How This Guy Made 2 Career Transitions to Become A Professional Coach

By Ellesse

If you’re facing a dilemma making a career transition, especially a mid life career change, perhaps Mark’s story will give you some well need motivation.

Born in Belfast, North Ireland, Mark McClure was an IT instructor & engineer with various multinational companies and has been based in Japan, Tokyo since 1994. An International Coaching Academy accredited career coach, he helps people “change their game” by finding what they really love to do.

Mark is also a SOHO business owner. In June 2007, he amalgamated his interest in Career and Life Coaching with Internet Marketing to start up his first entrepreneurial venture at GoalCreationMaps, where he provides career changers with an online course on how to create meaningful goals on a 1 page mind map. Prior to his relocation to Japan, Mark was a Physics & Meteorology teacher in a public school in North Ireland. He also holds the CISCO CCIE, an equivalent of the “MBA” in the IT certification world.

mid life career transitions changes
Physics teacher turned IT engineer. Professional career coach. SOHO business owner. How did this guy manage to transit through 3 totally different arenas? Why did he make those decisions? What were some of his challenges? As part of the series for “Find A Better Job”, the 7th ranked goal in my previous poll Top 10 Goals of Goal Setting College Readers, I’ve managed to twist his arm to share with me answers to these mind boggling questions in this exclusive interview.

Mark – thank you very much for your time. To start the ball rolling, perhaps you can tell me more about yourself?

Well, what else can I say? You’ve pretty much said it all in your introduction! To just add on, probably the other more relevant thing from your readers’ point of view is that I am absolutely convinced of the power of coaching and mentoring to support and sometimes, to accelerate change in a ‘coachable’ person’s life and career. Of course I’m somewhat biased!

Having spent my teens and twenties in the United Kingdom – in a world with just 4 TV channels, no broadband Internet, no bloggers and no mobile phones – it has been an incredible ride through the last 20 years of technological and economic changes. And being based in Japan / Asia has made it even more eventful.

Now that I’m in mid life (I am 47 this year!) and my daughter is approaching her teenage years, it’s very natural to be both concerned and excited about what the next 20 years will hold. All things considered, it seems appropriate (to me) that I’m finding another way – through coaching – to express my interests in helping others again.

I understand that you were a Physics & Meteorology teacher before moving on to become an IT instructor & engineer. Those sound like 2 totally different arenas, aren’t they? What was the rationale behind the change and how did you eventually decide what you wanted?

For me, teaching was a career choice – it was never a vocation. I never had a sense that I was born to be a public school teacher – even though I knew I was getting better at it with 4 years experience. There were 2 reasons for leaving:

  • Not getting paid enough money! Way back in the 1980s UK teachers were getting promotions and minuscule salary rises based on doing silly things. Like volunteering to put the chairs away after morning assembly.
  • The UK’s National Curriculum was just starting up and I could see a bureaucratic stranglehold being put on the classroom, with the bias towards more and more tests and continuous assessment.

As for what I wanted, well, I knew it was something to do with education and learning – so I began looking in the weekly Education supplement of a UK paper called “The Guardian”. In there, after some months, I came across a job ad about a computer company looking for teachers to join their training department.

This seemed perfect except that I would’ve to leave Belfast and move to the south of England. That’s often the way with opportunities. They require tough decisions. I figured I could come back and visit my family fairly easy as it’s a 1 hour flight from London. And so off I went to spend a rather lonely January 1st, 1987 in temporary Bed and Breakfast near my new office.

Wow, that certainly sounds eventful! You know, personally I believe that every experience we go through in a way or another is there for a purpose. And I’m pretty sure your career as a public school teacher would’ve given you a head start in the instructor role. But what else did you do to prepare yourself for advancement into this new career?

Nothing much, really. Like what you’ve said, I already trusted in my instructional skills and also in my new employer’s intention to groom these for the corporate training environment. It was more about getting myself ready to move away from home, more than anything else.

Many people are aware that they need to change. But most of them aren’t willing to get out of their comfort zone. I certainly know a lot of friends like that! What about yourself? Did you have any misgivings when you first made that decision? How did you manage it?

