Single mother Caroline Bellenger overcame childhood trauma, addiction, and mental illness to give herself and her son their best chance in life. Today, she is a triathlete and runs a thriving business as a life and business coach. Here, she shares the lessons she has learned from doing it differently.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
After childhood trauma and 20 years of addiction and mental illness, including being filled with self-hatred, I got sober in 2009 at the age of 40 while being a single mum.
During the past 13 years of sobriety, I faced sexism, bullying and harassment in two different corporate and non-profit organisations while in management roles. Being subjected to bullying in a toxic corporate workplace was the catalyst to put all my energy into being self-employed.
I was inspired to launch my coaching business, Be The Impossible, because of my passion for empowering women to use fitness and exercise to manage stress and mental health.
Starting a business takes courage. What obstacles did you have to overcome?
My biggest obstacle was a lack of self-belief and not having any mentors or coaches when I first started. Additionally, being a single mum with little business support meant I had to either work it out alone or learn to ask for help.
My first business was a gym. I completed all the council processes, physical fit out and website/social media using my experience and knowledge. It wasn’t until I was in my second year of business that I started investing in myself by hiring a business coach and attending business development events. Through the networking at these events, I met other female entrepreneurs and thus expanded my knowledge and support network.
What challenges have you faced running your business, and how did you resolve them?
I think being a female entrepreneur means that you will always have challenges, which is a reflection of life. Some challenges I faced included difficulty gaining financial loans because I was a single mum and a dismissive attitude from other acquaintances who perceived my ambition as unrealistic. As a single mother without close family support, I am incredibly committed to my son’s well-being. I am happy to say that despite the workload of being a solopreneur, the time and energy invested with my son were never compromised.
What achievement/s you are most proud of and why?
I am incredibly proud of the women’s lives I have transformed through my life and business coaching.
Other achievements I am proud and grateful for include representing Australia in Triathlon at age 50 with my son, raising an incredibly kind and successful young adult winning numerous business awards, and sharing my story in multiple media outlets to inspire others.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you address it?
Yes, imposter syndrome is real! It is normal to have self-doubt and wonder if we are good enough at times. However, it is essential to be self-aware to understand these are just thoughts, not real. I teach women to believe in themselves, so I have extra motivation to ensure that I walk the talk and address my own self-limiting beliefs quickly.
Who has been your biggest champion on your journey, and how did they help you?
I am proud to say that my son, who is now 20, has always been my biggest champion. I got sober 13 years ago, and we have a very open and honest relationship, including competing in triathlons together at a national level. He has always motivated me to make a better life for both of us and always encourages me to follow my dreams, take risks, and keep going.
Finding a mentor and investing in personal development and business strategies have also enabled me to find solutions to any challenges. I found a mentor at a business event quite by accident. I intended to seek inspiration from fitness expert Michelle Bridges, who was a keynote speaker. Instead, I signed up with another speaker Aaron Sansoni as a mentor and spent over two years being mentored by him individually, coached 1:1 by his Master Coaches and being part of his mastermind entrepreneur group. This coaching model attracted me as it was holistic, emphasising personal wellbeing as much as growing an empire. For the past two years, I have been a Master Coach as part of his team, empowering others in business and life.
What skills do you believe women must have to succeed as a leader?
To be themselves. For too long, women have felt the pressure to be like men to succeed as leaders rather than be their authentic selves. It is okay to be emotional, show compassion and raise the tone of your voice when speaking. Being yourself and believing in yourself translates to being a successful leader, not following old-fashioned social norms.
Work/life balance can be difficult. How do you manage it, and can you share your ‘tricks of the trade’?
As someone who still suffers from mental illness, I have learnt that self-care is an absolute priority. I believe that if we look after ourselves emotionally, physically, and mentally, all other things like career, business, relationships, and wealth will naturally be positive experiences.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Not personally, as I think we learn the most from our mistakes. However, I would do some things differently in the future. The number one thing I do differently now is trust in myself and make decisions based on what is suitable for me.
Caroline Bellenger’s Top 3 Leadership Lessons Learned
1. Be Kind
2. Be Authentic
3. Walk The Talk
By Laini Bennett, MBA