On Kindness: Sarah Starrs
Sometimes we need help.
Not more than 5 months ago, I was feeling depressed, anxious, and restless. I couldn't sleep at night and moved through my day with an exhaustion that wouldn't lift. I had projects I wanted to start but didn't know where to begin. I felt stuck in my job, my relationships felt forced, and I was losing hope in many facets of my life.
Enter Sarah Starrs. (Even her name sounds magical). I found her through another blogger I'd been following - that's the beauty of the blogging world: you make connections to amazing people you would likely never know without the network. Lucky for me, Sarah, life coach extraordinaire, was holding a handful of free sessions for the public.
Though I'm usually anxious when meeting new people, Sarah's friendly spirit and upbeat suggestions put me at ease. Our Skype session fell into an easy chatter about what I wanted my life to look like: what did I hope for in six months? What was I looking to make better? What would my next steps be to make my dreams a reality? Sarah gave insightful suggestions to ponder over. I remember thinking it a genius idea to set up a morning routine I could get excited about so I would stop pushing the snooze button 5 times. "Make your coffee the night before, pick out a great outfit, and plan your breakfast. When the alarm rings, get out of bed and shut the bedroom door on your way to the bathroom," Sarah offered. And I'll tell you - I don't hit snooze nearly as much anymore.
Below, I ask Sarah a series of questions I had been wondering about since our meeting.
K&B: How did you get into the business of life coaching? What inspired you?
Sarah: My foray into coaching started in a somewhat odd place: a university philosophy classroom. Backing up, I’d struggled with depression since I was a young girl and although cognitive behavioural therapy had given me some tools for managing my mood, I still had pretty limiting beliefs around who I was and what I was capable of. In fact, I was quite a naysayer. I dreamed of an exciting life as a writer, full of travel and romance and interesting people but I thought those kinds of things were possible for other people, not for me. And then I was introduced to the concepts of existentialist philosophy. It’s that kind of mind-bending thought system that makes my brain hurt - but to offer a super short synopsis: existentialism tells us that we are radically free. Free to choose what we do and how we act in every moment. We may be limited by our circumstances or history or physical constraints but we are always free to choose how we take up those limitations. At first, I really resisted these ideas. I was stuck in my “shoulds” - they were comfortable. But around the same time I had started reading self-love bloggers like Gala Darling and Alexandra Jaye Johnson and I started to see a lot of similarities between what I was learning in my philosophy class and what I was reading online – namely an emphasis on personal responsibility and taking control on your own life. Looking at life through the lens of existentialism and self-love shifted something inside of me. Not all at once, but slowly I started to take risks because I knew I had to take complete responsibility for my life. The things I wanted were possible and it would be my choice if I denied myself them. Looking back, one of those first steps that proved to be truly pivotal for me was taking my first trip to Europe after graduating university. This set in motion a string of events that would change my life in so many ways and really shaped who I am today. I was also devouring all of the personal development content I could get my hands on and was exploring a healthier lifestyle. I spent hundreds of hours reading books, going to workshops, and studying with experts. I experimented with everything I was learning and started a blog to document my adventures. My life opened up in so many amazing ways. Since then I’ve launched a magazine, traveled around the world, moved from Canada to the UK, started my own business, met the love of my life, and got married.
I fell into life coaching almost by accident. People who read my blog would ask for help making the kinds of changes I had made in my own life. I started by releasing an online course and working with people one-to-one. I was studying life coaching on the side and it all really grew from there.
K&B: So interesting! I can see why your readers wanted to hear your advice on how to change things for the better. What would you say your favorite part of life coaching is?
Sarah: As cliche as it may sound, the transformations I see in my clients is what I love most about my job. Whether it’s finally achieving a big dream or having a profound realization of who they are, it lights me up to see them finally recognize their own brilliance. I’ve always been drawn to the helping professions; growing up I wanted to be a large animal vet and I started my career in the non-profit sector. Coaching just ended up being the zone of genius where my skills, knowledge, experience, and passions all intersect. But I never want to claim that I have it all figured out; I’m on this journey too and I learn so much from my clients. Working as a coach means that I’m always learning new techniques and deepening my own personal development; it’s an incredible gift to get to do this work.
K&B: Yes, and you're so talented at what you do! Do you have a specialty?
Sarah: I specialize in helping women make self-love a lived reality (rather than a vague, amorphous concept) so that they can achieve their biggest dreams and design a life they adore. People come to me from all sorts of different starting points. Often it’s because they’ve developed an interest in personal development and they’ve been experimenting with what they’ve learned. They want to make lasting positive changes but so far nothing is sticking. Or they have something they’ve been dreaming about doing for years but they’re overwhelmed and afraid and have no idea where to begin. Whatever it is, I’m their mentor, and cheerleader, and accountability buddy.
K&B: Through just one meeting, I could feel that energy from you. You mentioned struggling with depression earlier on. Have you ever gone through an experience that you thought may have brought you closer to understanding your clients?
