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Holmer Green mother Fiona Clark on helping others find their career path

PUBLISHED: 12:15 09 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:15 09 May 2014

Fiona with sons Joshua, four, and Alexander, seven

Fiona with sons Joshua, four, and Alexander, seven

Archant

For modern mums ‘the holy grail’ often means finding a work-life balance. Chené Koscielny meets a Holmer Green mother who helps others to find their career path

Not a single week goes by without a national headline bemoaning the fate of the stressed working mum and her exhausting, never-ending struggle to achieve the elusive nirvana of combining a meaningful career with a family. “Can a woman really have it all?” is the million-dollar question underlying these headlines and one that every ambitious career woman who finds herself pregnant faces at some point.

Surveys testing mothers’ attitudes to work are rife, such as one published by the Department of Education in February, which found that a third of working mums would like to give up their jobs and stay at home with their children. Another survey in the same month found that some 80% of women feel guilty about returning to

work after having children.

These findings contrast with Government incentives to get more mothers back to work and glittering case studies of uber mothers who seem to effortlessly and guiltlessly combine three, four, five children with top city jobs.

It’s enough to make the calmest, most confident and least hormonal mother feel like burying herself in the mountain of washing piling up at home.

This is often the point when Fiona Clark, founder of Inspired Mums, a career and confidence coaching business, steps into a mum’s life to help her find her way out of the maze that is motherhood and working.

Immaculately groomed, the 39-year-old mum of two boys from Holmer Green, near High Wycombe, waltzes into the room exuding confidence, warmth and humour and, above all, an overwhelming sense of calm.

Within a few hourly sessions she makes sense of what – certainly in my case – amount to incoherent ramblings and woolly aspirations. She moves quickly to turn eroded self-esteem and a crippling inner critic around to help mums identify what motivates them and set clear goals to help them achieve a fulfilling and family friendly career.

“Women today have a massive challenge where they need to get their work and family life balance right while feeling fulfilled at the same time,” says Fiona.

“They often face a crossroads when they have children and they no longer know what they want. Or they’ve been out of the job market for years and their confidence is rock bottom. All too often I hear mums say ‘I’ll do anything as long as it fits around the kids’ but this can lead to roles where they feel undervalued and unmotivated. I ask tough questions and use practical tools and techniques to help them work out what’s right for them – and feel confident in their ability and decisions.”

Fiona has firsthand experience of the challenges as she completely re-launched her own career after having her first son, Alexander, now seven. She says: “Like many people I ‘fell’ into my first job. I ticked the sales box on a graduate recruitment form, and that was that. Despite knowing deep down that it was the wrong career choice, I stayed in sales for 10 years because I didn’t realise how transferable my skills were. I was doing well on paper, but my heart wasn’t in it.”

Her own ‘light bulb moment’ came when she completed a career survey and had to define what motivated her at work. “I realised I was motivated by doing something with meaning. Making money for large businesses was simply not important enough to me. It was the wake up call I needed!”

So she decided to take control and sought out career coaching to work out exactly what she wanted to do. As a result she retrained and qualified as a coach herself, founding Inspired Mums in 2006. Since then Fiona has given hundreds of mums career direction and confidence either through one-on-one coaching or workshops – helping them find their own ‘light bulb’ moment.

There is a lawyer who negotiated the holy grail of a flexible role on partner level in a law firm, an accountant who swapped the pressures of a city firm for a calmer and more creative life as an interior designer and a mum who managed the transition from 19 years in the RAF to landing a job as a bursar in a private school.

Not surprisingly, many of the women who seek Fiona’s help join the swelling ranks of mumpreneurs and she uses her commercial background to mentor them when they need help to start up or grow their businesses. “The most difficult aspect of running a business and being a mother is to believe in yourself and invest in the business and childcare without knowing what your income will be.”

Fiona firmly believes empowering women to find their own solutions through career and confidence coaching is the best way to help modern mothers make the right choices.

So, to answer that million-dollar question: “Can a woman have it all? “Yes,” says Fiona, “but every woman needs to feel confident, informed and empowered enough to define for herself what ‘having it all’ means to her at any given time. For me it means doing something I’m passionate about, which gives real meaning to my life – as well as having time to spend with my two gorgeous boys while they’re growing up.”

Fiona has written an e-book: Stuck in a career rut? 7 steps to break out if and find work you love – to download it,

visit www.inspiredmums.co.uk; www.facebook.com/InspiredMumsCoaching; twitter.com/Inspired_Mums

Finding my way – from the RAF to school bursar

Caroline Purdom joined the RAF straight after university. Nineteen years later she was Director of Support Services at RAF Northolt, managing a team of 120, a large budget and a remit that covered everything from finance to personnel to property management. It was at this point, at the pinnacle of her career, that Caroline decided to lchange course. She had a young daughter and didn’t want to leave her to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. “To progress my career would have meant a degree of compromise for my husband and daughter that I wasn’t prepared to make, ” she says.

Fiona says: “When Caroline talked to me about leaving the RAF she said it felt “like a bereavement” which had left “a terrible void”. She came for coaching to help find a second career that could help fill the void, but allow her the flexibility she craved. Initially I helped Caroline rebuild her confidence and identify those key skills that are so valuable to employers but which she had taken for granted.”

Caroline says: “I was fairly dismissive of the value of my skills in the world of work outside of the RAF. Fiona had a wider perspective – she wasn’t in the military so she looked at my skills from a completely different angle. We worked together to identify my transferable skills so that when I was going for interviews I knew exactly how to sell myself.”

“The coaching restored my balance – helped me identify who my professional self was and not just my “mum” self. I also discovered that a strong sense of community, influence and flexibility motivated me at work.”

Caroline is now happily settled in her new role as bursar at Davenies Prep School in Beaconsfield – a job that has given her the sense of belonging, influence and work/life balance she needed.

Her advice to other mums: “Don’t try and do it on your own. You need somebody who is your champion and is motivating you along the way to find the path.”

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Fiona Clark - My Buckinghamshire

Will you share a shopping secret with us?

Cosy Corner, properly known as Park Parade at Hazlemere (HP15 7AA), is a wonderful small collection of stores with independents and, in The Pantry, the best coffee shop for miles. It’s impossible to walk past!

A surprise you’ve discovered since moving to Bucks?

Antonia Joyce’s Sanctum in Beaconsfield is an amazing private members club for young children and mums. It’s like walking into a lovely living room. There are classes for the children, as well as evening events for grown ups.

See www.sanctumbeaconsfield.co.uk.

Can you recommend a couple of good dining spots?

It’s nice to get out to the local pubs and I’ve had a superb dinner at The Apple Tree, Gerrards Cross (www.theappletreegerrardscross.co.uk). The Gate at Bryants Bottom (www.thegateinnpub.co.uk) is also great for lunch or dinner and, like The Apple Tree, has a children’s menu. Although I went in an evening I spotted the garden and can see myself settling there with the family on sunny days. Both great choices for Sunday roasts, as well.

If you head outside Buckinghamshire, what’s the favourite choice?

It’s a family one, as I have two boys who love to be outside. The Look Out Discovery Centre at Nine Mile Ride, Bracknell, is a wonder. There’s an excellent playground, lots of activities and when you can build a den… well what more could you want?

See www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/thelookoutdiscoverycentre

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