A few examples of when I refused to give up…

Sprechen Sie Deutch?

In my mid-twenties I moved to Germany looking for work, any work that was new… I could have picked up a job in an Irish bar, but I had plenty of bar tending experience from my college days and it wouldn’t improve my German. I had two university qualifications at this stage but was only beginning to learn German. A slight disadvantage in trying to use my newly gained knowledge in Berlin! It was 1995 and English was not widely spoken there. I applied to an ad for Gutmann und Roth GmbH, a stock exchange brokerage company, and was invited to interview. At the end of the interview Fr Brand said that my German wasn’t good enough for the telemarketing job. Having learned off the sentence from my Berlitz German Language book, I asked if she could repeat what she said as I hadn’t understood, unwittingly proving her point. When I did understand, I asked if she would give me a go anyway, even just for a week and she said ok! I had nothing to lose. I was unemployed anyway and thought I need to try something! I don’t know what I was thinking. It wasn’t as if I was going to miraculously learn how to speak German fluently in one week! Somehow Fr Brand decided to keep me on.

A year and a half later I was still there, interviewing a candidate for a similar role and organising the calls for the telemarketing team…needless to say my German had improved quite a bit in the meantime. I took a chance and it worked out, despite there being no reason to think that it would. Business can be like this. We need to collect and analyse the data but sometimes even if the data doesn’t support it, we need to make a brave and daring move and take a leap of faith to achieve the seemingly impossible.

What could possibly go wrong?…

In 2014 I ran the half marathon in Tralee, cycled the Ring of Kerry (180km) and rowed in the all-Ireland coastal rowing championships. Even though I was only training two to three times a week I was fitter than I had been since my teens. I had invested two years in building up my business again from scratch after being out for three years having my youngest two sons, and although in the mist of a tough economic climate the business had grown substantially with a very positive future.

That September, I started to suffer from chronic muscle spasms (diagnosed in June 2015). I now believe that I was physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually depleted. I was operating at about 15% of my capacity, dragging myself through each day. I was in chronic pain every night and waking up more tired than when I went to bed. So far, I have seen 12 experts in very wide variety of fields, from rheumatologist to bone setter, and physio to spiritual healer, to help me regain full health. Some weekly for months, and some monthly for years now, with over 17 daily & weekly recommendations being implemented. All have helped me move forward and I am now nearly back to full health. Even though there were many times when it felt like despite all my efforts, I was going backwards, I always believed that if I just kept trying and was open to new things I would eventually reach full health again.

One of my main learnings through this experience is that with an illness like this there is rarely one panacea and that once you are seeking advice from knowledgeable experienced people you will always get some value. No one person cured me but all helped me on my journey to healing myself. In business we often look for the Silver Bullet, the one thing that will transform our business. In reality, most significant sustainable successes come from dozens or even hundreds of small consistent improvements.

“Til Death Do Us Part”…

We had a very young family and were in the throes of the Irish and global financial crisis, which affected us significantly. This put a big strain on my 25 year relationship with my husband, which nearly didn’t make it! I would have thought that we had a very solid relationship, but it is a minor miracle in itself that we are still together, in love and happy again! There were times that if my husband and I had split up, I would have breathed a sigh of relief. However, despite the difficult times, I always knew that I loved him and he me. We are still together because we knew we were both committed to our relationship and family and would keep on working on ourselves until our relationship got back on track. We still believed in our relationship. We still had hope that things would improve, so we didn’t give up. In business if we are unhappy with a partnership, relationship, product line or service and we believe it won’t improve, then we need to move on.

So…what do you want…?

Eoin and I, during our pre-marriage course knew we would like four children. Him being from a family of four children and me being one of six, decided that three was too few and five too many! We didn’t expect that this would be so challenging, especially after having our first two boys each within 10 months of deciding to give it a go! However, we had five subsequent pregnancies, four operations and six months of blood tests to rule out cancer before completing our family with our two youngest fabulous boys. Our dream was to have four children and we are very grateful to be blessed with our four sons. The road to achieving our goals is often rocky and may feel like we’re not succeeding. I believe there is a reason for everything. And yes, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

The business coaching sector as well as many other professional services plummeted during the recession and when I came back to work in 2012, I had a very tough couple of years rebuilding my business and my clients’ businesses. It was nearly soul destroying to see my business go backwards in 2016 and early 2017 as the impact of my health issues climaxed. I realised I had to prioritise my health over my business in order to achieve my business goals and I found that very difficult to do.

