Have you ever stood on the platform of a London Victoria line tube station and wondered who was staring at you from the darkness of the driver’s cabin?
Chances are you would have imagined a bloke. Stereotypically, train driving is viewed as a man’s profession. Right? But, you may have been wrong.
Apparently, around 100 or so women drive tube trains. And my Page 1 Woman is one of them. Involving 15 weeks of gruelling training and exams, it’s definitely not a career anyone can walk into. And that’s just as well, because we need well trained, skilled drivers to tackle the challenges that the hectic underground throws up every day.
“I really feel good because it's not an easy job to get. It’s more than just pushing buttons. You have to learn so much about the train, and how the system works.”
My Page 1 woman is Michelle Watson. When not driving trains, she’s grafting away as an author, charismatic speaker and personal development coach – and she’s a mum of three to boot. She’s an everyday woman who’s experienced dark, dark times involving 5 years of domestic abuse, when she hid her real self from the world, a messy divorce and attempting to end her life as a way out. But her new found faith was pivotal in turning her life around and giving her peace of mind. And sharing her experience of abuse in her first book, was the catalyst that propelled her into coaching. Now, with her purpose clear, she’s on a journey to something bigger and brighter that makes a real difference in people’s lives.
Incredibly warm, funny, charismatic, courageous and ambitious, here’s Michelle in her own words.
What do you do?
Michelle: I'm an author, speaker, and personal development coach at Breakfree Forever Consultancy. I help people to create the life they desire, get past their barriers, and take action.
My first book is for people going through challenges, maybe parenting children with special needs, perhaps domestic abuse, or even suicidal tendencies. I’ve experienced all three.
People looking in don't understand what you're going through. They think your life’s going well. Or they may judge your child. And so, I wanted to write this book. But I didn't think anyone would read it. When a work colleague with a dysfunctional child broke down, I gave her some useful information and shared the story about my son having ADHD, and traits of autism. It cheered her. So, I wrote the book. It’s called, “Overcome and Rise Above: How to Turn the Downsides of Your Challenges into the Upside of Renewing Your Life”.
My second book, “Rise Above and Believe- It's Do or Lie: How to Get Rid of Excuses & Create the Life You Desire” is for procrastinators with a dream who set goals but find excuses for never following them through. That's why it's ‘Do or Lie’, because sometimes our excuses are lies, to avoid doing something, maybe because of limiting beliefs or our circle of influence or not knowing what to do.
It’s based on my experience. After I came out of that abusive relationship, I had low self-esteem. And I was busy, but come year end, I had nothing substantial to show for it. I didn’t believe I could finish what I’d started.
The same thing happens to other people. If your action doesn’t produce results then you’ve not taken action. I woke up when I got into personal development and realized that I’d not been taking action. So, I had to address that, which is the purpose of my second book.
When I’m not coaching, speaking or writing books I'm driving tube trains. I was in banking before that. Although I never saw myself driving trains, I realised that I could earn as much doing that part time as I was getting working full-time in the bank. I can now work around my son’s needs and get the time and money to create my own business and achieve my purpose. I enjoy people’s reaction when I say I drive trains. They’re amazed. I enjoy being alone in the dark cab, it’s me time and space where I get ideas.
What essential steps got you to where you are now?
Michelle: First, I needed to get out of my head. I was a perfectionist. It stopped me taking action and making what I do about others. I also needed to identify my why, what I really enjoyed doing and what I did well. I’ve enjoyed writing since I was little. And I enjoy speaking to make a difference and hearing people say, "You've inspired me." So, I said to myself, "You need to do those things”.
So I attended The Coaching Academy, and I did Master Coaching. I learnt NLP to offer clients extra value. And then created a circle of influence, containing excellent people who I could feed off – first Gerry Roberts and Andy Harrington. From there I got involved with a female mastermind group which supported me in building my business.
What one significant thing got you into your current position?
Michelle: Writing my first book about domestic abuse, openly and honestly. I’d been holding in stuff about the abuse. So I wasn’t being real. People just saw me made up and bubbly, but didn't know what was going on. The first time I spoke about my challenges was at my book launch. It was a massive thing, because I always worried about what others thought of me. Now I enjoy being real. When I decided to speak out people began saying, "I'm in that position, how can you help me?" And then I got my first paying clients, lots of media attention and a letter of recommendation from the Queen for my book.
