Coach in the Spotlight: Monika Larini

Monika Larini combines coaching with a counselling approach to help individuals turn fears of the unknown into curiosity about what they’re yet to discover. In our Q&A, Monika shares her experiences of building a coaching practice in a familiar, but challenging sector.

How did you get into coaching?

For most of my life I’ve worked in the Arts and Culture sector.

I taught History of Theatre and Scenography at Tartu University and for 16 years I was CEO of the Estonian Theatre Agency and then the Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions. As part of those roles, I worked with a lot of diverse organisations, and it was interesting to observe different work cultures and understand what triggers and inspires people in different settings.

My ongoing interest in work relations led me to study Organisational Behaviour and then undertake a 2-year Career Counselling Training programme.

In English, Career Counselling is a different profession to Career Coaching but in the Estonian tradition, they are essentially the same thing.

During my career counselling course, I went to work in the unemployment office as a career counsellor, which gave me a very diverse client experience and also an understanding of my own nature and boundaries as a counsellor.

I had a strong desire to be more mobile and versatile, both in terms of content and geography.

This, combined with the courage I’d built from my diverse professional experience, led me to launch my own career coaching and counselling practice 2 years ago – Larini² Counselling.

 

It was interesting to observe different work cultures and understand what triggers and inspires people in different settings.

 

Why did you decide to become a Firework licensed Career Coach?

Even though I had strong career counselling skills, I still had insecurities about whether I had the ability to help every client I came across.

I’d just started my coaching practice and wanted to ensure I was well equipped, with more tools and a framework to use with my clients.

The pandemic also meant I had a little extra time to focus on my professional development and when I came across Firework, I was excited to take part.

I’ve used the Firework toolkit with a lot of my clients, but I don’t necessarily use the programme end-to-end. It’s great to have a bank of exercises to select from.

The Spectrum of Possibilities is probably my favourite exercise to use. It can work in so many ways and with different types of clients who are at various stages of their transition.

Firework also gave me an international network of fellow career coaches, which has been hugely valuable. My cohort established a regular online meet up to discuss and support one another with our work related challenges.

 

I had insecurities about whether I had the ability to help every client I came across.

 

Who do you typically work with?

Occasionally I’ll work with youngsters who are trying to decide on further studies, universities, and future careers.

But most of my coaching work involves career changers who’ve already had established careers.

I tend to work with individuals from the Arts and Culture sector – people who know my background and who feel more comfortable to work with someone who shares their experience.

My work very often starts from the point where a client is more scared of losing what they’ve already worked so hard for, rather than concentrating on what there is to gain from the situation.

I now supplement my counselling techniques with my knowledge of psychology of creativity.

As the pandemic has resulted in more of us working online, my client base has grown internationally, and I now coach in English too.

 

My client base has grown internationally, and I now coach in English too.

 

How did you build your coaching business? What have you found to be the best strategy for sourcing clients?

Prior to starting my coaching business, I worked as a career counsellor in the public sector.

Clients could come to me freely without having to pay for my services.

It still felt it was important to offer coaching to those who may not be able to afford it. During the pandemic, when many people in the Entertainment and Performing Arts industries found themselves out of work, career coaching and counselling became an even more important service.

So, I approached some creative unions who would be able to pay for coaching on behalf of its members. This allowed me to offer free coaching, but also earn a salary, and secured me a small but steady stream of clients from the very beginning of my private coaching business.

Many clients come to me through word of mouth because I’m well established in the Performing Arts sector.

This is a good example where after a career change our old work field and established networks can still be a very important source of fruitful collaboration.

I'm not particularly good at marketing myself but I’ve built a business on word of mouth, so luckily, I’ve never felt compelled to have much of a marketing strategy.

In addition to coaching and counselling, I also work with organisations on things like staff audits, organisational behaviour or recruitment. This is something I really enjoy, and it also occasionally brings new clients into my coaching practice.

Initially it was a pragmatic decision because I wasn’t sure how long it would take for me to build a steady stream of clients, but now I can say that these two sides of my work create a great balance for me.

I like being versatile and having both my coaching/counselling work and the work with organisations. Coaching and counselling can be very emotionally demanding, so balancing it with other work is also a healthy choice for me in the long run.

 

During the pandemic, when many people in the Entertainment and Performing Arts industries found themselves out of work, career coaching and counselling became an even more important service.

 

What challenges do your clients come to you with?

The outcomes can be very different because my clients’ stories are so unique.

As my coaching niche covers the Performing Arts sector, I’ve worked with clients who were ballerinas or dancers.

They generally know from childhood that their career will end earlier than most, but of course, they’re so focused on achieving their aspirations that when it happens, they’re rarely prepared.

Sometimes their career may finish abruptly because of an injury and that can be hard for them to come to terms with.

As a dancer in a ballet company, you’re either rehearsing or you’re on the stage – there isn't time for anything else. It’s a very demanding job and when it finishes, people have little idea about what to do next.

