Coaching Himself out of Engineering
I met Chris at a co-working event in Ubud, Bali, where both of us went. We spoke shortly ahead of the event. When I found out he changed careers, I took the chance to ask him for a quick interview. He accepted and few days later he shared his story with me. His openness and authenticity to talk about his internal struggles made this interview a very special one. One that challenged my perspective on my own believes.
Can you tell me more about your childhood and the environment you grew up in?
I was born in Tasmania in a little town called Hobart, which was a beautiful, safe, and clean place. I considered my upbringing with my other two sisters and brother to be the perfect childhood with very stable family. My mother was a teacher, my father an accountant. We grew up with everything we could ever want. There was a lot of pressure academically from my father to be the best. He valued that strongly, so it unconsciously rubbed off on me.
That is what I perceived as being required of me, so it shaped my thinking pattern: in order to get love from my father and make him proud, I had to succeed academically.
From my mother I learned that I had to be a nice boy who was polite and caring, one always giving, always going out of my way for other people, and not expressing myself first. These are the two major influencing forces from both of my parents. That is who I was as a person. So I ended up going through high school as a high-achieving people-pleaser. Academically, I felt the need to pursue high levels of math and science to prove myself. That led me toward the technical, masculine energy type endeavours at the expense of not actually following what I was truly passionate about or interested in.
Did you know what are you passionate about early on in your life?
I had a sense that it was something like engineering or architecture, one of those types of professions, but I had no idea where it stemmed from. It was probably more to prove myself rather than to do what do I actually really loved. If I break down my decision, at that stage it was 60% of “How do I prove myself? And how do I show the world that I’m a smart guy?” and 40% “What do I like?”.
There are some people in life who decide 100% based on “What do I love to do?” and they don’t care about anything else, not even if they can make any money out of it. I was on the completely opposite side of the spectrum.
What about your studies? How did you choose what to study?
I enrolled in engineering because there was nothing else that stood out to me. I ended up studying mechanical engineering because I sort of liked the idea of playing with cars. It seemed to best fit me at that time, because I was good at math and science, and I like designing things and being creative. But I already knew on the first day of my engineering course that it wasn’t the right choice for me. I actually told myself on the first day “When I get this degree I’m not going to work as an engineer, but I will get the degree anyway, because I’ll show them.”
My ego and my need to prove myself was so strong that I just spent four years of working hardest I’ve ever had to work just to complete it. An interesting thinking pattern that a lot of people go through, unfortunately.
What happened after completing your studies?
I still didn’t want to be an engineer, but since I have put in all that time and energy, the easy option was to get a job as one. I was 22 years old and exhausted from studying. I was dreaming about traveling and moving away from home. If I wanted all these things to happen, I had to start working as an engineer for a little bit. And then I spent nine years working in a career knowing pretty much every single day that at some point I needed to get out of this. But I didn’t know how to leave, or how to change.
Were you scared of changing your life?
I felt as though I was boxed in. I couldn’t do anything else because that is what I was trained for. This was the course that I had set, and there was no changing it now. It took me nine years to realize that there are other possibilities.
I didn’t want to go back and study with the risk of spending another four year to then discover that I still didn’t like that thing either. I created the fear of getting it wrong again.
And at the time I didn’t have clarity about what I actually wanted to do. I didn’t want to become a poor student again, even though my working life completely unfulfilled me spiritually and I was just waiting for the weekend to start living.
How did you feel during this time?
I would say I avoided my emotions. What I felt instead was disenchantment. I got frustrated and stressed because I wasn’t really that good at engineering. My colleagues were studying and learning and deeply fascinated by the work they were doing, and I just didn’t care about it. So because I didn’t care about it, I wasn’t really interested in getting good at it. I felt this constant pressure to perform and achieve. How could I perform in something when I didn’t care about it? You can force yourself to do it, but it’s just not sustainable or healthy.
And how did you get to the point of giving up your engineering career?
The voice in my heart was telling me the whole truth every single day: “What are you doing? There is more for you,” but I just ignored that voice because it was painful to acknowledge that I was not in line with myself. I ignored it for nine long years before the voice eventually became louder and louder, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. In 2014, I took a sabbatical for six months and went traveling to South America, hoping that I will discover my life’s purpose and make a decision. But I didn’t really do that. I just went there and ended up partying a lot and traveling.
I take it the plan didn’t work.
I wouldn’t say so. Life did not happen as I planned. My girlfriend at the time came over to visit me and we wanted to travel together for six weeks, but that relationship ended. We broke up in Rio and she flew back to Australia. The fallout from that relationship triggered the change within me. She gave me some feedback that shook my whole world view. In that moment I realized how limited my self-awareness actually was.
I thought I was a decent and smart human being who had it all figured out. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In fact, I was quite the opposite of having life figured out. It was very humbling and confronting, but in the end I was really grateful for the feedback. This harsh truth is the very thing that led me on my journey of personal development.
What did you do next?
