Catherine Leduc, the one who helps people to help
To celebrate the 100th post on OUTSIDE THE BOX since the site's launch in October 2017, and on the occasion of Word Refugee Day 2018 happening today, I am pleased to share a story that is close to my heart.
I have come across Catherine a few times on social media, so when she proposed to share her heartful story and meet for a coffee, I did not hesitate a minute. We talked for a good 2 hours, and it was amazing to see how she built herself a strong mind and heart from the toughest moments of her life - a lesson for all of us.
She also brought in a lot of ideas of community projects "to help people to help", which we might get involved with at OUTSIDE THE BOX.
Stay tuned, and I hope you enjoy the below story as much as I do. Marie
Thank you very much Catherine for answering our questions!
To start our discussion, could you please let us know a little more about yourself?
I guess I would describe myself as a vibrant and energetic visionary – my mind is an incubator of projects of all kinds and since I love helping others and I am a big fan of community engagement: a lot of it has to do with bringing people together and finding creative ways to help others and help them to help!
Originally I am from Montreal (Canada) but I had big projects from an early age: I moved to the Netherlands in Europe at 26 and less than four years later I made the leap to India where I worked for close to 2 years. After a couple of moves between the Netherlands and within Switzerland, I now live in Zug.
Professionally, I am a Biochemist, though I never worked in a lab but rather created a career in portfolio management and strategic marketing in the pharmaceutical industry where I worked for over 17 years, before becoming a career coach (though I have been the go-to person for career coaching for most of my life!)
When you contacted OUTSIDE THE BOX the first time to tell me your story, you mentioned that your motto was to “help people to help”. What triggered you to think this way and start doing something?
In 2014, I was going through the roughest period of my life - a new-born baby, an international relocation, I got fired during my maternity leave and my couple exploded or more precisely my husband left me in the midst of the relocation while I was 7.5 months pregnant. For any of you who have experienced grief in any of its form, you'll know what I mean when I say that I experienced the “other side of the fence”, that level of pain that takes over your brain, heart and body like a tsunami.
It was tough - so tough I sometimes wonder how I made it! But it was at the same time the experience that taught me the most, propelled my growth and allowed me to find my path. And most importantly, it taught me levels of love, compassion and forgiveness I never even imagined existed.
Thanks to this I am now happily married to the same guy and have rebuilt an amazing and loving relationship with a much deeper bond, and we've taught our children a lot about resilience, perseverance and bouncing back in the process.
My journey helped me develop compassion and empathy at a level that it became a need for me to help and do good in my life - in everything I do.
That's when I first got involved with the refugee crisis. I jumped on the plane and went volunteering in the camps on Lesbos Island in Greece (where the dingy boats come in), clocked in over 400 hours of volunteering work including the launch of numerous projects from fundraisers, charity sales, presentations in schools to "help people to help", a photography platform to raise funds, etc.
That's also when I decided I was ready for a career shift - I needed to do something meaningful and help others, especially women - and that's the way I decided to become a coach. It became my life mission to use the learnings from my own struggles to help others keep faith and have courage through their own struggles. And really, it's my strong belief that challenges are our opportunity to connect with ourselves, learn, grow and realign with our purpose and values.
I struggled at first to work on building a successful business, as this felt so much against all I stood for and it felt selfish compared to doing voluntary work. Then I suddenly realised that the more successful I was, the more good I could do in the world!
Having success in your business means you have a platform to inspire others to do good, and it gives you financial means to reach and help a higher number of people. In this mindset, I've pledged to donate a percentage of my revenues to the cause of empowering women and I hope to be successful enough to be able to send a whole classroom of promising young girls to school and to empower them to have a future and to give a future to their daughters as well.
What kind of projects did you start, and who did they involve?
My first reaction was to jump on a plane and go directly to the refugee camps to volunteer onsite. Being a mom of two young children and being at home at the time, I could not help onsite for long periods so I decided to create my own projects to help.
I had two goals in volunteering onsite:
1. To understand what was going on there and create the necessary network to be able to help remotely
2. To better understand HOW to be of help remotely and be able to help people to help, set up more projects and engage others to become creative and proactive.
Why focusing on refugees especially?
My life experiences taught me what acute pain is. Once you go “on the other side of the fence” as I call it, you become much more aware and connected to the plight and pain of others. I could not witness what was going on without thinking this could be my children and me, and it felt as unfair that this would happen to them as it would have been if it had happened to me. I could see the despair, the needs, the suffering and all the misunderstanding and judgements so I set on a mission to become one of the numerous examples that each and everyone of us can help and make a change.
What do you think could be done here in Zug, Switzerland, to have a greater impact?
Everyone can make a change and have an impact – and I think this is really important to understand because every decision we make on a daily basis has an impact. Each time we make a purchase, we decide who we give financial power too – will it be a small woman-led business or a big corporation that uses cheap labour abroad? We have much more power than we realize, and we often fail to act upon it.
Besides every day gestures, I think everyone has the capacity to create their own projects to help and make a change.
I have a lot of mothers in my circle who are unemployed and have limited time because they care for the children and they think this is a barrier to being able to help. But with a bit of creativity, it is not! I always suggested they get together to sell their children's second hand items to fundraise for causes that they support for example. Whatever skills we have, we can use them to collect funds and support causes, we only need to be creative!
