After retiring from a 20-year career in municipal bond sales, it took a session with an intuitive healer for Megan to find her path. She got certified as a coach and helps business professionals through career transitions.
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew in Chicago. My dad was an attorney and my mom stayed home and raised us. My brothers, John and Mark, and I went to Catholic grammar school and high school. I attended DePauw University, where I got a degree in Economics.
As a child watching my dad go to work every day and put in long hours, I picked up the work ethic “work hard, keep your head down, struggle.” My mom would often tell us that when it came to work, “If you love what you do and you are passionate about it, you’ll never work a day in your life. And, the added bonus is you’ll get a paycheck at the end of the week.” These were bittersweet words for Mom because she had worked for a few years until I was born and loved her job.
I didn’t think much about Mom’s advice then because working hard and struggling was what I saw around me and the message I picked up from society.
After college graduation, I was glad to be done with school and wanted to get into business and be successful. In 1985, I was hired as a sales assistant at Hutchinson, Shockey, Erley & Company (HSE), a municipal bond firm in Chicago. I had learned about the bond business and this position through my cousin, Jim, who had been working in the field for a number of years. I remember him telling me that the bond business was a great field to get into and very lucrative. That sounded great to me.
The first few years at HSE were a struggle. I was the only woman on the trading desk and worked with 10 men who were all established in the business. There was no training program for me to learn the ropes; I had to jump right in. I felt like I was in a foreign land and alone. Fortunately, the top salesman and president of the firm took me under his wing and mentored me through those tough years and beyond. And even though those first few years were hard, I never thought of quitting…I’m not a quitter! I survived and went into institutional sales. Ten years later, at the age of 34, I became the first woman partner at HSE, a thrilling moment in my career— I didn’t think I’d have a chance considering that I was now a working mom with two small kids.
Becoming a partner made me realize that I was doing well and to keep doing what I was doing. I was enjoying the business, my peers, and clients, was achieving my career goals, and making great money. Each day I took the 6AM train from the suburbs North of Chicago into the city, got into the office by 7AM and home by 5PM. It worked out fine.
When did you start thinking about making a change?
My biggest career goal was to sell and gross the most number of bonds in one day. It happened in June of 2003, when I was 43. That day, I sold and grossed what I would normally sell in two months. Yes, this was my best day ever. I remember walking to the train that night thinking to myself “Wow, this is it. This is the day I’ve been waiting for all these years. Why do I feel so empty, so unfulfilled, so unhappy?”
And that’s when it dawned on me, I had been operating with the belief that the key to success in life is to make as much money as I could. I stopped and thought, “Wow, this is not right, this is sick.” The key to success should be relationships—the relationship I have with me, God, my family, and friends. I had taken my eye off my relationships as I focused on being a parent and on my career. I had disconnected from myself, family, and friends; I felt a personal imbalance and wanted to get right with my relationships.
A second “aha” moment came that same year when I lost a friend to breast cancer. She left two kids the same ages as my kids at the time, 13 and 11. That easily could have been me. That’s when I decided to scale back my hours to get home earlier. I had always worked and never been home for the kids after school. They were now in 8th and 6th grades. I approached the president of the firm and asked him if I could take the 2:35PM train home everyday instead of the 4:20PM to be home for the kids. The firm had never done this before but he was willing to try it.
Everything was working out well at work and home however, something within me was not right. I couldn’t put my finger on it; this new arrangement wasn’t quite right for me.
So, the summer of 2005—my daughter had just graduated from 8th grade and my son had just finished 6th grade—I decided to take a leave of absence. I took the summer off. I needed to see if after 20 years in the bond business, it was time for me to retire. My boss was understanding and supported my leave; I made sure my clients knew what I was doing and had the other salespeople cover these accounts. By Labor Day, I decided it was time to retire. I went into the office, cleaned out my desk, and said my goodbyes. It felt right.
However, I was not prepared—mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually—for the difficult transition I was going to go through. I retired without a plan or support and struggled. I lost my working identity. I didn’t know who I was now, I didn’t what I was good at, I didn’t know what I liked to do for fun or what I was passionate about. My kids wondered why I retired since they didn’t need me. My husband was immersed in his work. I didn’t have even many girlfriends. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions as I tried to sort out the transition.
After deep cleaning my house and organizing my pictures, I knew I wanted to do something but I didn’t’ know what. So, I did some soul searching. I read every self-help book, went to personal development workshops, saw a therapist, and went to healers, looking for my life’s purpose. And boy, did I getting tired of searching for answers outside of myself!