Sarah: The reason I’m so good at my job is because I’ve been there. I’ve clawed my way out of depression and cultivated a deep, lasting sense of self-love. I’ve overcome my limiting beliefs to design the life I really want to live. And I’ve faced my fears and overwhelming uncertainty and made big dreams happen. I’m able to relate to my clients and because of that, I’m able to help them make the changes they want much more quickly and with a sense of ease.
K&B: Do you have a certificate or degree?
Sarah: My degree is in Arts & Contemporary and my focus on philosophy really taught me many of the theoretical foundation that my coaching is still based on. Since then I’ve taken many workshops and courses and done a lot of self-study to continuously refine my skills and deepen my understanding of this work. I’m also training to be a Qoya teacher and I recently did a cacao practitioner training and am hosting monthly cacao ceremonies in London.
K&B: The most significant result of our session was my realization of needing to practice more self-love. I needed to take a step back from the doubting and shaming to notice that I'd been doing an okay job amongst my tragedies. I'm a big supporter of inspiring care for ourselves and others. What are some things you do to show yourself kindness?
Sarah: The most important way that I’m kind to myself is by being mindful and thinking kind thoughts (more on that in a second). Our thoughts literally shape our reality: they dictate our worldview and our perceptions of who we are. And many people believe that they inform our physiology, too. I’m really against the idea that self-care looks like any particular thing, whether that’s bubble baths or green juice (although those are both things I enjoy)! I think the best way I can take care of myself is by regularly checking in with how I feel and what I need so that I can give myself those things (I had a great conversation on my podcast with a woman called Ana Ottman about this, if you want to check it out). Sometimes that will look like a yoga class and sometimes it’s a slice of chocolate cake. It’s all about intention. Some of the ways I show myself kindness on a daily basis are meditating, eating healthy foods, dancing around my kitchen, cuddling my cat and husband, and writing in my journal. The cuddling will probably be a constant, but the others are just constant for right now. The consistency helps me get the most out of them and they’re what I need in this season of my life but I recognize that my self-care practices will change and evolve as I do.
K&B: If someone is struggling with being kind to herself, what steps do you suggest?
Sarah: This is a really difficult question to answer because coaching is about helping my clients unearth their own answers and solutions through a conversation. Before working together I’d know a lot about their goals and obstacles so I’d be able to tailor any mentoring to their specific situation. However, a step that I think is universally helpful is to take a fear inventory. Ultimately. all of those unkind thoughts are coming from your fears and limiting beliefs. Usually, we try to push these thoughts down and avoid them but what we resist persists. By taking a good hard look at them, we can begin to truly transform them.
Spend a few days (or even a week) carrying around a notebook or create a note in your phone and jot down every critical or fear-based thought you think about yourself. Key phrases to watch out for are “I should…,” “I can’t…,” “I never…,” and “I just…” Then do a little brainstorming to flush out the list. Think of any fears or objections that pop into your head when you think about achieving your dreams and living the life you really want. Most of us can easily come up with 20-30. The next step is to begin looking at the links between these thoughts. Can you lump them into categories? What are the common themes that keep coming up? Try to drill down to your core 3-4 fears. Finally, I’d ask you to start thinking about what beliefs you’d like to replace these fears with. BUT here’s the trick: if you try to jump from “I’m completely unloveable” to “I’m inherently worthy of love and my Prince Charming is on his way to me” your inner critic is going to have good reason to call “bullshit!” The key is to use progressive language. Preface your new beliefs with “I am committed to believing…” or “I am learning to believe…” to make it match with your current reality. The power of these new belief phrases is that they act like a big “ABORT!” button when negative thoughts fly into your mind. Rather than getting sucked into a downward spiral of obsessive, negative thinking, you can repeat your new belief and consciously take your mind to a kinder place.
Another entry point for anyone who is struggling to be kind to themselves is to learn about Byron Katie’s The Work. This is a simple 4-question system for coaching yourself out of negative thinking. You can read all about it here but essentially you ask yourself these questions:
1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
It’s a deceivingly simple and extremely powerful tool for getting past internal resistance and
changing our thought patterns. But if you struggle with making positive changes on your own, working with a coach can be extremely beneficial. You can book a free discovery call to see whether we’d be a good match or if coaching isn’t affordable for you, I sell an e-course called Romance Yourself that’s a 40-day journey to self-love.
Wherever you’re at, just know that change is possible. You’re not stuck with these unkind thoughts forever.
K&B: I love your thought of matching your kind language to your current reality - it's something I never would have thought of but imagine makes a world of difference. You are completely inspiring. I'm recommending you to all my friends! One last thing: what do you enjoy doing when you're not coaching?
Sarah: I’m an extroverted introvert so I find it really important to strike a balance between social outings + adventures and alone time. I really enjoy travel, exploring London, cooking, baking, reading, photography, and I’ve recently taken up scrapbooking - which I used to think was really dorky. I practice Qoya - it’s the only movement practice I really, really love - and I spend a great deal of time writing, whether it’s for work or pleasure.
Thank you so much, Sarah! If you're in need of a little friendly push in the right direction, get in touch with Sarah. You won't regret it.