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Creating A New Path Out Of Chaos

One of our newest volunteer coaches, Mike Wolfe, has lived through enormous challenges – working in war zones, managing fallout from natural disasters, and surviving cancer. More recently he found himself re-examining his life’s purpose when he struggled to find work. His unique experiences make him an ideal person to provide guidance and support. In this article, he talks about how his life changed, and what he can offer through his coaching.

Mike, tell us a bit about your background.

I have lived and worked for the past 20-ish years in humanitarian aid and international development, serving in numerous countries across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, mostly active war zones or post-conflict contexts and natural disasters. It’s been a privilege to live and work and serve some of the most vulnerable people on this grand planet of ours.

Some years ago, I was appointed Country Director for World Vision in Vanuatu. Two weeks after I arrived, the strongest cyclone ever recorded to make landfall in the Pacific smashed its way across Vanuatu, and completely changed everything. I was a new leader, and here we had a massive complex humanitarian issue on our hands.

You have lived and worked through a broad range of complex situations. How does your experience equip you for coaching?

In my career and life, I’ve encountered numerous challenges. I’ve worked in active war zones, have had colleagues executed, and have been on the ground when natural disasters ripped things apart. I’ve also had more than my fair share of medical dramas. I’ve had a number of emergency medical evacuations from different countries, and a few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer (thankfully I was able to get treatment). I’m also the father of a special needs child, and my wife has a chronic autoimmune disorder.

This is a key element I bring in coaching – a unique insight into and deep empathy for the human condition.

And since I’ve lived in so many different countries, I have an appreciation for lots of different world views. Many people are living outside their country and have a sense of disorientation – being home yet not at home.

I’ve held various positions with various organisations – some were operational, and others were strategic/executive leadership.

Mike, you have first hand experience of how hard it is to be out of work.

Yes, after having served almost all of my career overseas, I left the field a couple of years ago. My wife’s parents live in regional NSW, so we decided to move there with our two children.

Once here, though, I struggled to find employment. I found there was no interest in what I had to offer, even though I had lots of transferrable skills. I applied for jobs with lots of different employers, but I didn’t even get any interviews. It’s been a really hard transition for me professionally, and for us as a family.

During my time as a humanitarian worker, I’ve always had a coaching approach in managing and leading people, and decided to pivot into becoming a full-time coach.

Why have you volunteered with Project Displaced?

For me, upskilling, learning and developing my coaching skills and being able to formally learn this new profession has been a source of great joy.

I love the coaching journey just as much as I loved leading teams. I joined Product Displaced because I want to be able to give back to people.

Life’s hard, people have hard times. This is one opportunity I can offer services that can really benefit people who are in a hard place.

COVID has dislocated a lot of people, and there’s a sense that life itself is changing. What are your thoughts about that?

I spent most of my life working in complex humanitarian contexts, and I’ve learned how disruptions can be opportunities for systems level changes. Disruptions are really hard, I’m not going to sugar coat it – but they can create opportunities for changes that might not have occurred. I’ve seen this so many times – communities build back better. Or with COVID, for example, people have realised some of the blessings – hard won, but blessings, nonetheless.

A couple of weeks ago I was leading a webinar for leaders and managers in India. At that time COVID was raging amongst the population – such hard times for so many people. I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned from leading teams in challenging settings.

Something that we talk about in the humanitarian aid sector is operating and leading in a context of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Most humans prefer spending as little time as possible in VUCA. But in the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has kind of let everyone in the world see that navigating Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity,

Ambiguity is part of what we have to do sometimes.

Throughout my career, and also a good chunk of my personal life, I’ve spent a lot of time living in and leading teams in VUCA contexts. I still don’t like it – I think few people actually like it – but I’ve learned a number of things you can do to help you navigate VUCA better.

One of the things I shared in my webinar with managers in India was the potential power of reorienting your outlook. I feel a similar thing can be applied during tumultuous times in people’s lives, including their jobs. It can be an opportunity to reorient your outlook. And good coaching can be a powerful tool in helping people shift their outlook.

Mike is one of our great specialist volunteers who bring their wealth of experience - both professional and personal - to Project Displaced to help people who need support. Take a look at our services, which are free of charge, and see how we can give you a helping hand.

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