Trader to therapist and coach: My story

June 24th 2016 was a momentous day. It was the day after the Brexit vote and the UK had decided to leave the EU. As head of the Sterling Bond Trading desk at HSBC, I was in at 6.00 am. It was going to be a volatile day. But it was also significant because it was my final day at HSBC after having worked there for 28 years.

 It was frightening to leave the only workplace I had ever known and lose all the certainties and security that came with it, but at the same time, it was exciting and liberating  —  a chance to do something different with my life. But what? At that point, I had no idea. However, if I had known then, what I know now, I believe the transition certainly would have been a lot smoother (though not necessarily easier!).

By sharing this story, I wanted to show that if you are feeling stuck in your current role, looking for something more, different or meaningful out of life, then there is always something that you can do about it.

Sometimes it all becomes too much

The decision to leave a career that I had really enjoyed had begun to formulate about nine months earlier. I was juggling a difficult home life, as my child was in hospital, alongside a stressful job. Sometimes it felt too much. I am not someone who shows vulnerability as a rule, after all, what use is that on the trading floor, but often on the drive to the office I found myself wanting to cry, and sometimes I did.

I felt stuck. My work/life balance was awful, I felt as if I was letting my family down and my work was also beginning to suffer. As a trader you need focus, but my thoughts were often elsewhere. I could have tried to push through and appear strong and in control but instead, I decided to do something  —  take a risk, talk to someone about it and be vulnerable. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Talking about it showed me that I had options and that I could take a more active role in deciding how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

I decided to speak to my manager and then to HR and explain to them what was going on. I told them how I felt and how it was affecting me. Eventually, I asked if redundancy was an option so that I would be able to take some time out and look after my family. HSBC was extremely supportive and willing to help in any way they could. They agreed to my request but asked if I could stay on until they had found my replacement. The wheels were set in motion for my departure.

Six weeks later, however, I got a phone call saying that my child’s situation had changed for the better. I don’t want to go into detail about what happened but suffice to say that it had been an incredibly difficult period to go through as a parent. Talking about that phone call never fails to bring back those tears. It was life-changing for all of us.

You already have the answers, but it may take the presence of a thinking partner to be able to access, and act on, them.

It’s hard to say goodbye

So now what? Do I stay? I had been a trader for pretty much all my working life. It is not exactly a transferable skill and to put it bluntly I was unlikely to earn anything like I did from a different career. However, I was 50 and there aren’t many 50+-year-old traders out there. As they say, “it’s a young man’s game.” But change is hard.

I read somewhere recently that the nature of life is change but the nature of people is to resist change. We get comfortable with the familiarity of our situation, however challenging or unfulfilling it might be. Throughout my career in the City, colleagues would say that they wished they were doing something else, something more meaningful, but most never did. We get attached to the lifestyle it provides, the lives it can give our children, but ultimately, I feel you reach a point where you think ‘is this it’? Is this really who I am, is this all I want to be?

The more I thought about it, the more it became a ‘no brainer’. What I mean by that is not that there was no risk attached to it, but that it just felt the right thing to do. It was time to see if I could reinvent myself whilst I was still young enough to do so. So, on June 24th 2016, I gathered my things and walked off the trading floor for the final time.

Almost everyone on the trading floor said the same thing, “You will be back.” Whether that was how they perceived me or just a projection of their own attitudes towards leaving the familiarity of this world, I’m not sure. Of course, I would miss the excitement and buzz, the collegiate atmosphere and obviously the financial rewards. If I failed elsewhere, I knew I could probably get a similar job at another bank. But as I said my goodbyes, deep down I knew that this was it. My life as a trader was done. Time for a new chapter and a new direction.

What next?

Five years later I am now a fully qualified therapist and an executive coach. Trader to therapist. Certainly not an obvious move. From a fast-paced environment where testosterone is high and vulnerability is low to a world where feelings are at the centre of almost everything. Trading is a black and white world. At the end of every day, you know the score. Profit or loss. Coming into the world of therapy, I had to learn to live with uncertainty.

