20 Years On The Road Less Traveled - Celebrating 20 Years of Potential Psychology and the Lessons I’ve Learned

 Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life 
The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives 
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
- Baz Luhrmann “Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)"

 

The journey of Potential Psychology is not your typical hero’s quest. It did not start with a powerful “one ring to rule them all”, culminating in the epic fires of “Mount Doom.” (Yes, I dared to compare it to Lord of the Rings.) PP’s destination has never been set in stone. It continues to be a work in progress. But it has been a fun and interesting ride with many lessons learned - about small business, about personal and professional growth and about myself. 

 

Bring me the horizon

PP was registered as a business in April of 2002 after my departure from Corporate Life. I started my career as a ‘Cognitive Engineer’ in MultiMedia in 1995, back when dial-up internet was the epitome of “modern” and Zoom was the “future”, not the world in which we live. 

I was part of a team that designed and developed the White Pages on the Web, one of the first corporate websites in Australia. After a year or so and a few overseas projects later, I moved on, spending the remainder of my corporate career in various roles in HR, all aligned with my growing expertise in Psychology. 

One of the key tenets of positive psychology is to focus on strengthening the positive rather than repairing the negative and while I wasn’t sure if HR was the right path for me I decided that, instead of quitting my day job entirely, I’d focused on looking for positive experiences to satisfy my love of learning. Always a curious cat I set out to expand my horizon beyond the confines of corporate HR. As it happened, The University of Sydney had just launched a brand new program: Master of Science in Coaching Psychology, a relatively new field of study focused on helping people identify and attain meaningful goals rather than treating ‘dysfunction’. That, to me, sounded perfect. Sign me up, please!

I quickly found myself sitting in a pioneer class of the world’s first postgraduate degree in Coaching Psychology, learning at the knee of the late great Dr. Anthony Grant and Dr. Michael Cavanagh, the esteemed founders of the coaching psychology program. My fellow students and alumni included Dr. Gordon Spence and Cass Dunn, and we were taught by Dr. Suzy Green - all of whom have since been guests on the Potential Psychology Podcast. 

By late 2001, immersed in this new and fascinating field and in a topsy-turvy world post September 11 I had my first ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. There I was, a young psychologist, keenly aware of the multitude of new paths my budding career could take but not really clear about which was the right path for me. What I did know was what I didn’t want to do - and that was continue life in the corporate sector. I momentarily grappled with the dilemma that many of us face early in our careers (or sometimes later). Do I take the well trodden steps up the career ladder? Or do I forge my own path? Ultimately the road less traveled was too enticing. So I threw in the towel, banked on my savings to keep me afloat and PP was born as a fledgling consultancy.

 

Doing time

I’d love to say that I embarked on self-employment with a clear goal and a bold business plan, but I didn’t. I was happy to muddle along, make enough money to survive and do interesting work with interesting people. That ethos hasn’t changed.

In the early years I dabbled in personality profiling for senior executives and travelled regional towns in NSW and Victoria interviewing Workcover claimants struggling with stress, all under the banner of Potential Psychology. I did some career coaching and life coaching, designed performance management programs, wrote bid submissions for corporate clients and delivered workshops on mental health at work. I even did time in prison (It’s not what you think. I wasn’t a “PETA advocate” in a protest rally.) For a few months in 2008 I helped out a client as the Acting Assistant Director of Human Resources for a Corrections Facility, dividing my time between life in Sydney and work in Queensland.

 It was a haphazard path and a decade of learning, with a lot of travel, but it was the variety that made the path interesting and the off-road treks create the best stories.  

One thing that has remained consistent throughout: my values have never changed. My internal compass directed me to help others to fulfill their potential. The methods have changed over the years, but the goal has not. 

 

A turning point - Going digital

Circa 2012: The blogosphere was hitting its straps. I had moved from Sydney to Ballarat and had my two small boys at home with me. Always a keen writer and looking for ways to stay engaged with my work with reduced capacity to travel, I discovered a digital opportunity to help more people fulfill their potential. I signed up for the Clever Cookie School of Blog and started a blog and website - the first incarnation of the Potential Psychology website today. Coupled with burgeoning social media I was soon able to build a community of readers who followed my content. 

 

Accidental media personality

So…that blew up. I found myself writing content as a guest writer on a number of blog sites as well as creating content for my own site. It was exhilarating. I’d discovered the world of online entrepreneurship and the supportive community that it comprised. I wanted to learn more and in 2017 I attended my second ProBlogger conference, rubbing elbows with legendary influencers such as Pat Flynn, Darren Rowse and Jadah Sellner. During that conference, I sought the answer to my burning question: “What's the best way to raise my professional profile?” The answer from every expert I met: Create a podcast.  

 

The spectacular now

That brings us closer to the present day. In 2019 and in its first year, our “little poddie that could” made it to the list of six finalists in the Australian Podcast Awards in the Best New Podcaster category. 

PP has grown to include my audio producer, Andy Maher, content producer, Jaie Obillo and admin manager, Sharry Dadpaas. The pandemic of 2020 and 2021 put paid to some of our plans to further build the PP content library and launch a series of online programs but the demand for science-based strategies for enhancing our wellbeing and fulfilling our potential has only grown.

Today I divide my time between digital delivery (webinars, workshops, podcast and writing), face-to-face workplace program delivery for my Ballarat-based clients, and heading up the design, development and delivery of community leadership programs for Committee for Ballarat (a role that brings together all of my organisational, psychological, leadership and content development knowledge developed over the past 20 years). 

I still don’t have a clear and cohesive business plan for Potential Psychology. But I have learned that staying true to your purpose, always seeking to learn and embracing the opportunities that come your way makes for a joyous career and business journey. And that’s enough for me.

 

Onwards and upwards (for the next 20 years),

Ellen 

P.S. My current crazy challenge? I’m a contestant and fundraiser in Ballarat’s Dancing with our Stars gala event, to be held in front of a live audience on 25 June 2022. The event supports The Ballarat Foundation to continue its work helping our community’s more vulnerable members. See all the behind the scenes action and help me to raise funds here.

Podcast Episode 109: Welcome to Season 12

Aug 09, 2022