I kept traveling for the next three months and came back to Australia, back to my career, feeling demoralized that my relationship ended. I went to a bookstore and I started buying books about emotional intelligence, body language, dating, confidence, all that kind of stuff because I felt I had to figure myself out and get back in the game. The whole thing ended up with me gaining a passion for personal development. The first book that I read was a book by Tony Robbins called “Awaken the Giant Within”. It was the first profoundly insightful personal development book that I read and it changed everything. It transformed my life.
Once I finished that book, it just lit a fire within me and I became a personal development junkie. I couldn’t read enough books and I was going to seminars, online courses, workshops, retreats, trainings, and I just learned about psychology. After six months, I ended up in a training course that was a deep inner transformational one. It is called the “Landmark Forum”. After I did that course, I signed up for all of the other courses and later that year, I spent an enormous amount of money on my education, just because I knew that was my access to changing my life.
That planted in me the seed of maybe becoming a coach. I was amazed to see people transforming around me. Then once while on Facebook, an ad popped up about becoming a life coach. It was a free offer. They sent the information package and one of their agents called me to explain what it is all about. My engineer brain was hesitant about coaching. I had the image of hippies that sit around with incense sticks while meditating in a yurt as life goes by. Although I was skeptical, I applied for this one year-long training course in Melbourne. Worst-case scenario: it was an investment into my personal development. After the first three days of the course, I knew I had found my purpose. I saw enough success reference points that satisfied both my needs of following my passion and earning the money to have a good life.
When did you start being a coach?
While studying coaching I had no clients and I was still working full-time as an engineer.
I was doing between 10 and 15 hours of studying after my day job and on the weekends. But I loved it.
When finishing the course they suggested trying out coaching. From August to December 2015 I was just coaching as much as I could. I wrote to friends to spread the word that I’m coaching for free. My first client was from Dubai, who was a friend of a friend. I coached her for six weeks. We came to the end of the coaching session. She wanted to continue and asked me how much I charge. I didn’t even know how much I was going to charge. I had to make something up on the spot. I didn’t know about PayPal. I solved by answering “I’ll send you an email and all of the information will be there.” That gave me time to figure out how to get paid. It become my reference point and I just kept following the system. I kept going to workshops, networking, posting videos on Facebook, and all the stuff that you do for growing a business. And soon enough, it started growing bit by bit.
When did you finally leave your engineer job?
I was living in Perth, Australia and I went home for two months to visit my family for Christmas in Tasmania. I came back after the holidays and had to re-apply for my job. The industry was going through a downturn and there were tons of redundancies. I was concerned, because I thought my very livelihood is at stake. I went driving to work to visit my boss and renegotiate my contract, but he wasn’t there. I considered coming back the next day, but on the drive home I had this sudden realization “Why am I even coming back to this job? Why am I re-applying for this job?” I could already see that I could make a living as a coach. That was the moment. There was a reason why my boss wasn’t there.
How did you feel about it?
It was exciting and scary at the same time. I had some savings tucked away and I knew I could last a while. So it wasn’t like I have no revenue. I also had investments. I had two paying clients. Sure, my income has radically gone down, but I knew I could do it and that it was up to me. I’ve got plenty of time after leaving the job, but not a lot of money. I entered a conservation mode and all of my spending habits changed. I didn’t go out spending $200 a night. I didn’t drink any alcohol to cut back on all of my expenses. I didn’t really go out to dinner, and on the rare occasion that I did, I was ordering the cheapest meals.
I was working really hard on myself and every extra dollar I could get together I was just spending toward developing myself.
How did you find all of those trainings?
Once you enter this gate, a whole new world opens up and you get connected with an inner circle. It’s almost like a cult. You have conversations with people who are hard to meet in everyday life. Books, courses, and trainings are also suggested to you.
What did your new life look like?
My world was about studying, training, and learning to grow my business. I postponed my dating life, and I put several other things on hold, but I devoted myself to growing my business and learning what I needed to do.
Are you happy with what you have created?
Four years passed and I feel incredible. It has happened so much better than I could have ever expected.
In financial terms I earned money slower than expected, but in terms of fulfillment, it was completely transforming: a rebirth.
I became a completely different person. I’m still in the essence of who I truly am, but I am aware of my emotions and what I’m creating, my reality. I just feel empowered and not better than anyone else. It’s not about being better. It’s just about feeling free. My mind has been freed of the prison that I had created for myself. I realized the truth that I can create whatever I want. There’s nothing stopping me. The only thing stopping me from creating is me.
Looking back, when I first started engineering I didn’t even think I had a choice. And then when I was well into my engineering career I never thought I had any other choice. Whereas now, however, I realize that at every single moment I have an infinite number of choices that can take me in an infinite number of directions.
I know if there’s anything in my life that I don’t like, I can choose something else, but to do so I have to, first of all, understand myself. What am I afraid of that I’m not making the choices that are in true alignment with me? There’s no hiding. I love when I get triggered by people, when I get angry or sad. Now I kind of see life as a learning simulation. That’s great, because that helps me evolve. That is my belief; everything in life is happening to support me. Even the stuff that doesn’t feel good. I am choosing each of my experiences in each and every moment in my mind. I don’t always know how I’m choosing, sometimes I’m not aware of the choices that I’m making, but I am the one that is generating my experience, so I’m responsible for me. It’s very confronting because I know that there is no pointing outside. I never blame anyone or anything from the outside world anymore. I have to take 100% responsibility for myself.
