The Importance of Cultivating Your Professional Story
Sarah Lennon knows what it's like to wake up one day, or many, and realize your career ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. With her multi-industry knowledge and years of experience in coaching roles, Sarah brings a well-rounded approach to her coaching methodology. Passionate about connection, she thrives in helping clients cultivate their “professional story” and dig deep into finding their strengths, values, and interests. Read more about how Sarah helps clients create their “professional story”, what gives her inspiration, and lessons she learned in 2020 that she’s taking with her into this year.
Sarah is the most recent coach we welcome into the Fink Development Coaching Network. A believer in being ‘life ambitious’ versus keeping ambition solely for career, Sarah thrives when working with clients who want to craft a purpose-driven career and are ready to step into their confidence and story to make things happen.
Jennifer Fink: You worked in communication, community-oriented, and coaching roles for companies such as Salesforce, Suas Educational Development, and Core Media for over seven years. What inspired you to make the jump into coaching and development?
Sarah Lennon: People. I’ve been driven by connection ever since I completed my degree in Communications. Empowering people to ‘rise’ and to fulfill their pure potential feels like a dream come true. For me, when I’m in the ‘zone’ of coaching I feel like I’m home and like I belong, and the icing on the cake is the impact of what you’re doing on others. Working across many different industries such as tech, media, nonprofit, and hospitality has laid an incredible foundation to support clients from such diverse backgrounds. Having this multidisciplinary skillset and view has been invaluable to what I can offer.
JF: If someone were to look at your LinkedIn profile’s “About” section, they would read that your true strength lies in digging deep with clients and helping them determine their passion in their career. What is one small thing you think everyone can do to gain insight into what they’re passionate about?
SL: Spend time focusing on yourself. That reflection piece is crucial if you want to start moving into the driver’s seat of your own life. How else are you meant to get to know your strengths, your interests, or values? The next step after this then is to work on the action points- now that you know this, what are you going to do with this knowledge?
"Spend time focusing on yourself. That reflection piece is crucial if you want to start moving into the driver’s seat of your own life."
JF: You currently reside in Ireland, have you worked with clients in other countries, and if so, what are the benefits of working with an international career coach?
SL: So many benefits! I’ve worked and lived in Australia and Canada, too. Having that international experience, the insight into different cultures, and different ways of working have enabled me to grow at a much faster pace than the norm. From the coaching perspective, you can work with any client and offer a fresh perspective and insights. This can add a lot of value to anyone’s career development journey.
JF: As a career coach, is there an ideal client or industry you enjoy working with most?
SL: Having come from a varied background myself, I don’t necessarily align with one industry. I tend to work with clients who are at a transition point in their careers and need clarity on their stories to move forward. I have a particular interest in working with clients who are trying to transition out of toxic workplaces. I can see the impact of that on both personal and professional parts of your life. I also work with clients who are new mothers or who are returning to work. Having done this myself twice, I know the challenges well and work to guide my clients through them. One ideal client is a mid-level professional who wants to start a new chapter, whether this is a full-cycle career transition, leveling up in their current role, or going off the beaten path somewhat. Another is a working parent, the struggle to juggle, the idea that parenting can (and does) impact on progress, how we can overcome this, and more. I’m up for all challenges.
JF: What are three potential takeaways your clients walk away with when working with you?
- Clarity on who they are, what their story and ‘why’ is, and what they can do with it.
- Renewed focus on their confidence, clarity on their inner critic, and belief in their pure potential
- Knowledge of their story and then how to use this - which is incredibly powerful.
JF: What is your “special sauce” when it comes to helping people with career development and transition?
SL: I think it's two-fold. My ability to see beyond what is just being said is something that comes up time and time again. I’m a gentle challenger, but I think this is what helps me to dig into the “goal behind the goal” for every client so that they fully own and drive their next steps. Secondly, my belief in the pure potential of my clients leaves them elevated and energized after our sessions. Most clients complain that they’re over too soon so I think that’s a good thing!
JF: You talk about how you work with clients to cultivate their “professional story”. What is this and why is it important for someone to have a “professional story”?
