WHEN seeking the services of a Life Coach, would you feel more comfortable with one who had themselves experienced adversity and huge challenges in the roller-coaster of life?
You will get that with Emily Hurley-Wilkinson, who has faced infidelity, the theft of her business identity, ill health, the death of a close family member, and four house moves in five years — not to mention an ongoing dispute with banks and developers over a house where she once lived.
And yet she smiles radiantly and infectiously from the cover of her book.
“That smile is someone fighting back,” says Emily.
Self-published and launched on Amazon last October, her book has been accepted into major Cork stores Waterstones, Vibes and Scribes and Liam Ruiséal’s in recent weeks, exposing her to a wider audience.
Raised in Togher as one of seven siblings, and now living in Mallow, Emily feels that everything she has done in her professional life has been related to the development of people, so although she has had a varied career, it has all led to where she is now.
When she left school she worked at a local model agency, helping to teach deportment and grooming, while later she took up a role at the Southern Fashion Design Centre, an outlet dedicated to Munster-based fashion designers, where she was involved in the process by which the designers were chosen.
In 1990, when Emily says her “mojo” was at the higher end of the scale, she moved to London and worked in the competitive world of media sales, succeeding well and climbing the ladder.
She returned to Ireland in 2002, eight months pregnant with her eldest son, Josh, but on her very first night back she got the news that her partner (now husband) Spencer’s father had died.
New Zealander Spencer had to leave immediately for his home country for three weeks. It was an example of positive moments in Emily’s life being tinged with sadness and stress, a trend that unfortunately was to continue.
Professionally, at that time, she was itching for something different.
“I was passionate about people and I found I wanted to immerse myself fully in people and help them realise their goals,” she says. “I went back to the beginning and focused on the individual, to help them become their own expert. People ask what is a life coach and I say I’m a facilitator of positive change.”
Qualifications were to follow in 2006 when Emily was awarded a Coach Institute Diploma in Business, Executive and Personal Coaching, endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management.
In 2013, she gained Certification in Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) from the Institute for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Ireland. These achievements are all the more remarkable considering they came in markedly stressful years. It was in 2006 that the family purchased what she thought was going to be their ‘forever home’; a brand new build. Within a few years, however, she says various issues with the house began to emerge.
“Josh got acute asthma when he’d never suffered from any respiratory problems before,” she recalls. “We went home from the doctor’s and took down the posters from his walls and saw mould growing behind them in his bedroom.
“By 2012, we were all starting to suffer upper respiratory and sinus related problems. We were at the doctors constantly, especially with the children. Then I got pneumonia and it knocked me for six, emotionally and physically. I went to the doctor and she said, ‘You’re going to have to leave that house’. And so we fled — I always use the word fled because we did run.
“I remember I went down Main Street, tears dripping out of my eyes, thinking, ‘where am I going to go?’”
The family has since been in rented homes, most of which have only been offered for short term letting, hence four house moves in five years. They fought to save their home from repossession and in 2010 started legal proceedings over the mould and other alleged problems, and are still awaiting their High Court date.
“Many years have gone by but I still do get quite tearful when talking about it,” says Emily. “We haven’t been able to be a part of a community — we’ve had one foot in and one foot out, as you never know how long you’re going to be anywhere.”
Her second qualification came in 2013, the year in which her beloved father was diagnosed with dementia and she had her business identity stolen, which brought undercover officials to her door. Criminals in Northern Ireland had stolen her VAT number and were buying illegal goods on the back of her number. She has since been allocated a new number.
However, it was also in that year that she decided to put down her thoughts on paper for a book. She’d been working with organisations and health care providers as part of their wellness initiatives but ironically her own health was suffering.
“I was doing talks around the country on work/life balance, but with all the stress I was experiencing I had to make a decision to stop”, she explains. “Someone said to me, ‘How are you coping, Emily? You must be very resilient’. I thought long and hard about the word because I’m not made of steel, I feel pain. But resilience is described by people as an adjective, like ‘hardy’ and ‘tough’; it’s not seen as a process.
“Look at kids in college — they have to focus on employment skills; then you become a parent and it’s all about parenting skills and at work maybe it’s time management skills. Where is the focus on resilience skills?”
There is a huge focus on resilience in Emily’s book.
“How we approach life and how we handle all that life throws at us can have a massive impact on our experiences of life and it is the cultivation of ‘resilience’ that can make all the difference.
“Resilience is a game changer for a person. Resilience is not a passive quality but rather a pro-active process; in other words it’s about taking a series of actions to cultivate resilience.
“The book brings to life the five core qualities or traits that are essential for cultivating a resilient approach to living, through an acronym that I call PAUSE.
“Not only does PAUSE mean quite literally to stop and breathe (too many people short-cut breathing which can exacerbate stress and anxiety) but PAUSE stands also for the five essential resilience qualities — Positive, Accepting, Undeterred, Self Care and Empathy.”
Emily has had to overcome challenges while putting her own System PAUSE to the test. She believes that she would not be the person she is today had it not been for her approach to resilience as outlined in her book.
“The experiences I’ve had have been useful. I haven’t sailed through life; I haven’t had a charmed life,” she says.
She shares her own personal stories throughout, which makes it a very honest and relatable read. We learn, for example, that she has experienced infidelity in the
when she literally found her then-partner in bed with another woman; and we discover that she had a lumpectomy in 2014, although fortunately with a positive