That’s not an easy question! Some people are truly happy “where they are” even if others think they need to change.

In my case there was a palpable feeling of excitement when I applied to the computer company. Even more so when I flew over for the interview. Combine that intuitive feeling with the fact gathering process of a career change and subsequent interviews – and the pieces seemed to slot into place. It was the right thing to do.

I had 2 misgivings – one, that I was leaving in the middle of a school year. But then, if I had dropped dead the next day, life would have gone on and another teacher appeared. So I didn’t let that hold me back although I did feel for the children I was leaving. In fact I still have the “Push’n'Go” firetruck my 6th form class gave me on my last day. They’d be adults with families of their own now.

The second misgiving was that I feared the conversation with the Head Master! A case of false evidence appearing real because he was very good about it – and the apprehensions were all on my side.

Well, I’m sure the kids would’ve been happy for you! What other problems did you face and how did you overcome them?

Things rolled along just fine with a little patience and some Irish dark humour :D

Hahaha … You know, one of the banes of a career change – especially if it’s cross functional – is achieving a fair balance between remuneration and job satisfaction. How do you come to terms with that?

That’s another tough one! When I was between jobs in Tokyo during 1999, I went to a recruitment consultant determined to get an IT job in the Finance industry there. She told me something I would never forget, along the lines of “You can get an IT job there with persistence – but you may never be able to leave”. At first I thought her words were strange because for sure I would be earning 25-50% more than my previous job (this was before outsourcing became a common phenomenon) AND there were bonuses too.

What she was hinting was, that people got carried away with the extra money and for some, their lifestyle inflated to spend most of that increased income. Fortunately, my better half and I’ve been more financially prudent and put away a lot of money during my 7 years in the salt mines (sorry, it’s that Irish humour again). That made it easier to leave.

I also tend to think that life offers us challenges at different times. For example, you may have strayed away from more meaningful work for the big money. But that doesn’t mean you’ll not be tested. Either stay where you’re and “suck it up” or take a calculated risk and go for it. Easier said than done. But there are people who do it!

Well said! I strongly attest to that because I made that same calculated risk to write full time for Goal Setting College! That amount of lost income was definitely made up in the form of increased life satisfaction. Not just career wise.

Sometimes, you just have to do what you think is right! OK, back to our interview. Many months ago, I’ve just attended a career seminar and one of the speaker reiterated the importance of networking to move yourself – within or across industries. What’s your take on this?

It can be a big help. For example, the Tokyo IT world for foreign finance firms is a small niche and many of the same faces pop up in different places. Or so I’ve heard – since I stayed at the same Bank during my time there.

I’d definitely pay attention to the “don’t burn your bridges” advice if you plan on being an employee in one of those types of niches – as the hiring managers move around too!
In the brave new world of online business entrepreneurship I suspect that relationship building and networking are very valuable and essential approaches. I’ve just dipped my toe into the virtual waters with my personal blog. Maybe you can give me some mentoring as to how it’s done – I’d be all ears!

You’re definitely right on the importance of networking in the online world. Especially in the blogosphere. In fact, I actually find myself networking more than I did in the real world. Don’t think of how much you can benefit from the relationship. Think of how you can provide value to the other person.

When you start doing so, you’ll find that people will start opening up to you. I guess that pretty much works the same when finding a new career, right Mark? I know you’re a certified career coach as well. Can you share with me how and why this transition into coaching?

Well, here’s a shameless plug – you can read all about that on my personal blog MarkMcClureToday! :)

Another angle to it is that I became deeply interested in personal development and life purpose and planned to use the skills for an in-house mentoring program. But I also realized how powerful it could be to coach myself. In fact, those skills are turning out to be real useful now that I am growing an online business.

Most of my business is online – information products, coaching and mentoring by email. I do some limited one to one coaching via Skype. If you or your readers are interested in any of these services, I’ll strongly encourage you to sign up for my free mailing list on the blog. You can get members exclusive special offers and discounts!

Sure, I’ll pop by and say hello to you later :) Hmm… seems like you’re doing really well. Owns a full suite of career coaching services and products and now a personal blog too! Other than that, how has life changed now that you’ve made these career moves?

