Ingrid Seim lost her mother after a terminal illness, moved house, changed jobs, gave birth, and saw her relationship break down, all in 24 months. But instead of going through ‘the wall’, which she assumed would happen eventually, she hit it spectacularly, and suffered a burn-out that took her the best part of a year to recover from.
As a result, Ingrid completely re-evaluated her life and now runs a consultancy and coaching business, to help women before they reach maximum overwhelm like she did.
And perhaps at no other time in recent history are her services more relevant, as studies are showing women are carrying a significant share of care responsibilities brought on by the pandemic.
Originally from Norway, Ingrid moved to Ireland to study in UCD in the mid-1990s. She only planned to stay for a few years, but herself and her three children have called Cork home for the past eight years.
She enjoyed a 20-year career, working in leadership and mentoring with global multi-nationals including Amazon, and to an outsider looking in, she was on top of her game.
But the reality couldn’t have been more different in the period from 2014 to 2016, when her mother fell ill and she was travelling between Ireland and Norway, she had small kids and her relationship floundered.
“At the time I just kept on going because I thought that’s what women do, that there was no choice but to get on with it,” said Ingrid.
“I was at a place where I had internalised the overwhelm, and I kept on going because I felt I’d get through it eventually, but at some point I hit the wall rather than going through it.”
Ingrid was so impacted by her own experience that completely drained her, that she felt compelled to help others and trained to become an accredited psychological coach and earn a master’s degree in Coaching and Positive Psychology from UCC.
Ingrid, who is mum to a 13-, nine- and seven-year-old, admits there can be an element of pride among some women in trying to do it all.
“We’re good at planning, we’re good at taking things on and looking after the family. We can admit that it’s hard, but we may not want to admit that there are options to change things.
“But my motivation is to really help women see that they don’t have to do it all,” said Ingrid.
“Of course, it’s not just our mindset that gets in our way. There are many structural and societal issues at play as well including childcare and domestic labour that impact how we live our lives.”
The key questions Ingrid asks her clients at Avenues Consultancy and Coaching are: “What is the life you are currently living? And what is the life you want to live?”
Essentially, it’s a matter of filling in the gaps, but of course it’s an awful lot harder than it sounds.
“I try to help clients see that everything can’t take place in the future, so a lot of the work we do is about trying to see what steps they can do right now.”
That involves creating a vision for the next week, six months, 12 months.
“I ask clients to describe how their day would look if everything went as well as possible and there can be a few surprising results — we don’t always realise what it is we want until we allow ourselves to dream in this way. A lot of visualisation is about tricking the body and brain into thinking something has already happened; when you are putting yourself in that space you are more likely to see options and creative solutions.”
For some clients, a dream day may involve finding time for a walk, whereas the reality may see them at home cooking what might seem like an endless amount of dinners.
“In which case, I might suggest outsourcing some of the cooking — which sounds like a simple solution, but the guilt associated with it can take a surprising amount of work to overcome. I still have to work on this myself. If the solution in this case was as simple as just getting takeaways, we’d have resolved this by now: women are very resourceful!
“A lot of the time, we can block our own solutions. But there are things we can do, and we owe it to ourselves to try. It’s OK to say ‘I can’t do that’ and feel OK with that.”
Ingrid says it’s essential, especially in pandemic times, that women feel more supported in the workplace, and part of her work is also directly with organisations that are eager to put in measures to retain their female talent.
“Otherwise we’ll see even more women, especially those with children, leaving the workforce at a time when we need more women moving into senior leadership roles.
“Employers need to step up in terms of flexible work and making women feel they’re in a safe environment and able to say what they need while still being regarded as committed.”
1. Make a plan for the week. But make it realistic. Decide what you want your three most important achievements to be — anything else is a bonus. Take short-cuts wherever you can.
2. Give yourself a little treat every day. It can be something small, like hiding away in your room with a cup of coffee for five minutes! But do one thing that is just for you, and make sure you tell yourself that that’s what you’re doing. I learned this from Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks and have tried to live by it ever since.
3. If you’re working and the current situation is impacting on what you can get done, make sure you talk to your employer. A note to employers here: you should already have instigated this conversation — and made sure you have it with both male and female employees. Otherwise we are just perpetuating the stereotype of everything domestic being women’s responsibility.
4. Breathe. Every couple of hours, breathe in and exhale deeply three times. Set an alarm for this if you have to! It’s amazing how this simple exercise can make you feel.
5. See the big picture. We are living through a pandemic and we are just trying to get through it as best we can. There are enough stressors at the moment, don’t add to them by putting unrealistic expectations on yourself. Put you and your family’s mental wellbeing above anything else.
For more on Ingrid’s work see https://avenues.ie, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram