The power in pausing: rediscovering my authentic self with coaching

I think back to being 21 in the late 80s. I’d graduated with a degree in computing and technology — the first ever course of its kind — and had secured a place on a competitive graduate scheme.

When the opportunity came up to travel to America, I threw my hat in the ring. Soon after that, I found myself in Texas, in a rental car, navigating my way to my first meeting using a physical map. These were the days before mobile phones and sat navs.

Looking back, I’m both proud of my 21-year-old self and a bit horrified. I’d been away to university, but I was still very green and low on life experience. It was such a big thing to do at that age.

It was during this time that I created a persona. I was a young, British Asian woman starting my professional career in an industry dominated by men. That persona said: ‘don’t mess with me’.

The persona bore little resemblance to who I was outside of work. My family and friends wouldn’t have recognised me.

In many ways the persona served me well. In the years that followed, I was able to climb the career ladder with confidence. I moved pragmatically between the finance, media and energy industries. I travelled around America. I relocated to Singapore. I moved back to the UK. I also became a mother. I volunteered in Ghana. I took time out to support two children with complex needs at my son’s school — prompted by a random conversation with the headteacher at drop off.  I’d become something of an expert in facing challenges and managing change.

I joined the bank 5 years ago, which is where I am now. I absolutely loved the work and the mission. I still do.

When the pandemic hit, it prompted the first of two major and unexpected changes in my leadership style.

First, I had a window into the worlds of those I worked with. Children appeared on camera, sitting on their parent’s knees. Partners made tea in the background. Cats walked across dining room desks. I knew my team in a professional sense but had very little awareness of their lives beyond that. I’d always been so busy and was always so focussed on getting the job done that personal connection wasn’t something I valued.

Now their lives came into my life, I started to feel myself soften. Of course, it was a difficult time for everyone, but making those personal connections with colleagues, something that I’d previously resisted, made work more fun. Ibecame more fun.

With the roll out of the vaccine and the virus under better control, I really looked forward to our first in-person leaders’ team meeting.

It was on that day that I ended up in A&E.

There was a tumour in my uterus and there was a 50-50 chance of it being cancer. My heart simply couldn’t take any more and my body crumpled. The consultant asked me why it had taken me so long to have my symptoms checked out.

I couldn’t speak, let alone explain.

I’d known for some time that something wasn’t right. My husband urged me to get checked out for months. The busyness at work made it easy for me to ignore the fact that I was having trouble sleeping, that nighttime sweats meant I had multiple ice-cold showers in the night. My hair was brittle, my skin had aged, my mood low and I was beginning to feel anxious and struggling to concentrate. My joints hurt and I had a perpetual bad back. I also had other personal symptoms no woman should ignore.

But I did. I continued to work long hours and forced myself to fit in my exercise as well as continue to be a good mother, wife, daughter, friend and colleague.

I underwent surgery — a full hysterectomy — and went into full on menopause overnight.

Returning to work was one of the biggest challenges I faced. My boss said clearly: ‘I want you back once and well.’ Meaning that I needed to take the time and space to fully recover.

I’d been open to the idea of coaching long before all of this happened. The talent team at work had suggested three coaches. Eunice was the first I reached out to. We clicked instantly. I knew I didn’t need to contact the other two.

Our most valuable work, and the second great shift in me, happened at this time. We started to think about how I would come into the workplace again.

Navjot Wyld
Director, Capability, Technology and Operations


One to one executive coaching enabling women leaders to step into their power