My Personal Journey to Coaching and Creating Zira Life
Updated: Feb 7
Steve Jobs wasn’t wrong when he said you can only connect the dots looking backwards.
It’s taken me 20 years to get to a point where I am finalising what my coaching practice will look like, who I am targeting and what I am helping people to achieve.
I’d say this has all come from a couple of things:
· Being in really uncomfortable situations.
· Working in some tough environments and leading people through these.
· Hearing from numerous sources that I should be coaching others for a living.
But how often do we not see or hear such messages? Or do something about them?
I finally have.
My new brand is Zira Life®. (Zira is pronounced like "Zeera").
But there is a story that goes back 20 years to when I first created this name - albeit in a different form.
At my 3rd year at university in France, a friend and I were both keen rugby players. We figured we could design and sell our own padded shoulder protection t-shirts to make some money.
We did some research, looked into costs, but it was quite a laborious process for getting the products tested and approved to meet various safety standards.
At that point, my friend lost interest and I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the product anymore either.
But I had that spark of creating a business - a sports brand. During my work placement that summer in an estate agency, Sundays off were fairly dull with little to do. So, I set about creating a name and logo.
It was the summer of 2000 when Zira was born. Short, punchy, and easy to pronounce. I'd played around with 2 syllable names to be aligned with sports brands and this one stuck.
But the placement ended, I went back to the UK to do my final year of study in Newcastle and this idea went to the back burner.
It stayed with me, but I never quite figured out what it was or its purpose.
Upon graduating I had been invited back for a job as I’d worked hard at the agency. The great combo of making a living, meeting lots of people but still living the good life in a student town!
Fast forward to 2005 and my business idea reignited.
I had left France to pursue a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) in Stockholm, Sweden.
As part of this we had a Capstone Project to complete the year. Having mulled this over for years, I decided that Zira could be an ethical brand of sportswear for women. I figured that women were more open minded and proactive in choosing brands that were ethically sourcing and producing their clothing.
I was really pumped up during my final presentation. This was 2006 and I put out to the audience that I had 6 years to grow this. And why couldn’t I be sponsoring a British athlete by the 2012 Olympics in the UK?!
Ballsy. It got great feedback.
But then I reached that point again of how to go about this? I’d taken on sizeable debt to do the MBA.
I took some advice from an advisor in Private Equity. She suggested I work in something that makes me a ton of money, then I pay people to do things for me. Or I go into the fashion world, learn how everything works, and then finance it another way.
Lots of good advice, but again I was living in Sweden. I wasn’t fully fluent in the language yet, and unsure of how to go about getting a venture off the ground.
I’d looked into the classic post-MBA career paths of finance and management consulting. But yet again, some great advice from people in the consulting world steered me away from this.
“These people will smell entrepreneurial spirit James. And they will beat this out of you. So, this perhaps isn’t the best route.”
I took this on board.
By this point I had pursued another role that built on my property experience on a management trainee programme for SKANSKA. A top Swedish global construction and development company.
The next decade or so flew by with too many experiences to describe here.
I’d lost jobs, made some money, lost some money, moved countries several times, set up businesses, worked on start-ups and in big corporates. But I hadn’t quite cracked things yet and what I should be doing with my life.
And the Zira dream remained.
Around 2018 I was in a role with a potential management buy-out. I met with Dr. David Cliff (a highly experienced coach, mentor and MD at Gedanken). Some of our discussion linked to how I could become the inspiring leader of a business. With the title of a Managing Director.
I was working on my mindset as to what this would look and feel like and how I could develop and grow into this role.
He gave some great advice. "Go to the Companies House website. Spend the £12 and register a business with you as the Managing Director."
I mulled over the brand and with some help from my friend Michelle Bobb – a creative, recovering banking lawyer, the name was finalised. A number of Zira-esque names existed at Companies House, so it needed something to differentiate it.
I registered Zira Life. I figured it was about changing peoples' lives in some way. Interestingly, a friend - Dee Coxon - recently brought to my attention that Zira means "messenger" in Hebrew. A nice twist looking at it now that my life is about bringing a message and service to others of what they can become and achieve in their lives.
I had no intention at the time of using this company and name, but it helped me to mentally move into this MD role.
In 2020, I found myself on the other side of a total 2019 burnout and still building back my health.
I had had the idea of having a podcast. In what seems like no time, we passed our milestone 100th episode of the Inspiration North podcast! A mission developed to help people live happier, more fulfilling lives. Volunteering for the charity Action for Happiness brought back some focus in life and it has helped others to work on happiness and having social connection throughout lockdown.
And that whisper about Zira Life returned.
With all that I have seen, the challenges I have faced, times I have been uncomfortable, and with all the people over the years that I have led, advised, helped, coached, it was now time to take the leap.
Time to do this for real. And for real money.
To further strengthen my profile, in 2020, I became a Gallup® Certified Strengths Coach. I love their Clifton Strengths tool and found it very powerful in shaping my own self-awareness and understanding of what I am good at and how I can proactively aim this in work and life. This is at the core of my offering.
So, rather than procrastinate and hold off this first blog to have everything finalised, here is the story of Zira Life so far.
20 years in the making.
So, join me on the journey. I’ll be sharing my stories, my turning points, my learnings and what has worked for me. And how this translates into helping you and others to do the same.
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I feel some tingles of nerves with putting myself out into the world, but lots of excitement about the future. And I am cool with being open about that.
No one has everything figured out. You don’t have to.
Just keep moving forward. However slow.