• Sara Torpey

One Path from Teaching to Coaching

I am one of those rare people that grew up knowing exactly what I would be when I grew up. I was going to be a teacher, and that’s exactly what I became, at least to start out. After college, I went right out and started my career as a middle school math and science teacher. I wasn’t planning on middle school, or math, but it turned out that I loved both.

Then, relatively early in my career, I was offered an opportunity to become a coach who worked with other teachers in their classrooms, focusing on things like improving instruction, understanding how to help kids with a range of abilities, and trying new and innovative approaches. I LOVED this role. I had wonderful colleagues, was lucky to be on the receiving end of amazing professional development in coaching and teaching, and worked with amazing teachers all over my local area. I worked in middle school, and then,eventually, was asked to move to working with elementary teachers. Working in elementary schools was different, but something I ended up loving equally, if not even more.

And then we moved to a new state to follow my husband’s job.

As a life choice, it was a great decision.Truly, it’s one that nearly 10 years later we still congratulate ourselves on the back for having the courage to make. But as a career choice...well, it certainly didn’t feel smart at the time. It felt like a bad idea (2010 was a bad time to leave any job, a tenured-teacher job in particular), especially since I was leaving what I thought was my for-sure path.

In reality, though, it was a great opportunity. Years later I’ve come to see it as the world’s way of giving me the life-experiences I needed to be who I am, where I am today.

Soon after we moved I was approached by a friend to do training for a curriculum he was helping to sell to schools. When I interviewed for that part-time role, I was invited instead to work for that company full-time, doing project management for digital education tools. After much thought, I said yes, even though it wasn’t at all what I had planned - it was a detour, for sure (but in the end, one that was useful for where I was going even if I didn’t know it yet!).

I started with the company, working from home mostly, and over time that initial role morphed into semi-sales, and, amazingly enough, coaching. Once I really learned how the business worked, I found myself coaching sales team members, managers, and colleagues on how to work with schools, on teaching, and now, on business and sales skills. In retrospect, my time in this role was amazing, and instructive - I learned so much about business, people, and the way to build new ideas into businesses - and it turned out those were skills I would soon use in new ways.

After a number of years in the corporate world, I realized that while I was in a job that I liked, I had traveled too far from what I was good at and loved most. I missed teaching, and helping others to grow in some way - I knew deep down that I needed to make a change. As much as I was nervous to leave a flexible, well-paying job, and was unsure of how to build a flexible schedule that would be equally rewarding in the work, I knew that I had an idea for a digital education company, and I knew I could find a way back to teaching given some time. I felt confident that the lessons I learned in my corporate role related to business would serve me well as a moved toward building one of my own.

So I asked for my full-time role to become part-time, and started to work at creating a new business. At the same time, I searched for, and happily found, a number of great opportunities to teach, and was getting the chance to use my best skills to do my best work.

About 6 months later, I completely left the comfortable check and safe place for part-time teaching and full-time entrepreneurship - roles that were better for me and allowed me to do things I was best at. My new roles gave me the chance to learn, to grow, to be challenged and to be stimulated in new ways. I felt like I was moving back toward my ‘path’ - even if it was a different-looking road than the one I had originally envisioned.

As I began to dig into owning a business, I realized how much I had to learn (SO MUCH) as a first-time business owner. I found time and again that I wasn’t sure if the thing I was trying to learn was the thing that would make the most difference for growing my business. I searched out friends, networking groups, courses, and basically anyone else and anything else with expertise in the things I was new at, and used them to help me grow.

As I was teaching, and working at my business, I also said yes to so many other kinds of things.

Some of it was out of an effort to try what was available to me, and see what I liked doing and some was out of fear (of not enough money coming in, and of other things). I took every opportunity that came my way really learned a lot - but eventually I found that I was doing myself more harm than good. Like many other entrepreneurs, my fear of opportunities never coming back around meant that I was so busy doing other people’s work, that I wasn’t making enough time to focus on my business and my goals. As a result, we grew, yes, but slowly, and not in the focused way that we might have given more time, and more sunlight.

It turns out - as I’m sure you know - that taking on too much, for too long, is a bad idea. After two years or so of all yes all the time, and a super-exciting bout of stress-induced vertigo, I realized that opportunity is great, but saying yes all the time wasn’t. Saying yes should actually line up with all the things I want to achieve, and not cause me to overreach so much that I can’t see my way forward. I was reminded that sleep matters, and so does being true to your objectives, goals, and calling.

As I started to say no to things that didn’t fit my path I ended up with more opportunities - but ones that actually we in line with my work. I found myself in the position of using the lessons I have learned from teaching, from corporate sales, from coaching, and from my own businesses, to help others - primarily friends and friends of friends, to grow their businesses. After all of these turns, opportunities, and misses, once I sat down and took a minute to recognize what was going on, it turned out that I was back, once again, to coaching.

And that is where I am, right now, today.

I own two businesses. I co-own an education company, and now a coaching practice focused on helping businesses and business people get organized, get focused, and get moving toward growth. I teach, I parent, and I learn (and I edit on the side...yes, I still find that some no’s are harder to say than others!). I work hard to stay true to my goals and my calling which are teaching, listening, and helping other people grow.

In this somewhat-crazy combination of things I love, I have found a center. A place to use what I am best at to help others do their best. I have learned to listen to my internal compass. And I have come nearly full-circle, back to a place where I can help others do the same. All the way back to coaching.

My story is unique because it’s mine; I’m sure that you too have an amazing story of how you got to where you are now. If you are in a business, and would like to connect, please reach out on Facebook, or via email! If you have a small business, or are a business person who could benefit from coaching around organization, focus, priority-setting, systems/processes and growth, I’d love to chat. You can set up a free 1-hour conversation here!

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