SL: Oh, I love this question! Talking about the power of stories, did you know that people are 22 times more likely to remember information when told through stories than when told through facts alone? Stories light up more parts of the brain and people connect with them more - this is their superpower. Your professional story is your superpower. It tells the narrative of your past experiences, your learnings, strengths, and yes- those wonderful failures from which you learned from.
Why is it important? Well if you want to connect with people, really connect with them, stories are a powerful and lasting way to leave an impression. They can make all the difference from you being a ‘possibility’ to being an absolute ‘yes’.
"Your professional story is your superpower. It tells the narrative of your past experiences, your learnings, strengths, and yes- those wonderful failures from which you learned from."
JF: What most excites you about the coaching and development industry? And, what is one thing you’ve learned recently that’s helped you grow?
SL: Being a huge advocate for stories and their power, I’m excited by the growing focus on narratives/narrative coaching in particular both in the coaching and development industry - take Brene Brown’s question around the stories we tell ourselves for example. Since I qualified in 2014, the growth in the coaching industry has been awe-inspiring. Being part of that growth drives me. What I’ve learned is that I’m never done learning! Never done improving and honing my skill set. I have two courses lined up this year ready to jump straight into, which will elevate what I can offer my client but in any session. You don’t know what a client will bring, so for me, they can be amazing teachers.
JF: As the Founder of Sarah Story Coaching, what is an “aha” moment you’ve experienced on your journey to becoming an entrepreneur and running your own business.
SL: I love the motto/saying of ‘you can do anything but not everything’. With the type of brain I have, I like to keep it stretched in many different directions. However, something I’ve learned over the past year is that focus is my friend. Maintaining that consistent focus whilst still keeping an eye on the bigger picture has enabled me to grow where I wanted and needed to. The other ‘stuff’ has taken a back seat.
JF: You started Sarah Story Coaching several months before the pandemic, how has your business adapt to the virtual landscape? Are there any lessons you learned in 2020 that you’re taking with you into the new year?
SL: Like so many others, I had to move completely online, but for me, it wasn’t a huge transition. Before the pandemic, at least 60% of my coaching was done online so thankfully it wasn’t a massive change. If anything, the pandemic drove me to create more international relationships than perhaps I would have otherwise. I’ve coached people in over 10 countries in my first ‘full’ year of business, that seems pretty wild.
The lessons from 2020 are still evolving but two things are apparent - the small things can become the big things. I tailor each experience for my clients and have learned that this is something that can help build trust and the foundation of our coaching relationship. Whether it’s a follow-up in between sessions or sending an interesting article or video they may enjoy, I love planting these relationship seeds and watching them flourish.
Secondly, connectedness is my top Strengthsfinder theme. I believe we’ll see the impact that the pandemic has had on peoples’ careers for many years to come. Not only because of lay-offs/business closures but also because people had the time (forced time perhaps) to think about what they wanted and ask those deeper questions.
"The lessons from 2020 are still evolving but two things are apparent - the small things can become the big things."
JF: Outside of the office, what inspires you to live a fulfilled life, personally or professionally?
SL: A mix of things helps me to stay fulfilled. My two gorgeous kids keep me on my toes and laughing daily. Travel is a massive part of my life and something I can’t wait to get back to in a sustainable manner once it’s safe to do so. A walk in nature or spending time with a podcast outdoors with a coffee in hand is a perfect version of ‘Santosha’ for me too. Unsurprisingly also, books are another happy place. Both fiction and personal development ones, I can eat up in a heartbeat. Need any recommendations? Don’t hesitate to reach out!
JF: At Fink Development, we’re big believers in the power of connection and community. Who are you most hoping to connect with in 2021?
SL: Connection is part of my core value set too. This year from the business front, I’m hoping to connect with anyone in the stages of a career transition. Whatever that entails both from a 1:1 and group coaching perspective and help them cultivate their stories to bring their full gifts to the world. From the personal side, I’m getting married - albeit in a much smaller celebration but still looking forward to connecting with family and friends who we haven’t seen/met because of Covid-19.
Contributor Bio: Sarah Lennon is a Career Coach and Strategist with over 10 years of experience across HR, Communications, and Marketing. An ICF Accredited Coach, she works with people who want to start a new chapter in their career, whatever way that looks.