If you want good cake, it is probably advisable to seek out someone who has baked a lot of cakes.
So too with life. If you want good advice on how your life should be shaping, then it is preferable to take guidance from someone who has lived a lot of it. Not necessarily in terms of years, but in the richness of that life, the experiences overcome and the manner in which all have been met head on.
Such a person is Jude Sibley. One of the country’s most talented classically-trained ballet and contemporary dancers, she has been performing, directing as well as running a dance school for most of her life. A central part of the arts scene in the country, her energy and enthusiasm have long been obvious.
However, for the past decade she has come to our attention for the manner in which she advocated and cared for her seriously-ill daughter Lily Mae who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2012. Jude drove the campaign to fund the necessary treatment for Lily Mae, treatment saw her beautiful daughter recover from what was a critical situation.
When I meet Jude for a morning coffee last week, thankfully, it was not to discuss Lily Mae’s condition, as she has made a superb recovery and is happily attending secondary school in Galway city. Instead, it was to document Jude’s journey into the field of life coaching — a profession to which she brings reserves of life and strength.
“I left home when I was 16 to become dancer, so I really understand personal goals, and having achieved those goals, I became aware of the added value of having met those goals. In my work, I am a teacher, but I am also a director. I had a professional company Chrysalis for ten years.
“I always directed with a sense of ‘we’re all in this together,’ and if you’re valued in your work and your opinion is taken on board, you are a much better work colleague and performer. This is the approach adopted by Richard Branson at Virgin. I learned in my life coaching that I was already doing that in my work, valuing people’s opinions, taking everything on board.
So why life coaching?
“Since Lily Mae got cancer, for nine years I have been supporting neuoblastoma families, originally helping people to get on trials in America, like we did. But my approach changed over the years, and I became quite professional.
“Obviously, there are people on there with medical questions for me. It started out as in the evenings with a glass of wine and a chat, but now I take phonecalls between 12 and 2. I learned from this that while somebody might have the same disease, their responses might be completely different because our supports might be very different.
So it became a natural progression for the lady who had been leaned on to train to take this a step further. Coaching, rather than counselling.
“Coaching and counselling are very different. Counselling is often discussing a previous trauma, going through your past. Coaching is about the future, looking forward. We only look at the past if it is directly affecting where you are now. It is about setting goals and achieving goals and finding out where your barriers are.
“It is about guiding people to break their own barriers, to find out what is stopping them. If they want to go to college, if their work-life is the wrong balance and finding out what the barriers are that we generally set for ourselves.
“The client leads the session. They come in with a goal. What it really is amounts to empowered listening. Coaching puts the client front and centre of stage.
“These sessions can be very emotional and quite tearful quite quickly. Often just hearing your own words say out loud what you are feeling can sit with you and make it real.
“Coaching is a completely safe non judgemental place. We are naturally very chatty, so I had to learn to sit back. I am also quite gestural from being in theatre, so I had to learn to sit still and listen.
“Even our tone and eye contact is important in coaching. I am reminded of that quote from Winnie the Pooh. “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think,”and we are all of the above and it is all about letting people appreciate that.
So where did Jude’s strength come from? The discipline of dance or the head-on confrontation with serious illness.
“I was very disciplined from being a ballet dancer, but nothing prepared me for that experience. When you are hit with really awful things, as we all are in life, nobody gets away scot free.
“Through Lily Mae’s illness, I found an enormous inner strength that I never knew I had, so I have worked with a lot of cancer mums. I learned a lot from that experience of living in hospitals. It was a terrible experience that I wish had never happened, but there is a lot of positivity that I can take from it.
“We develop a strength when we have to. Then that carries you forward and you grow from that. There is a lot of truth in that ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ argument.
“Why I went into coaching stems from a lot of self-understanding. I had to do a lot of work on myself to not crack up at the time of the illness, to not be swamped and overwhelmed.
Are more and more people overwhelmed and in need of coaching?
“When the pandemic happened, it was like we were snowglobes and they were all completely shaken and we didn’t really know how to build it back.
“We are still learning a year later how to put those pieces back together and that is where coaching is really important, because we don’t give ourselves enough time for ourselves.
“I found coaching very empowering. Like, in life, this happened because of that, I am this way and so on’ and I earned that through being coached. I found it can be really tearful. How it changed me. It made me a stronger, kinder, and more understanding person.
“And understanding everyone’s difficulties are their own difficulties.
How do people know they need life coaching?
“People might say they can talk to a friend or their mom, and they take that away with them, but then you are conscious about the next time you meet them about what you have said and whether this impacts your relationship with them.
If she was coaching herself, what would she say?
“If I was coaching myself, I would allow myself to be kinder to myself. I am better now as I get older. Coaching is about the client. So often we are not front and centre. Too often we are in the ensemble, I will be taking you from that that to being the soloist and listening to you and where you feel you have lost or where you can improve.
I say to people ‘if you had all the courage in the world, what would you do? Because often it is a lack of courage that stops us achieving things.”
“I would ask myself what I was proud of and I would say I am very proud of what I have faced in life. I was Jude the dancer, I was defined by dance. It was my whole life. You don’t become a ballet dancer easily. It is one of the hardest professions on earth. It is like being a top sportsperson and an actor. It is a really really hard profession. We look very tiny, but we are very strong.
“I was always Jude the dancer, and then I became Lily Mae’s mom and it was very hard what we went though. But I am very proud of how I navigated that journey, getting her the best treatment in the world. We saved her life. We were the first Europeans to go on that trial and since then, I have guided more than 40 families on that trial which has changed the prospects of life for all those families. I’m proud of that and I want to continue helping people.
The final word goes to her brother Paul Hayes, Director of An Tain Theatre, who enthuses about his sister’s suitability for life coaching.
“’My big sister is a qualified life coach. She has been my life coach since I was born and my life is awesome,” he says.
For a free 15-minute consultation for new clients, see www.judesibleycoaching.com or email [email protected]. Appointments available in person in either Galway or Athlone or online.