My instinct was to try harder, to work harder, to be a better business coach but actually what my business really needed, was for me to get my health back on track. So contrary to my normal behaviour, up bringing and our culture I focused a large chunk of my time, energy and financial resources on my health… and it paid off. Not only in regaining my strength for now but also in arming me with many new life long skills, tools and knowledge for my family, friends, clients and indeed anyone who will listen! The route to achieving my business goals was to work harder on myself than on my business.

Having clarity on who I am, my purpose and my goals has helped me stay on track especially when times are tough. It has helped me stay focused and true to my dreams, to never
give up.

That’s the big question I ask myself when I’m struggling

Of course, there are situations in all of our lives when we should give up. These are personal to all of us. But whatever road we are on, if it’s not the right one for us, we should give up and go down another route. So how do we know which is which? How do we know when we should persevere or when we should call it quits, take our learnings and move on.

Here are the questions I asked myself…

How important is this to me on a scale of 1-10? Is it a ‘must have’ or a ‘would be nice’?

Is this goal or path aligned with my purpose? Will this bring out the best in me?

Do I believe I can succeed?

How will I feel when I succeed? How will I feel if I don’t succeed? What is the cost to me if I walk away? What is the cost if I don’t?

Probably the single most important question “do I still believe it’s possible for me to succeed in this area?” If you have given up hope of success or happiness, then either refind it or give up quickly!

Way too often we stay in situations, relationships, businesses or organisations that just aren’t working for us anymore but we stay out of some sense of false loyalty or fear of change. We were not created to merely survive, put up with, or martyr ourselves.

I truly believe we were all born to live awesome lives, to live up to our full potential and to express all the gifts we were blessed with. And sometimes when we stop, walk away or say no to something we make way for a game changer.


The people, information and experiences we choose to surround ourselves with; are critical factors in the lives we create. There is a great saying – “many people are responsible for my successes but only I am responsible for my failures”… We only fail when we give up before it’s our time to shine or fail to see failure as the invaluable teacher it most assuredly is. Every one’s journey is different. We all have our own challenges.

A number of life principles have helped me stay on track

Growing up I tried to live my life by one rule…The Golden Rule- Do onto others as you would have done onto you. Other than that I thought personal development meant gaining new qualifications, languages and work experience!

It wasn’t until I came across ActionCOACH in 2004 that I realised the vastness of personal development and now believe it is our life purpose. I have delved into this area and LOVE it. I seem to have an insatiable appetite for learning or maybe I just have an awful lot to learn! The work I have done on myself has helped me be a better coach, wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, neighbour & colleague. I sometimes joke that the undertaker will be trying to close my coffin and I’ll be trying to watch just one more video talk, listen to one more audio book or share one more learning. Over the years I’ve gathered my favourite life generalised principles. (Thank you Martin for encouraging me to do this). Here are a few that have had the biggest impact on me…

The Platinum Rule

Do onto others as they would have done onto themselves…yes, it’s a bit of a tongue twister. All it really means is while trying to do right by others, don’t presume that what you want is what they want. A great example is when buying gifts for people…don’t we often buy presents that we like rather than the recipient? In the context of DISC (a system of behavioural profiling) it means we are all different and different types of people respond to different types of communication better. The test of our communication is the response we get!

Trust your own intuition

We are often too busy running around and applying logic to everything to listen to our own intuition. (I am regularly guilty of this!) We have all the answers inside ourselves if we would only tap into it. Two small tips to allow us to do that are 1. Slow down 2. Do nothing…this creates a space where you can tap into intuition. Meditate, pray, walk alone in nature…whatever works for you.


Constant and everlasting improvements. Being a shiny object enthusiast, I tend to be very open to new learnings and improvements, it’s the constant bit that I struggle with. Sometimes I feel like I let go of implementing some great insights to make way for new ones rather than hanging on to them all.

My job is to be the best me I can be

We are not in competition with anyone else, only ourselves. Am I a better version of myself today than I was yesterday? That’s all that’s important. We are unique, and our circumstances are unique. It’s not our job to judge anyone else, even those who may judge me.

The only failure is the failure to participate. Give 100% & you’ll get 100%

How often do we give less than 100% to what’s important to us in our lives? And then we wonder why we are not achieving some of our goals! It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to learn through experience. We don’t need to get everything right first go (or fiftieth!). We do need to give 100% though and keep trying and learning as we go until we find a way.