I was having a session with an intuitive healer, Patricia Heenan one afternoon and I said” Patricia, I’m lost and don’t know what do with my life. Help me. What is my life’s purpose?” She said, “Have you ever heard of coaching? I think you’d make a great coach.”
What is your next act?
I am an executive and career coach with my own business, Conscious Connection, which I founded in January 2007, at the age of 46.
I have become an executive and career coach because I wish I had had one while working in corporate America and for my transition out. I named my coaching business Conscious Connection because prior to coaching I was so disconnected from myself and others. Through coaching, I was able to consciously connect to my authentic self, family and friends. In addition, I found my passion for helping others who struggling through life’s transitions, both personal and professional.
With a combination of concrete coaching tools and my unique 6-step process, I help people consciously connect to their best self—from the inside out—so they overcome obstacles and achieve the results they want, personally and professionally.
I differentiate myself from other coaches in the following ways:
- After spending 20 years in corporate America and going through a career transition without support or a plan, I know first hand how difficult it is. I now know what’s involved in navigating transitions and want to help others successfully manage theirs.
- I am a certified professional coach and have been coaching since 2007. I coach executives and individuals in career and personal transition.
- My main office is in Northfield, Illinois and I also see clients in my downtown Chicago office.
- I coach in person, by phone or via Skype.
- I offer both individual and group coaching.
- I provide workshops and presentations for personal and professional development.
- I also am a trainer and facilitator.
Here is how I define my coaching practice: Coaching is an ongoing professional partnership between coach and client to help the client operate at their very best. The client has all the perfect answers within yet at times they get in their own way and get stuck or challenged. The coach helps the client identify their inner desires and purpose and then connect them with outer goals to achieve what they want. My job as a coach is to be the objective, non-judgmental person on the outside helping the client look within to find their answers. I am there to motivate, support, challenge and keep the client accountable. Everything is confidential.
I am so thankful, humbled and inspired for my clients as they allow me to do what I love and am passionate about doing – helping them consciously connect to their authentic selves to overcome obstacles, achieve goals, navigate life’s transitions in a positive, solutions-focused approach. I have fun every day and it never feels like work….
Can you give us examples of clients you’ve successfully coached?
One female client was ready to change career paths. She had been in a consulting role and wanted to move into health care consulting—a big change. She wasn’t sure how to go about this and if her past career experiences would transfer over. We first coached on her mindset and shifted her thinking from “I don’t have the qualifications to make this move” to “I want this career change and I can do this.” Then we identified her successes, strengths, skills, passions, and areas of expertise, which helped her pinpoint the specific position she wanted and the companies to target. At this point, she began her serious research, networking, and interviewing. She landed a job eight months later and loves what she’s doing.
Here’s her testimonial:
“There is a reason why Megan is called a coach. Through her gentle questioning, assessing and leading, she helped me uncover and acknowledge my skills, abilities, and passions. Megan understands the balance of pushing versus pulling, assessing without judging. With her help, I transformed my next career step from an “I think I am ready to do this” to a “bring it on” pounce. Megan gave me the courage and direction to have confidence in my thoughts and helped me charter this next career transition. Without Megan, I still would be spinning in a world of uncertainty. She helped me gain clarity to my passions that allowed me to “get back in the game”. She is a remarkable coach and leader.”
Another female executive in finance sought me out for coaching because she had just been promoted and was suffering from “The Imposter” Syndrome. She didn’t think she was equipped to handle the new role even though everyone above her—her boss on up—knew she was perfect for the role. My client didn’t believe in herself and her abilities, leaving her with low confidence and a mindset full of fear. She was afraid she was going to fail and be “found out that she was not qualified.” Through our coaching, we identified her strengths and successes and shifted her mindset to the positive. This helped her to really believe in herself so she could step into her power, manage up, manage down, and be a successful leader. She is now thriving in her role!
Yet another woman came to me for help in making a career change. After 20 years in corporate America, she was burnt out and ready for something new. However, she didn’t know what that was or how to go about it. In the initial sessions, we discussed in depth her interests, past jobs, and ideal careers, ranging from fantasy careers to practical ones. From this, her love of dogs and the idea of owning a dog walking business surfaced. Since she didn’t know anything about this business, she started investigating and researching. She discovered a reputable dog e-walking service in her neighborhood and scheduled an informational interview with the owner. After speaking with the owner, her interest was heightened and she decided to work for the company to see if she really liked it and wanted to continue to pursue this. After two months, she told me she loved it and that the dog owners loved her.
Several months later, the owner approached my client to ask her if she’d be interested in buying her business because she was ready to retire. My client couldn’t believe the wonderful opportunity in front of her—buying a well respected, established business. Today, my client owns a thriving dog-walking business and is excited to get up every morning doing what she loves!