Coaching sessions often start with a client saying “I have no other skills”. It’s normally a long process to help that person establish a new work life for themselves.

In the creative industries, a person’s identity is very much intertwined with their career, so there’s a lot more to it than just finding a new job.

Outside of the Arts, I’ve worked with clients in managerial roles. Again, their career might end suddenly because they’ve been let go or decided to quit.

These are often highly intelligent, educated people, but they hold so much of their identity in their job title. Without that title, they no longer feel important and are questioning who they are.

Very often, my clients are in the public eye. When their future is under public scrutiny, creating a new professional start can be very difficult.

It can take a lot of work to help rebuild a person’s self-esteem.

I think what a lot of my clients have needed is reassurance that their previous experience, skills, and passions are all worthwhile and there is a lot on which to build up a new professional identity.

There's a third group of clients for whom sometimes the result is not a career change, but the opposite.

There can be a lot of pressure in society to change careers every few years and if you’re not, then, somehow, you’re not growing as a person.

I’ve noticed that this is a surprisingly strong trend in middle aged women.

Some clients come to me with the aspiration to change careers but when we start to dig a bit deeper, we realise that they often really love their work!

In these cases, I’ll help the client focus on a change of mindset – accepting that it’s ok to stay where they are if that’s what they want.

Personal growth can still happen even if a person stays in a job for thirty years. Our environment never stays static. It’s very possible that the organisation in which a person has worked for a long time can, and has, offered some opportunities for development.

 

In the creative industries, a person’s identity is very much intertwined with their career, so there’s a lot more to it than just finding a new job.

 

What challenges have you experienced in your coaching journey?

At the beginning I found it difficult to put a price on my work, which isn’t unusual among coaches! But as I became more confident in my coaching skills, that part became easier.

Obviously, it’s important to be empathetic in my role, but when I was a brand-new coach and counsellor, I tended to carry some client stories with me for far too long.

Therefore, supervision has been vital for me, and I believe it’s important for every coach to have supervision. It’s how you stay emotionally healthy in your job. As you are a mirror for your clients, you sometimes need to hold a mirror up to yourself.

When I first started my coaching business, I kept myself very busy. In a single day, I might find myself in a group counselling session, followed by training and then coaching private clients.

I quickly found that each activity required a different level of concentration and it wasn’t good to cram so much in – at least not for me. I’ve learned to allocate different types of work to different days, or even different weeks.

 

When I was a brand-new coach and counsellor, I tended to carry some client stories with me for far too long.

 

How do you see your work evolving?

This year I wrote a book which has just been sent to my publisher.

It’s a book for career changers and it explores the idea that whatever happens in a person’s life and career, we’re able to survive – that the world doesn’t end.

I share my thoughts on going against the grain, overcoming impostor syndrome and uncertainty, and creating a new identity when one career ends and another begins.

I’m very excited to see the response when the book is released in September!

I also want to focus more on helping the people I coach in terms of their creativity. In today’s world of work, there is more and more focus on creativity being one of the most valuable qualities of an employee.

But creativity holds quite a different meaning when it’s at the centre of your profession, which is the case for every artist.

It can be tiring to keep your creativity alive every single day. This is why I feel it’s an important area for me to explore more deeply in the future.

 

 

It can be tiring to keep your creativity alive every single day.

 

 

What do you wish you’d known when you started out? Is there anything that you would have done differently?

I just wish I’d done it all earlier!

I wouldn’t undo any of the mistakes I’ve made though because I've learnt some important lessons.

After running my own coaching business, I now know that you can have a lot of ideas about what you think you should be doing, but they might not always work for you!

In the coaching world it's important to understand who you are because you are your coaching business. Clients come to work with you – not a faceless organisation.

It’s important to show your personality, sometimes even your vulnerability. Again, this is where supervision can be helpful in supporting a new coach to put their personality into their business.

 

It’s important to show your personality, sometimes even your vulnerability.

 

What’s the most rewarding thing about your role as a coach and counsellor?

Coaching gives me what I think every person wants to find in their work – a sense of fulfilment from being useful.

My job provides me with the opportunity to work with wonderful people who might not be in the best moment in their lives, but they’re still beautiful.

The best thing is when I see the client’s fears melt away and suddenly, they know they’ve found a way forward.

There is this very special moment in every counselling cycle when, after many questions, lots of long silences and plenty of thinking time, the client’s eyes light up and they’ve found an answer!

That’s the most rewarding thing about my work.

 

Monika Larini is a Firework-licensed Career Coach and Career Counsellor based in Estonia who provides coaching services online and in English. After twenty years working in Arts & Culture, she now coaches performers and artists whose identities are tightly bound to their work. She empathetically and sensitively supports them to make fulfilling career shifts, often following creative fatigue or burnout, or a sudden change in circumstances. Find out more about Monika at www.monikalarini.eu/en/