What do you want to be when you grow up? My parents were both teachers and I went to the secondary school where my dad was a deputy head. My father was a great man but his profession just put that little extra pressure on “what are you going to do after school?” My answer to those questions was, “write, act, speak and change the world” but there was no tick box for that on the career advisor’s forms.
I taught dance and sang in a band, wrote poetry and subsequently attended drama school in Maastricht for a year. Then I quite unexpectedly moved to London with all the bravado of a young person who has no idea what’s awaiting her. I was supposed to stay for 6 months and the story to my parents was I was going to gain experience and learn a language. Over confidence told me that I had outgrown the small Dutch village I grew up in.
I got into drama school in West London and despite doing really well I questioned whether I was on the right track. Something was forever prompting me, but I had no idea what it was saying. I felt passionate about teaching and making the most of life.
I left drama school and started teaching dance and gradually rolled into the health and fitness industry qualifying in teaching exercise, fitness training and sports therapy. I set up a personal training company in which I worked for 18 years. During that time I studied and graduated as a coach to run a thriving coaching practice alongside the fitness business.
For 18 years I worked with individual clients from all walks of life as a trainer/coach to help them improve their quality of life. In addition I home trained celebrity clients, taught classes and went into corporate companies to deliver seminars and workshops on any quality of life improvement subject. It was inspiring to guide people to step outside the box in order to find a better and more fulfilling life. With every client it was reaffirmed that we have only one body, one mind and ultimately one life. Being instrumental in helping people change their outlook and consequently their results was a privilege.
Life has the capability to bring you down a peg or two and turn the teacher into the student. I gave birth to my first son in the knowledge that my father was going to pass away imminently. He lost the battle to cancer 8 months later and never had I been so confronted with the pain and vulnerability of life. Grief turned from a concept into a living reality that I had no idea how to deal with. But time did. My father always got cross when I said I was bored and challenged me how to think about being able to make a difference somewhere. He challenged me to read, write stories and poetry and speak. To this day he is a huge inspiration in my life.
Not long after I fell pregnant with my second baby and upon giving birth the father walked out on us. I soon went onto automatic pilot as a single mum, still preaching my healthy lifestyle message to clients. It is probably that purpose combined with the daily care for my sons that kept me going. I learned from the inside out in the face of adversity what it was like to maintain your physical, emotional and mental strength, keep your focus and how to not break under the weight that life places on you.
The end of the tunnel proves very bright when you persevere, although I was forced to leave a huge part of my life in the tunnel. If you want to move into a lighter future, you have to drop quite a lot of luggage. It is exciting and daunting to start again at 40, but rather than just teaching about living the life of your dreams, I believe it is much more compelling that I live it.
I just got married and my children have a wonderful step father. We have relocated to the coast where I am able to go for runs by the sea, complete my Psychology Degree, buy and cook fresh produce, run my business and take my sons crab fishing. For the first time in years I am finding time to do the very thing that I love and the love that I shared with my father: write. I published my first poetry book in the spring and the second book about health and wellbeing is due out end of 2011.
Health and happiness is in every way about where you are and who you are with. Not only do I hope to teach people the skills to reach their wellbeing potential, but I also aim to show people that nothing is impossible.
Kirsten de Bouter Shillam
Writer – Poet – Speaker – Coach