Here is what she had to say about our work together:
“I was looking for a coach for my career transition and was recommended to Megan Initially upon speaking with Megan, I felt an instant connection. Her approach was to get to know the whole me and to understand why I felt I needed to move on professionally. It was a lot of work and truly worth every minute. I enjoyed our sessions for many reasons and mostly because she was open, honest and kept me accountable for important issues I may have otherwise ignored. Megan gave me the validation I needed for my feelings and helped me recognize my life’s successes. She taught me how to focus on being my best self going forward. I recommend anyone struggling to find a new direction in life to call Megan and learn what are your greatest possibilities and how to enjoy the journey. ”
Tell us about Jump Start The Job Search…
In 2013, I started Jump Start The Job Search with my business partner, Sari Klein, a recruiter of 30 years. We created this program to help job seekers—college grads, professionals in transition, and people reentering the workforce— struggling to navigate the job search. Sari and I have combined our expertise and help job seekers overcome their challenges, articulate their uniqueness, stand out from the competition, and master the interview process.
For example, we helped a female executive, who came to us having lost her job because the company had decided to move her department back to their headquarters in NY. Since she was not planning on moving her family, she needed to look for a new job. She came to us fearful and overwhelmed—she worried that losing her job would come across poorly to hiring managers and she did not know how to navigate the job search. We worked with her on a number of areas focused on her self-awareness: We helped her know exactly who she is and the value she brings to a company, what position she wants, and which companies to target. From this, she created her brand statement, which she used in all her marketing materials. Next, we helped her with networking, applying for jobs, and interview prep. She had a plan, professional guidance, and accountability, which boosted her confidence and empowered her to sell herself confidently in the interview. Within six months, she landed her dream job.
Sari and I also launched an Accelerate Your Job Search Program, 4-week group coaching sessions. We had three women professionals join—two ready to make job changes and one who was downsized due to a merger after being in her role for 30 years. Seeing that these women hadn’t looked for a job in a long time, they struggled with how to launch and navigate their search. We helped them identify their unique strengths and articulate their value for an organization, then create goals and action plans to get moving. In addition, they wrote their brand statements and learned how to leverage their networks. As a result, they are all feeling confident and have a road map for their search. One woman is now in her 4th round of interviewing for a new position and the others are actively applying for jobs and using their network to uncover new job opportunities. Here is a testimonial from one of our attendees: “This class is perfect for people who have been working for a significant amount of time and find themselves unhappy at work, underemployed or unemployed.”
What topics do you speak on?
As an executive coach, I have created and present a number of professional and personal development presentations and workshops. Topics include:
- Setting goals and action planning
- Overcoming obstacles to success
- Developing leadership skills
- Cultivating dynamic communication skills
- Identifying & leveraging individual strengths
- Managing change
Via Jump Start, Sari and I give presentations and workshops. Topics include:
- The Art of Interview
- Congrats College Grads…Now What – Navigating the Job Search
- 3 keys for a successful job search
- 3 Best Networking Practices to Get Ahead in your Career
- Mindset, Tools and Mechanics of a Successful Job Search
How did you go about becoming a coach?
I researched the three programs Patricia had recommended. One of them, the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), resonated with me because it combined mind and body healing, which is exactly what I was thirsting for.
I completed iPEC’s 7-month program in January of 2007, at 46 years old. It was incredible. It helped me get reconnected to my authentic self and smooth out the difficult career transition and it restored balance in my family life. It also ignited my passion, my passion for helping professionals and executives feeling disconnected, overwhelmed, overworked, or looking for change, yet not sure how to go about it. I was well versed in transitions and wanted to help others.
iPEC’s coaching program is a 7-month training program where you meet three weekends (Friday through Sunday), every three months. The weekends are called Mods and I was in a class of 20. Class size ranges from 15 on up. The classes are led by a Head Trainer and Assistant Trainer, who teach coaching tools and techniques. iPEC has fabulous trainers and material.
Between each Mod, you do a total of five hours of coaching by phone each week. This entails coaching a peer, a peer coaching you, mentor coaching calls, tele-classes, etc. These are all designed to give you coaching practice, which was great! In the peer coaching, you are coaching others and being coached on your own life challenges or areas you want to be stretched in. Also, you use these sessions to practice coaching skills and techniques.
The program is not hard to get into and costs approximately $9000. iPEC is located in NJ and has trainings in a number of cities in US.
I really enjoyed the Mods, the people, and the homework. It’s amazing how close you get with your peers. The students’ ages range from early 20s to 60s. You have people from corporate America as well as those who are just starting a coaching practice.
