Carolien van den Akker/ Transformational Coaching
Carolien van den Akker
May 2016| Sofia Simeonidou
Carolien Van den Akker lives in Rotterdam. As a kid, she wanted to be a journalist. She loves being her own boss and working before 9.30 a.m. is not an option. Carolien is a transformational coach for highly talented people.
The timing was right and a combination of reasons made this possible. I just had my first child and, due to the financial crisis, I was made redundant from my job. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime changes. By August that year my son was three months old and so I was expected to go back to work, which is usual for most women here in the Netherlands. Everyone was expecting or thinking I should be applying for a job sooner or later. Then November came and I still wasn’t applying. It didn’t feel right, I didn’t want to do that. The following year, in March, I was invited to be a moderator for an event. And that is when it all started. That is when I realised I wanted to start working for myself. I wouldn’t go back to the art world.
So we live in a world where people feel the pressure to be something they can’t support?
This is what I see happening to a lot of people. We live very busy lives. We’re all day busy and being social with our mobile phones, then work and family, and leaving almost no time to spend with ourselves. And so we can’t listen to desires and wishes residing within ourselves. If we don’t consciously spend time with ourselves, it’s simply not possible to hear what it is we need to focus on in life. What we should give our energy to. We have to leave our phones down and listen to ourselves about ourselves. I advise my clients to trust what they hear and make a very small first step to make the change. We don’t need big changes to start but a 10-degree change can power start your journey. These small first successes give you the power and the energy to commit and follow your dream.
When did you realise that this is what you wanted to do?
I finished school and university, I studied different things, and then I got various jobs working on getting on that career ladder. It was almost an automatic path to getting higher up to the next level. But I wasn’t getting the type of energy I needed. I worked with well-known employers and I was good at my job but it wasn’t what made me happy. I was tired. Exactly because of what we discussed, I had no clue of what was really going on inside me, and what was important for me. I didn’t even realise I was tired. That is because I didn’t allow myself to stop and take the time to discover how I really felt.
So when my job ended, I had my first child, and I didn’t feel like start working, I did just that. I gave time to myself to realise what I was made to do. I took the time to reflect and listen to the inner wisdom of my body. It’s very important to do that if you want to change directions. The physical aspect is a big part of any change you want to achieve.
The physical aspect is a big part of any change you want to achieve.
Did you have the network to support you when you started?
Yes, I did have a good solid network. The people that I work with, my clients are always recommended or coming via my network. I built a network from my previous career years and this is how I work. At the moment and for the future I’m dedicating more time on my group programmes and courses for companies. I’m currently doing less private one-on-one coaching.
Is it important to choose a niche?
Yes, I believe it is. At least for what I do. I work only with highly talented people. These are the people who have many talents, they’re good at doing almost anything, and they do it good. Exactly because of that, they don’t know what it is they want to pursue in life. In my marketing copy, I speak directly to the talented professionals, and not to their managers. The professionals themselves decide if they want to work with me. As a result, my clients are people who are very committed to making the necessary changes. They want to be helped. It’s not their employer telling them to do so; it’s my clients’ initiative. It’s very different from other types of coaching work and it offers a different dynamic to the work we do together.
How is it to be an entrepreneur in practical terms?
I love being my own boss. There are practical challenges and things I’ve never done before and I need to learn. Or ask someone to help me. One of my coaches calls being an entrepreneur the motorway to personal growth and development. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a constant learning process. For example, I had to learn a lot about marketing and sales. Besides this, I get to decide where and when to spend my time. I decide on my priorities and projects. Challenging yes, but also very rewarding.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Riel-a small village in the south of Holland.
Where do you live?
What is it that you like about living in Rotterdam?
Our young family lives in the middle of everything; all the options of a big city are around the corner. We love this. Although we do think about moving out of the city and have the kids grow up in a less urban setting.
And if you weren’t a transformational coach?
I’d be a journalist. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. I remember when I was a kid, and you know how they ask you ‘ What do you want to become when older?’, I was already saying I wanted to be a journalist. I didn’t even know how to spell the word but I knew this is what I wanted to be. It makes sense when I think about it now. It has similarities to my work as a moderator and it also fits to what I’m currently doing with developing CarolienTV. This is an online series of interviews with wise women who know what it is to make decisions that are a 100% reflection of who they are.
Any challenges along the way that made you think twice about being self-employed?
There will always be challenges. I try to stay focused on what it is I want to accomplish. Keeping my goals in mind and staying connected with my dreams, is what keeps me moving and on track. This is what I say to my clients: ‘ When you know at your very core that this is what you want to do, you’ll find the resources that can take you there ’. It all starts with a very clear decision. For example, I’m a native Dutch speaker so having to switch to an English website and start writing in English felt like a big challenge. It was definitely out of my comfort zone. I know my English is good but there were fear and doubt about me making mistakes and not being able to get it right. I chose to go ahead, although it took me more time than I had originally planned.
When you know at your very core that this is what you want to do, you will find the recourses that will take you there.
How do you manage to be a self-employed person and having a family? Is it more challenging than being a 9 to 5 employee?
No, I don’t think so. For me, it’s all about choosing what you prioritise. I choose the time I’ll work and the time I need for my family and myself. So, for instance, I never start before 09.30 so that I can have breakfast with my family and send the kids to day-care and school. And then I stop working at 17.00 and won’t have any appointments or obligations until 20.00 when dinner is over and the kids are in bed. So it’s all about how you chose to organise your time. I have that choice. And I cherish it. Employees don’t have that freedom.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
I’m definitely an extrovert. I’m an extrovert who loves to have enough of “me-time”.