SERENE FETEIH is a certified life and leadership coach based in Jeddah. Mona Alhariri met up with Serene to learn more.

Please tell us something about your academic and career background?

I graduated from King Abdulaziz university in Jeddah with a degree in English literature. In fact, it wasn’t my first choice. I was actually more interested in studying psychology but courses at that time were only available in Riyadh and so I had to go with my second choice.

Given you graduated in English literature, how were you able to transition to your chosen career path?

believe that if you live with a purpose and do what you love and enjoy, you’re far more likely to have a positive impact. Even though I graduated in English literature, I couldn’t ignore the little voice in my head constantly reminding me of my interest in psychology and personal development. And so one day, I woke up and decided it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. I set out to become a professional coach. I travelled back and forth between Jeddah and Dubai in order to earn a certificate from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) followed by a certificate in co-active coaching and a leadership program which qualified me to be a front of the room leader at CTI. Earlier this year,I became an associate certified coach with the “mother” of all coaching institutes, the International Coaches Federation (ICF). Having a certificate from the ICF has added enormously to my credibility. In addition, as an ICF member,I’m able to keep up to date with all the latest articles, books and conferences in the coaching field as well access to a huge network of coaches around the world and to participate in surveys and studies. The ICF has chapters in many countries and I’m a member of the Saudi Arabia chapter.

Beside the professional certificates was there anything else you did to equip yourself for your chosen career path?

Yes, there was. I also invested in online courses by some of the best people in the field. For example, the courses by Brendon Burchard are all about motivation, performance and habits you need to develop in order to reach your highest potential. His books have had a great impact on me and I hope that one day I’ll have the opportunity to attend his workshops in person. Another of my favorites is Brene Brown who concerns herself more with emotions, courage, compassion, vulnerabilities and things like that. She talks about what it means to live “bravely” and “whole-heartedly”. Her books have given me a fresh perspective on myself and relationships with others. While having a “tribe”or a circle of people in the coaching programs I attended was actually where all the magic happened, reading books and watching online webinars in my free time meant I was staying true to my commitment and a path of learning and growth. In the end,I believe it’s not so much about what we know but what we are willing to do with what we know that makes the difference.

How did you set up your coaching business and what were some of the difficulties you faced as a woman?

I actually started off as freelance coach at a center in Jeddah. Although the work was interesting and we had a good number of clients, I soon realized that if I was to move my career forward, I would have to set up my own business. And so, when the opportunity seemed timely, I rented an office and created a “safe space” where clients would be able to feel comfortable and open up during counseling sessions. At that time, it was a relatively new field and I admit I was somewhat intimidated about going into business on my own – especially as a woman. However, it actually didn’t take very long to create a reputation for myself and clients came effortlessly by referrals and word of mouth. I didn’t have to do very much marketing or advertising. Quite soon after that, I co-created a podcast called “The Coach Talk”which is available on iTunes and Sound Cloud and where we discuss many topics both personal and professional and provide listeners with valuable takeaways and tips. It’s currently in its second year.

What are some of the issues you deal with in your coaching sessions?

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the majority of issues that clients come to me to discuss are related to personal growth, relationships and purpose. So many people grow up conditioned a certain way only to reach a certain point in their life and wonder why they are not feeling fulfilled at a personal level, career wise or in their marriage. I work with both men and women. Unfortunately, many women tend to lose their self-esteem and purpose over years of marriage and family life or especially after divorce. Men, on the other hand, struggle with having to balance work with family responsibilities, or not being content in their job and being unable to pursue their dreams out of fear of financial instability. I can say that ninety percent of my clients come not knowing what their personal values are. Those who do,often have difficulty staying true to those values and setting boundaries in their relationships. Once a client is aware that there is always a choice and is willing to open up even at the cost of feeling uncomfortable that’s when solutions can be found. It’s all about self-awareness and what clients are willing to do with what they are able to learn about themselves.

How has the business developed and grown over the years?

At the beginning, clients would come in with “heavy” issues and many of them with negative energy. I was seeing an average of only three clients a day four days a week in private sessions in order to allocate enough time for online coaching sessions. I also give workshops for companies and small discussion groups. These are a lot of fun. One of my favorite things is to see a group of people share their experiences, vulnerabilities and emotions in a safe and confidential space. They walk out with so much value and a realization that we are all growing together. In addition to the core business, I was a co-founder of “Yallah Shabab”, a television program on MBC which is watched by Arabs all over the world. I was involved in brainstorming the initial concept and ideas as well as handling the emails that would come in from viewers and responding to their questions It was a very rewarding and humbling experience. I took the initiative later on to create the “Yallah Shabab”club and bazaar in Jeddah where young people gather to do projects and voluntary work. I also assisted the founder of You Positive, an online coaching application. It’s one of the first online platforms of its kind in the GCC and there are plans to go global in the future. Other than that, I was selected twice to be a spokeswoman for WAM where I talked about my role as a mother, wife, daughter and sister in the context of our particular culture and society.

So how do you balance work and family?

It’s actually not that difficult. In my own life I set boundaries for both. For example, I always have lunch and dinner at home with my family. I “block” these times and make appointments with clients around them While I’m at home, I try as much as I can to disconnect myself from work. At 9pm, I turn off my phone and do not check emails. On weekends, I fully dedicate all my time to family and friends.

What advice would you give to young people in Saudi Arabia contemplating going into business on their own?

Setting up a business takes a certain amount of “guts”. One thing I learned and would like all young entrepreneurs to take to heart is this: never wait for the right time. It is always the right time once you have an idea you truly believe in and the intention to go for it. The rest will follow. You will make mistakes. You will almost certainly fail but you will always learn from failure. Surround yourself with ambitious and positive people who believe in what you are doing and love your energy. Expect setbacks and criticism from friends and family. That’s okay because most of them have the best intentions. But never let them bring you down or give up. Be aware of your habits, thoughts and emotions. Record every milestone and celebrate the small victories. Not only will it boost your confidence, but it will also bring you more things to be grateful for. Keep focused on your intention and goals but let go of attachment to outcomes by being fully present on a daily basis and open to opportunities and surprises that may present themselves on the way. Doing anything for the first time can be scary and challenging…do it anyway. Ask for help when you need to but from the right people. Accept constructive criticism and take from it whatever will help you grow. Hire a mentor or a coach to move forward and gain confidence and support. Learn to differentiate between spending and investing in and on yourself. And most of all, always be clear on your “why?”. It is what will keep you on track and focused. Willingness and commitment are the two main factors that will lead you to wherever you want to reach. I always consider myself being on a path of self-development both personal and professional and aspire to leave a positive impression with those whose paths have crossed with mine.

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