Smaller day-to-day projects are also the most powerful ones – by being aware of people in our community and what they live / go through, there are so many areas where we can make a difference! Is there a single mom who struggles financially and could use 1-2 hours of babysitting – why not invite her kids over for a playdate so she gets a break?
In the context of the refugee crisis I was really impressed by the creative solutions people found to be able to help. Some psychologists were not able to support the refugees directly because of the language barrier, so they decided to create online services to train the volunteers heading to the camp so they would be better able to support the refugees. They also offered online sessions to long-term volunteers who had trouble coping with what they witnessed – all from home, in English and with a flexible volunteering schedule!
Translation was critical: many coming from Arabic countries offered their help for rapid translation whether it was for official documents, paperwork and administration or live-in cases of emergency or other! You also have stations and remote teams across Europe which monitor boats who send distress signals and connect them to the right emergency services 24/7 and that from their home!
Sometimes it takes a bit of understanding of the needs of an emergency situation or of people around us to find such solutions, and that was precisely the opportunity I wanted to grasp in order to “help people to help”: I wanted to be able to give them information, understanding and the necessary connection and inspiration to start their own projects.
As a career coach, you are mainly supporting women who would like to boost their career or come back to the job market after a break, for instance to raise their children. Many expat women have found it hard to position themselves on the Swiss job market: lack of jobs offering work flexibility (whether in terms of time or work location), quality of the work and inequal salaries, possible discrimination in recruitment process, need to justify gap in CV…What would say about it and how can women better position themselves?
Here there are so many things to say!
Most importantly, I think it comes down to mindset – no one will believe in us if we do not believe in ourselves first! And this can be challenging when all we hear around us are the struggles and barriers that others faced in their job search.
I am not undermining or overlooking the fact that it is a challenging market especially for foreign women and for those returning to work after a break; but I am a strong believer that we create more of what we focus on. Have you ever heard of a very successful person and noticed they all talk about how they read again and again the biographies and stories of successful people? That’s one of the secrets: surrounding yourself with people who will uplift you and will brainstorm with you instead of focusing on challenges and claiming defeat before you’ve done everything in your power to succeed!
As Einstein said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. When something doesn’t work – break the mould and try something different! And most importantly we have to believe that we always have a choice to decide how we react, how we bounce back and how we create our own opportunities and reality. Yes, some things suck and some suck big time – but the decision is ours as to how we will let it impact us!
In terms of job searching, this translates into how we present ourselves – are we apologetic about having taken a career break to take care of our children, or are we empowered about our decision and what we accomplished during that break? Similarly, when asked about whether we have children or not – our body language either says “yes and I am so overwhelmed I am not sure how I will manage work and family life” or “yes and I am rocking it and I am confident I’ll rock this job just as well”: we set the tone for how we are being evaluated!
Ultimately, this translates into our personal branding and our “story”. It’s about giving ourselves credit for what we have accomplished, presenting it with confidence and pride and about understanding that each and everyone one of us as something unique to offer to the work place and to not be afraid to put it out there – clearly and confidently! Many women miss the opportunity to give value to non-paid experiences and transferable skills they have acquired - for instance managing a relocation – that is solid international project management skills and yet so few women will actually give themselves the recognition for the skills they acquire and display in such circumstances!
As for the story, it’s about showing empowerment: are you a trailing spouse who got dragged into a relocation or a woman who embarked on a journey to discover other cultures? See the difference?
You have 2 sons, what are the main values you want them to grow up with?
I try to teach them about compassion and helping others of course. I also believe that love is about forgiving and growing, and I try my best to teach them to do so by example. This was a strong reason for loving and working on rebuilding our marriage. I wanted to teach my children that life is not always easy and the struggles will be part of it.
And most importantly, I think life is about learning, which means learning the fine art of bouncing back from whatever comes your way as well as to learn to apologise because we all can make mistakes along the way.
Should you look at your sustainable journey, what would you change / what could you do better, and what would you need to progress?
We could always do more and do better!!!!
I wish I had started earlier – much earlier in fact. If I were now in the corporate world, I would try to leverage the company reach to encourage the support of good causes, and I would definitely get involved within the company to organise fundraisers, support groups for other employers going through difficult situations etc...
I’d be a STRONG advocate of awareness when it comes to burn-out and depression and of training people so that they know how to detect it in their colleagues, and how to go about it. I would also for sure be part of the company Lean In Circle, and I would probably come up with a gazillion little ideas of projects to limit waste, leverage community in the workplace to support those in need, etc… And of course, I’d keep advocating equal opportunities for women!
Anything else you’d wish to share?
I would just like to say once again that in both professional and personal life, our struggles are generally a turning point for the better. My worst life crisis has been the turning point of a wonderful journey of helping and inspiring others. It was also the point where I started connecting or reconnecting with much deeper and meaningful values, which are now driving everything I do. It has clarified my purpose, pushed me to learn, grow and make changes where needed and for the better. Pain and struggles are a process – embrace it, go with the flow with the open mindset that it will teach you something very valuable and help you gain clarity.
Catherine Leduc is a Career Coach in Switzerland. You can contact her via the below channels:
Fundraiser: photo fundraiser platform "DecorateforRefugees"
Professional website: www.catherine-leduc.com
- Group on Career Management, Job Searching, work-Life Balance and Women Empowerment: Career in Motion:
- Professional page: https://business.facebook.com/CatherineLeducCoaching/
Pics/ courtesy of Catherine