One dreary day at my desk job, an email came in from my husband. “Want to move to Kampala?”. He had seen a job opening within his organization and was considering applying. The idea set off an avalanche of excitement, anxiety, and curiosity in my mind.
We had been living in Washington, DC for the past seven years. Although it’s is a lovely city - there’s an unrelenting pressure to climb the social and professional ladder. If life was a bouquet, my work-related buds were blossoming while my personal goals and hobbies were wilted and starved for attention. Kampala sounded like the adventure I needed to turn my life on its head. Kampala is the capital of Uganda, a beautiful and safe country in the heart of East Africa. I knew virtually nothing about what living there would be like, save for a few ex-pat Facebook groups, and a handful of blog articles.
And with my educational background in environmental studies, what better place could there be for me than the land of safaris, gorillas, and other natural wonders?
As I continued my Nancy Drew research of Kampala, my excitement evaporated once I looked at a map of Uganda. All the major national parks and game reserves were multiple hours away. I would be no closer to a national park in Kampala than I would be in DC. I tried to stay optimistic and figured that so long as the opportunity was available, I’d be ok with a few long drives here and there. I emailed him back and said, “Sure, why not.” He applied for the job and went on with our lives. The position was a bit of a stretch, so neither of us were holding our breath.
Almost two months later, he heard he had gotten the job. It was a tricky decision, but I told myself that the best decisions in life are usually the hardest to make. Once he accepted the offer, his new manager requested for him to start at the beginning of May - which was only three weeks away. We took our best guess at what we would need, what we should store, and what we could do without. We packed the essentials of our lives into seven suitcases of stuff and crossed our fingers. Things were rough for the first few weeks. Getting around, finding an apartment, and even just buying food was all a confusing and frustrating mystery. As I began to look for work opportunities - the reality I had feared began to set in. All the work available in Kampala was administrative, and didn’t require trips to ‘the field’.
After several months of professional compromises and sacrifices, I eventually got to do several field visits for three different organizations. Unfortunately, the closest to wildlife I got was seeing elephants in the distance as I drove past in a car. Over time, I realized these “opportunities” just weren’t working for me. I was either overworked, underpaid, or my projects weren’t aligned with my skills. Kampala was meant to be my time to shake things up and try something new. But in reality, I felt like I had lost control of my career path with no clear way forward. A feeling of resignation and dejection began to seep into my personal life. I stopped drawing, writing, and doing all the other things I enjoy. Something had to give. I tried reading self-development stuff to gain some perspective, but I knew I needed something more personalized to reorient myself in life. I considered therapy, but that felt like overkill. I was ready to take action. I just needed the tools and support to do it. One day, I came across a ‘Clarity Workshop’ on Facebook. I reached out to the lady who ran it and decided to join. The Workshop The workshop was seven sessions: two hours long, once a week for seven weeks. It was held in our coach’s home at her dining room table. She would make coffee, bake cookies, and would always greet us with her big bright smile. There were seven other women in the workshop. In each session, we did some self-reflection and did assignments that were then discussed in the next session. The first few assignments were designed to help us figure out where we currently stood. We took careful inventory of our strengths, weaknesses, and personal values. Next, we were allowed to daydream about what our perfect lives would look like. This included anything from a bigger TV to a more fulfilling career. Then came the hard work. We then had to compare our current lives to our dream lives and figure out how they were misaligned. This part took several sessions, many discussions, and a handful of tears. After we figured out what our long-term goals were, we had to chart out a year’s worth of milestones, month by month. We designed goals for several different ‘life’ categories, including health, relationships, careers, hobbies, recreation, and others. Once the workshop ended, I no longer felt lost and confused with how to use my valuable time in Uganda. For me, I finally realized that at my core – I love to write, tell stories, and help other people. I also realized that with some hard work and determination, I could shape these passions into a freelance writing career. It gave me the clarity I needed to feel confident and push my goals forward. Now, I work as a