Andrew McDonaldI had what I considered a normal – indeed, lucky – upbringing with supportive parents. They were like chalk and cheese, yet they gave me and my brother a stable home and made sacrifices to give us the best life they could. As a young boy I recall my parents moving home and taking out a big mortgage to get a foothold in an area with good schooling. My dad worked long hours as a property professional in the West End of London and my mum was a dressmaker. My father was a very reserved and gentle man with a stiff upper lip. Although I sometimes wondered what was going on below the calm surface, I never found out. My mother, on the other hand, wore her heart on her sleeve. She was a larger-than-life character, a wonderful bundle of fun, full of ups and downs. She provided a warm, loving home for the family, where our friends were always welcome. My parents were polar opposite personalities that complemented each other and I can see I’ve inherited parts from both of them. Those which serve me and those that are less helpful.

I had little idea as to what to study at University but thought I ought to go. I took a real estate-related degree and followed my dad into property with a corporate job in London’s West End. It was a very male-dominated field where we worked and played hard. It was the mid 90’s and our idea of self-care were regular after-work trips to the pub where we’d poke fun at each other to let off steam. I was happy enough in my career, but mum contracted a blood cancer when I was in my mid 20s and in 2004 she succumbed to the disease. While this hit me like a juggernaut, dad was still around and a real emotional rock. He’d already had his first cancer in the late 1990’s but they caught it early and the removal of a kidney took care of the issue.

Andrew McDonaldLife moved on and in my late 30s I met my wife. We married in 2014 just after I turned 40 and set up home in the suburbs. We had two children fairly promptly, both of whom thought sleep was overrated…. Our second child was premature and had early health problems, but is thankfully now thriving. My wife has a busy job as a school teacher and the daily grind of the commute into London was beginning to take its toll on me. Around this time dad was diagnosed with a slow variant of prostate cancer. It wasn’t life-threatening, and he battled through but he was slowing down and his mortality was playing on my mind. In 2016, dad was diagnosed with his third cancer – in the oesophagus – which would ultimately claim his life, some 6 months later.

I found the immediate transition from being a ‘son’ with a stoical dad to being a father of young children quite daunting. My wife was taking on more responsibility at work and my own work environment was becoming difficult, not made any easier when combined with the commuting and lack of sleep. We were hanging on in there, though. I was mindful that this stage of life is difficult for many and I’m nothing if not determined (thanks, Mum!)

Shortly after dad’s death, we put an offer in on an off-plan family home which was a few months from being completed. The developer was tricky to deal with, which added to the increasing stress. My work environment continued to deteriorate so I was looking for an exit strategy that would give me a fresh start. Short on sleep, the stamina I once depended on had deserted me and the previous self-care routine (nights out with pals) was no longer serving me. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 2019, I resigned from my job, having put the bones in place to launch my own property business. During my 3 month notice period, I started training as a professional coach, partly to get answers for myself and partly to learn more effective leadership and management skills for my new business. I was excited once again for the future – little did I know what was around the corner.

Andrew McDonaldMy last day at work turned out to be the week the UK went into lockdown. A feeling of uncertainty slowly nudged out the positivity I’d felt as I anticipated the launch of my new business. Shortly into lockdown, I started coughing up blood, and given both my parents had had cancers emanating from their chests, I was pretty worried. It turned out I had Covid with some unusual symptoms, but it gave me real pause for thought. Ultimately, after a stretch of challenging years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although I was really disappointed not to be able to start my business, I decided to take 2020 off to review and recharge. I spent many hours walking the dogs in the countryside, reflecting on life. It was during one of those walks I heard entrepreneur and philanthropist Blake Mycoskie on a podcast talking to fellow entrepreneur and author Tim Ferris about his experience of the Hoffman. It was really compelling to hear such a successful man being so open about his emotional life and relationships. Listening to two men talk openly and emotionally, something that wasn’t familiar to me when I growing up, gave me food for thought.

Shortly afterwards I signed up to do the December 2020 Process. In the three month run-up to Hoffman I worked with an NLP-focused coach to put positive routines in place prior to the launch of my business, now scheduled for January 2021. I do think that coaching is the ‘acceptable’ face of therapy in business. It offers employees a safe space to reflect and build awareness and I’d encourage anyone feeling ‘stuck’ or ‘frustrated’ to consider working with a coach.

Andrew McDonaldEventually Christmas lights started going up everywhere and it was time to head to Florence House, Hoffman’s Sussex venue. The Process was amazing for someone like me, coming from a family that hadn’t prioritised open discussion about feelings. Due to the sheer busy-ness of life, I also hadn’t grieved dad’s passing, something I finally had a chance to do on the Process. During that week I shed years of tears – it was unbelievably cathartic. There’s not much written about the actual content of the Process – I realise now that people don’t want to spoil it for those coming after them. Having done it, I’m glad that’s the case, as the surprise element is important to get the most out of it. I’d encourage anyone considering it to go in with both eyes and mind wide open. It’s an amazing experience, and one which you can’t bluff your way through. Little by little, over the course of the week, I shed the layers I’d built up to guard against life’s slings and arrows. I realised that those layers had not only prevented me from allowing in more positive and joyful emotions, they’d also stopped me from releasing negative feelings in a constructive way. These days I’d advise anyone to cry or explore their emotions, rather than bottle things up.

Andrew McDonaldSince the Process my wife has commented how I’m more ‘open’. I’ve noticed I’m less snappy and more even-tempered. I’m also more relaxed and easier on myself. Life continues to present its challenges but instead of going to the pub to unload my feelings I have healthier ways of addressing them that I learned on the course: I journal, meditate, visualise and go for long walks. I’m in regular contact with a network of supportive friends that I made on the Process. Five of us have been on a refresher course run by Hoffman on a retreat in France this summer and many in my Process group speak once a month on zoom.

When my brother reached his 50th birthday I gave him the Process as a gift. We now have a far closer relationship, a new emotional vocabulary and we’ve had some genuinely meaningful conversations.

In all my years I’ve never experienced anything which comes close to the week with Hoffman. What’s money for if not for putting your house in order and the Process is the perfect place to do it. I couldn’t put a price on it.

Andrew is now a certified Master Practitioner of NLP, an NLP Coach, and is undertaking qualifications in Senior & Executive Coaching with the Institute of Leadership & Management. He’ll be launching his own coaching business in 2023 and has an interest in helping busy professionals get the best out of themselves.