There are rarely quick answers or solutions and sometimes the changes are so small that you can barely see them. Traders work with numbers, therapists work with the human psyche. What makes us tick, what are our unconscious drivers, what are our blind spots and how do we relate to others. But most importantly it is about allowing the clients to say, in a confidential space, what they feel they cannot say to anyone else  —  what their fears are, what keeps them awake at night and ultimately the things that they want to change, but perhaps don’t know how.

A white china cup that says begin on it

Moving in a different world

I had begun my journey in March 2017 when I enrolled on a Foundation Course in Integrative Counselling at the Minster Centre. To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement. Trading my way through the 2007–2009 financial crisis was a doddle compared to this. Connecting with feelings, showing vulnerability and writing reflective essays were just some of the things which took me way out of my comfort zone. I was in a new land with a new language, a new culture and I did not recognise any of my surroundings.

For a while, I felt very lost. I loved learning about the theory, but sometimes I thought, if my old colleagues could see what I was doing now! But finally, it started to make more sense, how can you help others to change, to connect with their most difficult feelings and thoughts if you have not done the work yourself?

In September 2020 I became a BACP registered therapist. I felt a great sense of achievement. However, as I started to build a website and plan for a career as a therapist, I still felt that something was missing from what I could offer. Therapy usually focuses on the past and the present. But what about how to move forward?

Friends in my old industry had begun to ask me about coaching as it seemed more in line with what they needed. I had heard about coaching, but never experienced it, and if I was to utilise my years in the corporate world then this potentially could be a sensible route. I enrolled on a coaching course with Barefoot Coaching and although I went in with a fair bit of scepticism, I became a convert.

What is coaching?

Undoubtedly, coaching is more goal-orientated, but the core principle remains the same. The client is the expert in themselves. Your role is to help them see what they cannot see and so facilitate the changes they really want. I loved the creativity of it. The different ways to approach the issues that the client brings. One of the definitions of coaching I like is from John Whitmore who describes it as:-

“..unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance, it is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

I was beginning to get the sense that therapy and coaching are not just two separate disciplines but have huge potential to complement each other. In my coaching sessions, we can talk about work-related goals  —  career change, giving presentations, speaking in front of large audiences or just developing the skills to move up the corporate ladder. But we can also talk about the deeper reasons for our limiting beliefs, the roots of our imposter syndrome and our emotional triggers. They are all part of the same story and all relevant in exploring how we write our next chapters.

What I love about my new life

Working as a therapist and a coach, I love being able to work holistically with clients – not only examining the past and the reasons for how we are today, but also to see how the energy shifts in the client as we explore options that create momentum and vitality. Sharing this experience with someone, and helping them formulate their plans to achieve change, is incredibly rewarding. Clients become more effective and happier at work, have greater direction and focus, increase self- awareness and find new and interesting ways to lead a more fulfilling life.

I have seen the remarkable transformations that coaching and therapy can achieve by having our thinking challenged, our options explored and being helped to facilitate the changes that we want, big or small.

Every client is different, every session is different and I love both the variety of my work and the impact that I can have on peoples’ lives.

We always have options

Having a conversation that is totally focused on you and your world is a uniquely powerful experience. As I said at the start of this piece, wherever you are in life and however stuck you feel, there are always more options. Options to not only deliver meaningful change, better work/life balance and greater sense of purpose but also to address the hesitations you may have about giving up the status quo. You already have the answers, but it may take the presence of a thinking partner to be able to access, and act on, them.

I would love to hear your story

If any of this has resonated with you and you want to see your life through a different lens, explore the things you would like to change or think about what is holding you back, then I would love to demonstrate to you how powerful the therapy and coaching experience can be.

I offer a free initial consultation where we can start to explore your world and think about whether we would like to work with each other.

Feel free to send me a message.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London N3 & EC4A

Written by Phil Bergman

London N3 & EC4A

I worked as a trader in an investment bank for 25 years before family circumstances forced me to reevaluate my life. I left the bank in June 2016 and 5 years later I am a qualified therapist and an executive coach.

It was a challenging journey but incredibly worthwhile. I love talking to people who want change but are not sure where to start.

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