full-time brand copywriter and content writer. I get to flex my creative muscles, write informative articles, and help ethical businesses create deeper connections with their audiences. If you’re considering a life coach, I’d say there are a few things you should know before you hire one for yourself. Choose A Coach with the Right Specialty As romantic as it is to think you can go abroad and magically find yourself - joining this group helped me see that many women move abroad and end up feeling more lost than found. It’s not just women either. I don’t think there’s been one social gathering I’ve been to where I didn’t discuss my long-term plans, and if I was happy living in Kampala. If you’re living abroad - it’s a fact of life to live in uncertainty and wonder what happens next. My coach specialized in helping ex-pat women orient their personal lives and careers in their home away from home. Our group had everyone from established academics to recent grads. Different life coaches have different specialties. Some focus on careers, others on health, others on relationships. Do your research to make sure they have a great reputation for helping people with challenges like yours. Start with One Big Question You Want To Be Answered I think life-coaches work best if you’re trying to figure out how to navigate a big upcoming decision. This could be a major move, career change, or relationship-shift. If you’re there for a general life-revamp, it’ll still have its benefits, but it’ll be harder to pinpoint how to implement what you’ve learned. Set Aside Some Quiet Time to Do the Assignments Each session ended with some ‘homework’ that we were meant to complete and reflect on before the next session. Our coach even recommended doing the same exercise several times throughout the week and see if your answers are the same. Some mornings I noticed my peers quickly filling out the assignment 5-minutes before our session began and comparing answers, giving me amusing middle-school flashbacks.
Personally, the moments I sat by myself and quietly reflected on my answers were the ones that propelled me forward. I had to sit with myself and consider what the implications of my answers were. It’s in those moments I think I made the most progress. You Need to be Committed to Change The final assignment was to compile everything we had learned about ourselves and our goals into a 6-month to year-long scheduled plan for ourselves. Although I filled it out, I don’t follow it strictly. But it’s still a nice reminder of where I had hoped to be by this time a few months ago. Sometimes it helps orient my to-do list and reminds me to make certain things a priority for myself.
Regardless of how you approach it, you need to be open to challenging yourself to align your aspirations to your long-term goals. Life coaches aren’t therapists. They aren’t meant to walk you through why your past might be holding you back, or make you change your behavior. If you need help with that, therapy is the better option.
Keep the Tools for Future Life Questions I’ve found that the assignments she gave us are timeless tools for the questions and decisions that life throws at us. For example, when I had a major upcoming choice to make, my life coach offered a new way to think about weighing pros and cons. Other exercises included thinking about our future selves, challenging our fears, and learning how to figure out our priorities and what’s truly important to us. With a little bit of tinkering, these exercises can be expanded or constrained to work through short and long-term goals. Adapting these exercises in the future is like having a life coach in your pocket. In the end, I realized how important writing was to me. Taking a hard look at my strengths, my current life, and my goals, I knew I wanted to become a freelance content writer. And, so I have. In fact, I’ve had two record-breaking months in a row, so things are on the up and up. If you’re a person who is open to rigorous self-reflection and personal development, I’d recommend hiring a life coach. It helps to have someone objective to talk with, but also leaves a lasting impression on how you approach your life and set personal goals.
If you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, then therapy convinces you there is water, and that water is good. Life Coaches lead you to water. Only you can drink.
Although the original contract was for six months, we’ve been happy in Kampala and have no plans to leave just yet. As I continue to gain steam and build relationships with my clients, I feel happier and more settled than ever. After reading this, do you think you’d hire a life coach? Let me know in the comments!
Samantha Hoilett is a Freelance Content Writer and Strategist. By crafting memorable stories and value-packed blog articles, she helps her clients expand their content marketing and solidify their brand positioning. When not at her laptop - she can be found having the perfect afternoon cappuccino and brainstorming her 'next big thing.' Find her on Medium or at her website: forwardthinkingcontent.com.