My family and friends were very supportive of my new career. Seeing that I was not working at the time, just going through the program, I had no difficulty balancing my coaching training and home.
What challenges have you encountered in setting up your coaching business?
When you are an entrepreneur, you are in charge of all the facets of your business. So it’s easy to think that I need to do everything myself. What I’ve learned is it’s best to do the tasks that I am good at and hire quality people to do the tasks that I don’t like doing or that are hard and time consuming.
It took me a long time to hire help. To make sure I continue to grow my business, I have professional and personal support. My business coach is Margie Beiswanger of Transform Your Brilliance. My editor and social media specialist is Frances Archer of Content First. And my bookkeeper is Mary Ellin Innes of Innes Bookkeeping.
In addition, I rely on the support of my peer coaches, not to mention family and friends.
Are there times when you’ve thought about giving up?
As a sole business owner, there are always times I question if I should just go back to corporate America and get a job. Then I think, no way; there are so many people I want to help and I really like working for myself. More importantly, I am on my path, following my life’s purpose. I am living my mom’s advice—thanks Mom!
What have you learned about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned a new definition of success: Doing what you love and are passionate about is doing something that helps others. And the added bonus is getting paid for what you love doing! This is what success means to me now.
I’ve learned that we all have the perfect answers inside of ourselves; no one else does. Throughout my life, I’ve been the one to ask others, “What should I do? How should I handle this?” because I don’t always trust my judgment but respect theirs. I’d take their advice and do it their way. In the process of doing it their way, I’d realize my way was better and sometimes end up doing things twice.
I’ve learned that we always have a choice in life no matter what the circumstance, transition, or challenge. We have a choice as to how we want to show up, how we want to handle a situation, and what path to take. Realizing this is empowering. Being a victim is not the only option.
I’ve learned that our thoughts really do create our reality. So, focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. I sure wish I’d learned this a long time ago!
I’ll always have a coach to help me get unstuck, keep me accountable, and move me forward so I achieve my goals. For these reasons, I think everyone should have a coach.
What advice do you have for women looking for midlife reinvention?
The key is self-awareness: taking the time to do the “inner work.” Know who you are and what is truly important to you; know what you are good at and what you are passionate about; cultivate a positive mindset.
I call this being connected to your inner GPS system. Our inner GPS consists of our values, strengths, passions, and mindset. We all have these inner resources; they are the basis for all our decisions and actions, and allow us to live an authentic life. Oftentimes, we forget to access them or aren’t aware of them.
When working with clients, I have concrete tools to help them connect/reconnect with these inner resources. Then, a person is able to make a career plan and start moving in the direction.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a coaching career?
Talk to other coaches and find out how they got into it and what makes them successful.
There are many types of coaches. In fact, there is a coach out there for every niche: life coach, spiritual coach, relationship coach, divorce coach, money coach, business coach, parent coach, health coach, corporate coach, sales coach, etc.
In my opinion, the best candidates to become coaches are those who want to help others in a positive, solution-focused way to achieve their dreams or reach personal and professional goals. It helps if they have experience or are experts in the particular field of coaching they are pursuing. My own desire to become a transition coach came from not having help while going through my difficult career change. With all I’ve experienced and learned about change and transition, I want to help others navigate change more successfully than I did.
While anyone can claim to be a coach and set up shop, the most credible coaches have gone through a coaching program and been certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF), the world’s largest coaching organization.
If you’ve never set up a business before, I recommend getting a business coach. A business coach knows all the necessary elements needed to make a successful business vs. having a hobby. As a coach, I know how to coach people and have the proper tool and techniques. What I didn’t know that my business coach helped me do was: identify my target market; create my personal brand statement; formulate my coaching methodology; learn about selling and getting clients; learn and utilize marketing and social media; become a public speaker in order to create and deliver presentations and workshops. Finally, a business coach keeps you accountable so you do the work.
You’ll need to network and promote your services in order to find clients. I find clients through referrals, Facebook, LinkedIn, my online newsletter, and by giving presentations and workshops.
Choose your location and hours carefully to optimize convenience, both for your potential clients as well as yourself. My main office is near home but in a separate location in Northfield, Illinois, but I also have an office in downtown Chicago to cater to my city clients. I work 4.5 days a week. Fridays I’m off by 1pm. One day a week I reserve for evening coaching.
For information on coaching and certification programs, go to the websites for iPEC and ICF.
