through’ - Anthony Kiedis.  No more alerts or slogging to interviews for insurance roles or risk management opportunities which I didn’t want and made me gulp air at the prospect of actually landing one. 

When I stopped the black pressure just lifted.  And the next day the rolling fog of uncertainty, discomfort, and complete untethering from whom I was and where I was going set in. 

Many times, I felt I would find what I was meant to be doing right around the corner, or the next corner.  I had a hard time describing my need to family and friends let alone helpful contacts who were a bit confused at my questions and lack of focus – hoping their careers would reveal my path or flag an interest.  I did return over again to a similar heart-led idea. What kept me up now was what I was afraid to pursue as a younger me; climate change and our abuse or disrespect of the planet.  More people are talking about it.  Sustainability is now a well-defined, global concept and many realise how difficult it will be to achieve what we must.  I knew I wanted in.  But ‘saving the planet’ is a bit of an immature plan to a very broad goal. 

People I met were supportive and were happy to help.  'Good luck and please keep in touch' or 'come back to me when you have greater focus on what you want'.  Their responses were not rejection but a reflection of my inability to vocalise all my thoughts.  It became overwhelming at times. The vision I needed to move forward, find my place, wasn't at all clear.  And it just added to my frustration in myself.  Common refrains included;

  • Everything happens in its right time and for a reason. (Fine – I’ve always believed this)
  • I must trust the process. (Question: how long does the process take?)
  • Journal about your feelings and take stock of what you have done so far (OH NO - yikes! It’s been over 6 months, I fear I am so far behind).

I couldn't express what I wanted to do and everything I was exposed to was exciting or interesting. I had little confidence; not sure my skills and experience would transfer. I have a relevant education with an MSc in Environmental Policy Planning and Regulation (thank you 24 year old me), but I have had my head down in corporate insurance for years and there was much I needed to catch up on (thank you LSE Library!). So, I kept speaking to and meeting with people.  Great people with fascinating roles, but I didn’t click with what they were describing or advice they were providing 'you should try...'…’just be bold and do it!’.  Nothing resonated. I didn’t know what ‘it’ was. I was grateful and though I knew I was richer for it, these conversations didn't reveal my new business direction, partner or collaborator. The veil and frustration remained.

Indoctrinated in corporate life I confided to a friend that I lacked the understanding or personal tools to insert myself - somehow.  All my sales and leadership skills with creative problem solving and facilitation abilities felt more like a dusty sack of potatoes than a trunk of assets I could bring to the table because (and this was a bold realisation) I had never been taught to hustle outside of corporate life. To do this in absentia of an institution was not something I knew how to do. I couldn't just go out and 'do it' because I didn’t know what role or task I was supposed to be doing.

Sitting with two very encouraging friends the other week (thank you Alex and Gareth) something fell out of my mouth and it didn’t feel awkward or silly.  It felt big, ambitious; heart palpitations scary.  But because of all those things - plus the excitement on the forthcoming journey and the promise of where it might lead - it felt right.  

I am going to build a platform that will support the creation of sustainable communities. Yep, that big.  At this moment I can describe my vision it as consulting with a small c, partnership and platform with a big PP. I will use this broad remit to help change how communities are built, or how current communities change for the future. My plan is something that 1) I cannot do alone (and anyway, I hate working alone) 2) will require me to continuously learn, read and push ideas forward to keep the platform innovative and useful 3) will hopefully give me chance to collaborate and work on some cool and amazing projects, meeting and pulling in some equally amazing people along the way.  I would love to say 'Together we made that fly. Our work was impactful and made a difference'.

So today I sit here. Putting a bit of a completion on the story of how I went from who I was 1 year ago, to being ok with such a change and then excited for the journey that lay ahead. I still don’t exactly know how I am going to inject myself, but I am no longer worried as I have my direction and daily I work on actions with clearer intentions that drive a path in this direction.  Going back through the past months I realise that not one person I spoke to had doubts that a path would show itself in the end.  They knew something that I didn’t, and they were curious and encouraging about my journey, expressing that I should be too. Which is my reason for writing this and subsequent blogs. It may encourage others to take a leap and make a heart lead change for themselves.


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