What was your greatest challenge?
Michelle: The domestic abuse. I didn’t know that side of my husband when I married him. So when it started I thought I could change him. But instead, he controlled and changed me and my confidence went downhill. I was walking on eggshells, not knowing what would upset him next and I couldn’t be a good parent to my children. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and thinking "Are you going to allow your children to go through this for the rest of their lives?" And I decided to leave. But even after I left, he’d stalk and harass me, damaging my things or locking me in the house.
I felt guilty for my children who were asking for their dad. I had to deal with the menace he was creating. I lost my job and I had to deal with the debts I was left with. I had to deal with my son and I had to deal with my guilt. I became depressed. Although my children kept me going, I saw myself as a problem that suicide would remove and make everything fine.
What was your greatest lightbulb moment?
Michelle: When I joined Andy Harrington’s Professional Speakers’ Academy (PSA). I’ve never been shy and I was always in the school’s drama group. But I never saw myself as a "Wow speaker”. I remember my first time at PSA when one of the coaches said, "How long have you been in PSA?" I said, "It's my first time" and she said "WHAT?!" Everybody in the group started clapping and it was like "Whoa, am I actually this good?"
People starting asking, "Do you speak at events?" And I was like "No, I don’t.” I didn't realize I was closing a door on myself because I didn’t recognize my potential. So I started speaking at events. I speak about overcoming challenges; being an action taker; using your book as a brand and business marketing tool. I speak about parenting, because I’ve a child with special needs.
What was the one resource that was crucial to your success?
Michelle: Definitely PSA because that’s where I learned to create my business, where I got the belief and confidence to be a speaker. So far I've won three awards at PSA. Also, I’ve met PSA members who’re on a similar journey and I’ve partnered with some who’ve spoken at my events. I’ve gained lots of new ideas and joint ventures.
Also, there’s Gerry Roberts and the Black Card books team. They helped me write my first book. And there’s my church, which has been a strong source of support particularly after I attempted to take my life. It gave me light when life was dark and I started to believe I could come through.
What do you understand by leadership?
Michelle: Leadership is when you’re followed by others and you’re leading by example. A leader is open and honest and bold enough to admit to making mistakes. When a leader gives the impression that nothing should ever go wrong, followers feel pressured to be perfect. That’s not a good leader.
A leader has a vision. Mine is to help people because if I didn’t have support when necessary I wouldn't be where I am today. So, I want to be a leader who’s reachable, who sets an example and inspires others to do well.
What difference do you think it's made being a women leader?
Michelle: It definitely makes a difference. And there are pros and cons. For instance, being a leader can affect your marriage and your partner’s ego. Also, people tend to see women leaders as being full of themselves. But then some women leaders are humble and people are drawn to them. Women are more caring and emotional, and followers are sometimes able to resonate a lot more with them than with men.
There are some people who dislike being led by a woman. But why should gender matter? What’s important is the impact that that person has on your life, and the connection, their openness and honesty.
What are your 3 top tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?
Michelle: First, be real and you’re honest and open. Many women sell their morals to get to where they want to. I've always said if I can't be me and get the position I want then that position wasn’t for me.
Women often believe they have to work harder than men to get what they want. They have to fit into a certain clique to get there quicker. This means that when you arrive you didn't get there as you. And just as you changed to get there you'll change when you’re there. That's the reason why working with women managers is a power trip; they have to show they’re in charge. I’ve experienced this many times.
My second tip is believe in yourself and have confidence and you won't be intimidated by anyone or anything that's going on around you. When you believe in yourself you can be yourself. You’re more likely to succeed.
Finally, commit to what you're doing. It's all about your WHY. For example, why are you a leader? Don’t just become a leader because you like the word or because you've been put there. Be committed to your WHY. Being a female leader has challenges. And your WHY will keep you going.
Click here to find out more about Michelle and Breakfree Forever Consultancy
Did you enjoy this post? Does it resonate with you? Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.
And please share it on Facebook and other social media platforms. You may help to inspire other women seeking to progress their careers but encountering challenges on the way. Thanks a million.