Women Following their Dreams # 9 Ellen Jackson, Founder & Principal Potential Pyschology
It’s time again for another interview as part of my Women: Following their Dreams series. Today we are talking with a truly inspiring and motivating in more ways than one woman, Ellen Jackson. If you are new to this series, my aim in doing it, is to, once a month or so, introduce you to women who all have one thing in common, they have been brave enough to put an idea into action. Even more than all the food on this blog these are my favourite posts to do and read. It’s all about supporting women and showcasing talent, achievement, skills and ideas.
Maybe you might be inspired by one of their stories, maybe their story will strike a chord with you, maybe what they are doing is something that you would like to do too, maybe you will find a new interest, talent, idea or realise that these woman are just like you and me. So grab a cuppa and take a seat and see where this series might take you.
Introducing the delightful Ellen Jackson…
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live in Ballarat in the beautiful Victorian Goldfields with my partner Pete, our two boys Michael, 8 and Hamish, 5, one enormous black cat called Johnny and four chooks. I was born and raised in Melbourne. After school I went to Melbourne University where I completed a Commerce degree with a Psychology major (an unusual combo back then) and went to Monash University for a year of postgrad psychology. I headed to Sydney aged 24 for work and adventure and lived there on and off for 12 years. I worked primarily in consulting, initially for an IT firm as a ‘cognitive engineer’ (making websites user friendly back in the day before most people knew what web sites were!) then moved into corporate HR, then back to consulting.
When I was 27 I remember sitting in my office and imagining my life in five years’ time (an exercise I now use with my coaching clients). I knew instantly that I didn’t want to be working in a corporate environment. I wanted a family and I couldn’t see myself juggling that with long hours in an office and the travel that went with consulting. I decided that I would have greater work flexibility if I gained my full qualifications and registration as a psychologist so I pursued yet more study including a Masters Degree in Coaching Psychology at the University of Sydney. This was a brand new course at the time and it has really paved the way for my current work as a coaching and positive psychologist.
I left ‘employment’ altogether in 2002 to try my hand at working for myself. I figured I would try some contracting and stick with that until I needed to get a ‘proper job.’ Potential Psychology Services was born and almost 15 years later it’s still going strong. I’ve avoided getting a ‘proper job’ and doubt I could go back to working for someone else now.
We moved to Ballarat as a family almost four years ago.
A beautiful scenic scene of Ballarat
Why did you choose psychology and in particular corporate psychology?
My mum studied psychology at uni and as I grew up I realised that I shared her interest in human behaviour. I had to battle university administration to be allowed to do psychology within a Commerce degree but the combination really makes sense. Businesses and organisations are made up of human beings and human behaviour plays an important part in how businesses function, particularly as we become an increasingly service economy.
I was never drawn to clinical or therapeutic work. I’ve always been interested in how the ‘average’ human operates; what drives and motivate us, how we think and work and interact with one another. There was no particular area of psychology that really resonated with me until positive and coaching psychology came along in the early 2000s. Now there is this whole area of really exciting study and practice focused entirely on how we can improve the life and experience of the majority of people and how we can help everyone to flourish. That then extends to how we can create flourishing organisations and flourishing communities. It has really become a passion for me.
What made you decide to go out on your own?
It wasn’t intentional. My role was made redundant. I didn’t want to go back to corporate or an internal role and most HR/psychology consulting practices required an element of business development. I figured if I was going to build someone’s business it may as well be my own!
What have you learnt from setting up your own practice?
Ten thousand things! But probably the most important thing I’ve learnt, and the advice that I pass on to others when they ask is to turn up, do your very best, be adaptable and never burn bridges.
You have recently revamped your website and product offering, tell us a bit about what and why you have done this?
The new website is really reflective of the evolution of Potential Psychology. The bones of it are there but I’m planning to grow it over the next year.
My mission is to make psychology accessible. The internet and online world is making that so much easier. I started writing my blog two years ago and since then I’ve really been focused on how to use the online platform to share what psychology knows about making life better. That has led to online courses, coaching programs and sharing resources like tests and questionnaires via the web site as well as writing my blog (with a book in the works!)
Not many psychologists have really engaged with the internet and social media yet but I really feel that it’s important that we do so. The everyday person should have access to wellbeing, personal development and mental health resources that are reputable and well-studied by the experts in human behaviour.
I learnt early on, well before I had kids, that it’s important to set boundaries when you work from home and to treat it like you would any other job. I get up and dressed and ready for work in the same way I always have. I try to keep approximate business hours (9-ish til 3pm-ish anyway) and I try to limit my weekend and after hours work. When the kids are at school and preschool I work. When they’re home, I try to focus on being ‘mum’ and the household stuff.
Ellen and her gorgeous boys
You work with people about putting their ideas into action and managing small businesses, do you follow you own advice? Also what is one piece of key advice you would give for anyone thinking of starting out on their own?
Everything that I do with clients I do myself; every questionnaire, every exercise, every activity. I think you need that level of personal experience to be genuine.
My key tip for anyone starting out on their own – in fact for anyone transitioning to anything new – it’s to spend some time getting to know yourself and how you operate. Psychology has so many resources for learning about your strengths, your values, how you like to work, how you get your energy, what motivates and drives you. You can then use this information to work out how you should structure your time, which activities you should do yourself and which you should outsource, whether you should work on your own or with others, which projects or clients you should take on and which you should avoid, what your business goals should be.
This isn’t something that is talked about often but it really can make or break you. If you can be clear on who you are and what you are trying to achieve and why it takes away a lot of the trial and error and increases the changes that you will be focused and energised and successful in your endeavours.
What is your families favourite meal?
We’re big taco fans and homemade pizzas are always a hit. I’m fortunate those all my boys are great eaters so we have a pretty wide repertoire of family meals.
What do you do in your downtime?
I maintain the nanna arts; knitting and gardening are top of my list. We like to camp and hike and bike ride as a family too.
Downtime with the family
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished ‘Confessions’ by Jaume Cabre. It’s over 700 pages long and weaves 500 years of European history into a really intriguing narrative. It’s a brilliant novel but I didn’t do it justice because I took over a year to read it! I’m now reading ‘Island of a Thousand Mirrors’ by Nayomi Munaweera. It’s a fabulous novel set in Sri Lanka during the civil war and I’m really enjoying it.
Thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself today Ellen and your enthusiasm for positive psychology. It shows we really can make a fundamental difference to our lives by working with our positives.
Are you inspired by Ellen today? Have you got a passion you are following?
*disclosure I am an affiliate of the Book Depository which means nothing for you but if you buy a book through them by going through a link on BE&S I get a tiny commission that may keep me in coffee for a day or so!