My coach showed me this diagram many years ago and I still use it for myself and clients regularly. It says two things move us away from our FLOW, Upset and Ego. To move away from ego towards flow we need to practice gratitude and humility. Flow To move from Upset to flow we need to practice acceptance and understanding.

“Who am I To Be Brilliant?”

This poem, to me is the essence of what coaching is all about. It is the guiding, facilitating, encouraging, nudging, easing of clients towards their true brilliant selves.

 Who am I To Be Brilliant?

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant?”
Actually, who are you NOT to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking.
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.

It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marian Willamson (1991)

– quoted by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inauguration speech

“I’m okay, you’re okay”

When a client or myself is facing a difficult interaction with another person we look at this slide. We place their behaviours and our own into the following quadrants to explore what needs to happen to bring all parties into the top right quadrant; Win:Win.

Be in the Now

There is only now. The only reality is now. The past is merely a memory, distorted by our perspectives and the future is just a dream that may or may not be realised. So savour the now, it is the only place you will find happiness.

Be x Do = Have

We are often very busy doing without first having clarity on what it is we want to have at the end of it all. The learning is to start with the end in mind, clarity of what you want to Have. Then plan what you need to Do and finally examine who you need to Be for the plan to be successfully implemented.

Society seems to have well drilled into us that we need to do certain things in order to have certain results. The main opportunity for grwoth in most people and indeed business, is the need to Be different. When a group of people are asked who are their idols, people they respect, who they look up to; they list a few names ranging from parents to politicians, and from humanitarians to sports and business leaders. When asked what do they admire about them, the vast majority mention things like they are focused, determined, ambitious, driven, inspirational, etc. Rarely are their qualifications or achievements mentioned. In other words, who we are is more important.

He who is silent, is understood to consent

We all say things we don’t mean or regret at times, some more than others! But for me, I most regret the times that I should have spoken up, when I didn’t. So this little saying is one I like to remind myself of often.

Strength or Weakness?

Every strength when over done or applied in the wrong situation is a weakness! Sometimes we over do our strengths to the extent that they are a weakness and we can be very reluctant to admit that we were wrong.


The divine in me salutes the divine in you. Or also know as, I salute the God within you. A beautiful way to greet and farewell people that reminds us that we all precious souls.

Helen owns and manages Helen Burns & Associates. She has a wealth of business related qualifications and experience, together with strong business acumen and a passion for business. Helen is a licensed master business coach with, ActionCOACH Business Coaching the world’s No. 1 Business Coaching team, now operating in over 80 countries.

Having qualified with a B.A. from UCC in Economics and Mathematics in 1992, Helen furthered her education by completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Studies in UCG (NUIG). She has gained extensive work experience in Galway, Berlin, Dresden, Cork, London and Dublin covering a range of industries e.g. hotel, stock exchange brokerage, construction, finance house and call centre, and retail. She has held a number of positions from clerical to senior executive management.

The Helen Burns & Associates team has over 25 years’ experience in the operation of a business and a solid understanding of the different areas that need improving in small to medium sized enterprises, its target market sector. Supporting Helen Burns & Associates, ActionCOACH provides extensive training in the systems and methodologies to improve its clients’ businesses.

Since qualifying as an Action coach Helen has worked with many sectors including hospitality, manufacturing, construction, retail, legal and medical profession, financial services, education and IT. Her clients enjoy increased profits, happier and more productive teams and more free time to do the things that they want to do. Helen and her clients have received multiple national, European and global coaching & business awards. In 2002 Helen married Eoin, completed her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and subsequently, had four delightful sons, Tommy, Ruairi, Cillian & Liam.

She enjoys spending her free time pursuing outdoor sports and activities with her family and friends. In 2007 Helen and her family moved back to Kerry and based her business coaching practice in Tralee. Helen’s vision is to coach business leaders and their teams to reach their potential and lead happier lives.

My “why” is to be inspirational and abundant in each and every moment for the wonderful 5 five men in my life.

Thank you for taking the time to read about some of my journey.

I hope you can pick up some ideas here that will make your journey a little easier and more enjoyable for you and therefore for everyone who experiences you…we all have a duty not only to ourselves but also to those around us, to be happy.

As Marian Williamson so beautifully put it “as we let our light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

May your light shine.

Have any questions?

Please get in touch!