Well, my commute has dramatically shortened – from 1 hour each way to about 5 seconds. Haha! And I am able to set my own schedule and hours. It feels great to go for a lunchtime run and have no boss to answer to. On the other hand, growing net income and monitoring cashflow are ever-present realities in a startup. Although overheads for an online business are very low and manageable.

You know, I’ve never tried career coaching before. But assuming I’m someone who’s now at a career crossroad and I’ve come to you for advice, how would you go about working with me on finding something that I love to do?

First of all, in my experience, coaching only works well under these circumstances:
the client is coachable and willing to take some action. (one can look like he’s ready but only time will tell!)

The coach and client have a confidential and trusting professional relationship. Without either of these 2 the coaching will fail. Or be very limited in its effectiveness. Next up, coaching is a conversation where the coach applies the “2 ears and 1 mouth” approach.

That is, most of the talking will be yours. What I would then be looking for, are opportunities for you to become more aware of what your goals are. What you like and don’t like doing and what you are interested in changing. That normally leads into the unexplored territory of “personal responsibility”. It’s the avoidance of this, more than anything else that prevents people from making real change.

Now I should point out here that the most effective coaches I have seen and listened to are truly excellent at inspiring their clients and holding them accountable. But that’s because they see unrealized potential within the client, who often doubts or is blind to that potential.

A word of warning: I know the psychologists have a word for this. Transference, I think? But it is NOT the coach’s job to compel a client to follow through on goals and obligations. This is 100% the client’s responsibility. If you sense that you’ve to live up to a coach’s “expectations” for you, there’s probably some transference going on. In some cases, this can lead to an unusual dependency on the coach and his advice, without seeing the end. That’s not healthy in my opinion.

At the end of your coaching relationship you should be ready to politely fire(!) your coach if he has done their coaching well. That’s how good it can get after excellent coaching!

A good coach should also notice that a client may be slipping and backsliding and offer feedback to the client in a number of ways. But it’s definitely not like an irate sports coach slamming the locker room door and screaming “come on, you can do it for me. Give me one more big effort” etc etc.

While career change can be liberating and empowering, it can involve hard work and also considerable sacrifices – not least, financial. So, in my coaching, I always try to be aware that the client (and myself too, sometimes) can be suffering from “the grass is always greener on the other side” approach to career change. Sometimes that is not so – the real change to be made is in the client’s approach to and belief in their existing career and abilities. In such cases, no change is actually good change!!

Thank you for such a comprehensive analysis of your coaching approach! It’s so very common for people to assume that coaching – be it career or life – is going to solve all their decisional dilemma. At the end of the day, you still have to make the call, do the work.

Because eventually, you’re the one bearing the consequences of your actions. Not your coach! Mark, before we end this interview, do you have any books, resources or blog recommendations on career change that you’ll like to introduce to the readers?

I have some unconventional ones.

Read the Science Fiction book Replay, by the late author Ken Grimwood. If you were unmoved by self-growth exercises like “imagine the mourners at your funeral hearing about what you had or hadn’t done in your life”, then Replay may deeply move you. It made me think so much about my daughter. And what the true miracle of life may be. Well, the main character also has a daughter he grew to deeply love during one of his replays…but only in that one replay.

Another greatly underrated resource is David Allen’s book Ready For Anything. He has made his name as the Getting Things Done guru. But I can also see in this book how deeply he has pondered to be the best of what he’s capable of – and still enjoy those bonsai plants!

** Photo By Victor_Nuno


2 Responses to “How This Guy Made 2 Career Transitions to Become A Professional Coach”

  1. Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker at 7:39 pm

    Ellesse, this was a great interview. What Mark said about the client being responsible for their own growth (my wording) is definitely true. Accepting responsibility for myself and my actions has been a tremendously part of my own personal growth. Thanks for the interview.

  2. Ellesse at 2:51 am

    Hey Pat, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. What’s interesting about Mark is, not only has he made those amazing career transitions, he has moved on to becoming a career coach, helping others to do the same.

    Pat, I’m always admired your tenacity and willingness to face your past. I’m sure those are 2 very strong factors attributing to your great success today, not just as a inspiring blogger but a personality with an indomitable spirit!


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