When music teacher Sue Williams (right) signed up for a course designed to crack writer's block, little did she expect it to help her plan her next career move, reports Renata Rubnikowicz
Oh my goodness, what have I let myself in for? was Sue Williams's initial reaction on signing up for a weekend course that promised to help her find and fulfil her goals in life. "Is what I'm thinking about doing true to myself?" was the question Ms Williams was asking herself. "I really didn't believe I'd get that question answered," she says.
Originally trained as a classical guitar player, she decided to become a teacher rather than a performer, doing her PGCE at Middlesex University.
For the past three years she has held a senior management position in the London borough of Redbridge's music service. But now, as well as studying for an MA in educational management and administration at London University's Institute of Education, she's trying to get back into a school as a deputy or assistant head.
So when, six months ago, she joined the Create Your Future course, run by hypnotherapist, writer, teacher and TES contributor Jurgen Wolff, she was not seeking a radical new life plan, more a confirmation of the career path she has mapped out. "I find it difficult to make decisions," she says.
Having been very happy in her current job, "I was worried I might make the jump and find it wasn't for me".
Mr Wolff has been running Create Your Future courses for seven years. He uses a range of techniques he has found helpful in his parallel career as a screenwriter (his sitcoms are doing well on German television), including visualisation, brainstorming and time-management. At first, most of his clients were other writers who wanted to unlock their creativity, stay inspired and market their work more effectively. But his approach and the opportunity he offers "to look at where you are in all aspects of your life and find out exactly how to get from there to where you want to be" can be applied to any profession. Could Create Your Future help Sue Williams, especially once the immediate enthusiasm generated by the course had died down?
On the first day of the weekend, Ms Williams was reassured to find a looseleaf folder full of worksheets on her chair. As the group of 15 introduced themselves, she found that although there were two other teachers, many were self-employed - in PR, as writers, or, in one case, as a TV presenter on Channel 5. They were very different from the people on the previous course she attended - caravan manoeuvring. "I felt I was the only person with a proper job," she says.
Mr Wolff began by saying it was up to each of them to choose what he or she wanted to get out of the weekend. "I expected group work and trust exercises - much as you'd imagine an AA meeting to be," says Ms Williams.
"But a lot of tasks were done on our own. It all felt very safe. Very calm and quiet. We were bombarded with exercises, but we were left to draw the conclusions ourselves."
A surprise success for Ms Williams was the visualisation. "I would never have believed in it in the past," she says. "Jurgen took us through it step by step. He told us to close our eyes and relax. Then we had to think of a situation from the past that still bothered us. How did we feel about it? He got us to see the picture in black and white, turn the sound down and push it into the distance. My heart was going and I felt agitated, but afterwards it felt so different. I will definitely use the technique to help me feel more positive."
One exercise took longer to appreciate. Each participant was given a picture postcard and asked to express what it meant to them. Ms Williams's was a surreal image of feet in the bath (Frida Kahlo's painting "What the Water Gave Me"). "I thought it was a load of nonsense," she says. "I didn't see a lot of point in it. I like to have concrete answers to things." But halfway through the second morning, the group repeated the exercise with another set of postcards. This time Ms Williams's image was of a beach and the sea. All at once, she says, her ideas fell into place. "I felt crystal clear about what was right for me in the future." So much so that she withdrew from one of the posts for which she had already been interviewed, certain it was not for her.
At the end of the first day, she felt a sense of culture-shock when she went home to her husband, a former teacher now training as a police officer, and her three dogs.
She still remembers every detail of Mr Wolff's "Teach Your Problem" exercise, in which he explained how to change behaviour that's holding you back by showing someone else how to do it well. "I chose to teach how to be a chocoholic," says Ms Williams. "My advice included, 'Don't eat proper meals so you've always got room for chocolate', and 'Always take some chocolate with you wherever you go'. We were in hysterics, but the message is clear. When I find the going hard I think back to that day. The idea wouldn't have had such an impact if I'd read it in a book.
"On every professional development course I've been on," says Ms Williams, "you get a summing up at the end of the day." But not this one. "I wonder," she says, "if I hadn't spent time doing exercises that seemed irrelevant on the first day, whether I'd have had such a good result on the second day."
Despite the course's freewheeling atmosphere, Ms Williams says: "It was much better planned than other courses I've taken. It was more intensive and required more of the participants. It's the best professional development course I've been on.
"Since the course, Jurgen has sent a couple of emails. It's like having a mentor. It's inspiring to feel there's someone who cares. And I feel calmer about making decisions."
So what next? Ms Williams turned 34 between the course and the follow-up meeting a couple of months later. Her goal is still to move back into a school, although she has yet to find the right job. At the follow-up meeting, she reported to the group that she had changed the way she completes application forms, using the course's methods; she "re-did them looking at it from the perspective of the selectors". Boosted by the meeting - and another new exercise on how to harmonise your goals - she is optimistic. "I believe in myself. I believe I can do it."
Jurgen Wolff's next Create Your Future weekend non-residential workshop is on November 8 and 9 at Regent's College, Regent's Park, London. TES readers get a discount of pound;25 on the regular price of pound;175 plus VAT, which includes materials and a follow-up evening session in central London.
Details: firstname.lastname@example.org, or tel: 020 7580 4997. See www.brainstormnet.com
for more details of Jurgen's approach and to subscribe to his free e-bulletin on creativity for busy people