Here are books I recommend:
Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges
The Seasons of a Woman’s Life by Daniel Levinson
How to Master Change in Your Life: 67 Ways to Handle Life’s Toughest Moments by Mary Carroll Moore
This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love by Tama Kieves
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics) by Pema Chodron
Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra
StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
Contact Megan Walls at firstname.lastname@example.org
Professional Coach, Conscious Connection
Suburban location: 1780 Ash Street #101 Northfield, IL 60093/ 847-490-5776
City location: 115 S. LaSalle Street #2600 Chicago, IL 60603
Facebook for Jump Start the Job Search
Email or call me for a complimentary consultation
Join Sari and me for our next Jump Start the Job Search program, a FREE event at the Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook, Illinois on March 3 at 7pm
Congratulations To Chicago-Area College Grads…Now What? Navigating The Job Search After College
Your kid just graduated college or will be graduating in this spring! Yay! But let’s get real for a second: the real work is just beginning because employers aren’t rolling out the red carpet, competition is fierce and your graduate can’t simply join AfterCollege.com and call it a day.
Join Sari Klein (expert recruiter) and Megan Walls (career transition coach) for an interactive presentation on how to land that first “dream” job.
You’ll learn about: • 3 networking tricks the pros use • The 3 Resume Commandments • Nailing the all-important interview …and much more including Q & A
RSVP by March 1st – 847-897-5037
These kinds of stories are always inspirational and encouraging to women who are reinventing themselves. there is a lot of info here that any potential coach would find useful as well.
Thanks for reading Carol!
Wow, what an amazing story! I’ve just come to realize the difference between having a successful business vs a hobby. Great read!
Thanks so much for reading Monica. I learned so much too!
What a marvelous story and one of courage and conviction. I love that she listened to a healer, something I always wanted to do. Helping women through transitions is important work.
Megan’s story is so inspirational. Becoming a coach seems like a natural progression for her. I’m so happy for her that she rediscovered herself in midlife!
This is such an inspiration! I’ve also recently left a 20+ year career to pursue a profession I’m more passionate about, and stories like these really motivate me and reaffirm that I’ve done the right thing. Thanks so much for sharing.
Reading it Megan makes it sound like a logical transition once she was on track for what she wanted. Of course she talks about the work involves to achieve her success, which is great and glad she shared it with you!
Not only was this inspirational and definitely motivating, it was also educational. Taking time to do the inner work if great advice. Thank you
Megan: Thanks for telling your story. I grew up in Winnetka, went to New Trier High School and the University of Chicago. I was Nancy Farwell then.
My father earned the first doctorate of electrical engineering given at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana, and later veered into the business world as a management engineer (originally they used the name “efficiency expert!”) He headed his own firm on W. Monroe, Chicago, until he retired. He and my mother had built a home at 755 Happ Rd., Northfield after selling their home in Winnetka, and my father became the first Administrator of Northfield.
His name was Stanley P. Farwell. That was his retirement choice, to be useful.
You can tell I am “somewhat aged,” 92, to be exact. Thanks for your account of your success in business and also what came after. As for me, my husband (and I ) moved to Oregon from Boston, where he had attended medical school and then he practiced surgery here for 45 years while I was an instructor in English at Oregon State University, and, incidentally, raised six wonderful children. I’m glad you’ve done so well in Northfield, and enjoyed your family.
I love your story, Nancy! I went to the all girls Catholic high school in Northfield called Marillac. I enjoyed this article by Megan because I too am a career coach and found her story and approach inspiring. I also love the Northfield and Chicago connections!
And I love how Megan stresses the mindset work, which too often is overlooked in the haste to gain employment!
Megan is having some technical difficulties and does not seem able to post replies or even a general comment but she asked me to write for her how much she has enjoyed sharing her story and how much she has loved reading your comments. She sends a great big thank you to all!
Hey Hélène !!
I really appreciate it.Your content is valuable.Midlife is a lot like being a teenager again — only with more wisdom. We may not stay out all night and party, but many in their 40s and 50s experience the same restlessness and yearning for change. We’re still asking questions about what we want to be when we grow up, but the questions are deeper, more profound. This time we won’t settle for less than what makes us truly happy.
Keep sharing !!
Thank you so much for your thorough story! I stumbled across your profile as I am currently looking into certifications (iPEC was at the top of my list!). I’m so glad to see that it has given you strong training and allowed you to build a thriving business.
I’m looking forward to reading more about your programs and all of the exciting success stories!
Thanks for reading Emily. I’m also an iPEC coach and recommend the program highly. Reach out to me anytime if you want to learn more. All the best to you!
Thank you Megan for sharing your career transition story! I love how you got there by realizing that the secret to success is focusing on relationships. After all, that is a large part of what executive coaching is about! I love how you got into a career that you love and that is so rewarding!