What is it that pushes you forward?
The gift that I have been given through this whole thing has liberated me from my own mind and I work hard so I can help others do the same. For me, there’s no greater gift than helping others.
There’s no other experience more fulfilling in life than helping someone else experience that same level of freedom and liberation that I’ve been lucky enough to have.
What did your family think about your career change?
My dad thought I was crazy. That was really the biggest source of resistance. He still doesn’t really understand it, he just views it as “some weird spiritual thing”. In his world we all need to have a profession. I don’t judge him for that. My mother kind of understands it and thinks it’s great that I’m helping people. But I don’t need their validation anymore. This is what I have chosen to do with my life. It would, of course, be nice if my parents were more supportive, but in the end, it doesn’t matter.
My sisters were amazingly supportive of my choice. My younger sister is also studying coaching. She calls me her “four mile man”. (Roger Bannister) My older sister even helps out when I run workshops and other events. We are co-creating this experience together now. My younger brother doesn’t get any of this, but he’s an engineer. He followed the same kind of path into engineering that I did, with the only difference being that he is happy with it.
What about your friends?
My friends were not really understanding it either. They didn’t say it, but they were probably thinking that I had a great career, a lot of money, and one of the highest-paid professions in a great industry.
From the outside, they saw me as living the dream. They didn’t see the emptiness I felt inside.
They didn’t know what coaching was about and, understandably, they weren’t interested in it.
Did your group of friends change?
It changed nearly 100%, because I, too, changed so much. I started to realize where I was being inauthentic. I was hanging around with people simply because I was in their proximity. There were a lot of people in my life that I was spending time with only because I was lonely, not because I wanted to actually specifically be with them.
How much do you think geography influences the way we consider risk?
I guess geography has a certain level of influence, but with that being said there are people in Australia who won’t take risks and there are people in Eastern Europe who take them. You can’t really generalize that by saying that this culture has created this person to do these things. Every person has the opportunity to escape the trap of their cultural barriers. It’s all in the mind. It’s just the internal experience that supersedes the external experience. You might have had the most horrific upbringing, but there is always the capacity within us to rise above all that with thought. What we do in our lives, is everything that is happening within us. You could be sad and I could be sad. You could be happy and I could be sad. You are not determining how I respond. I am determining my own response. Everyone is choosing their reality.
You have the power to rise above anything that has happened in your life. Because if you subscribe to that thing limiting you, then it will do just that… limit you. If you believe that it doesn’t limit you then it won’t. It’s not about good or bad, right or wrong. It’s just the way that it works.
Where would you like to see yourself when you’re 90?
I don’t know. I could potentially be living in India in an ashram or at a monastery just meditating every day. I might have given it all up. I could be teaching in a school in America. I could be writing books in Africa. I don’t identify myself with being a coach for the rest of my life. I have a great set of skills that I can apply to dozens of different industries. So for me, it’s less about identity, it’s more about the principles of consciousness that I resonate with. It’s just me showing up and being me, and I could do that in a lot of different ways. So I don’t have any attachment to what and where and how it’s going to be in the future because I just know that I’ll figure it out and be able to be successful at whatever I end up doing. It won’t be easy, of course, but nothing worth having in this life ever is.
Does this mean you have no plan?
I plan to the degree that I have certainty and clarity. For example, I usually plan three to six months ahead, because I know that it is a short enough time for me to go for what I want. I’m not going to force myself to create a 20-year life plan because I have no idea what will happen in 20 years. I have already made the mistake of committing to a career and feeling stuck on that path. I’m not going to do that again. You can influence and you can make choices, but you can never control life. I don’t think you would want to either, because if you were to control life based on what you know now, that would be a very limited life. If you were to design your life now, you are limited to creating a blueprint only based on this limitation.
There are forces beneath life that are more magical, and I could ever outthink or outdo what life is creating.
How do you make decisions?
Most of my decisions used to have been made from an ego-driven fear. Now most of them come from an intuitive feeling. “Does it feel right?” That is the question I ask when deciding on something.
What book would you recommend to those who want to start their personal development journey?
I would suggest two books: Tony Robbins’ “Awaken the Giant Within” and the one written by Joe Dispenza, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.”
Who are your role models?
I would say that my mother is one of my biggest role model given her gratitude and the amount of love she has to offer the world. When in her presence it just feels like getting a hug from her. Just by being her, she brings love into the world wherever she goes. Another role model of mine would be Tony Robbins in terms of what he has created. He runs workshops with 10,000 people, filling a stadium with people who are all wanting to learn and evolve.
How do you feel about your previous career?
Everything I learned about engineering has helped me on some level. It was a vehicle that I drove through life that gave me a particular set of experiences. I could have been a teacher, an airline pilot, or working at McDonald’s flipping burgers.
I could have done any of that and I still would have had a great experience where I learned important life lessons.