Lindsey Nicholl was 18 when sister died of cancer; bullying at work led to breakdown and her marriage failed ...
... but now she uses those traumas to guide teenagers through the pitfalls of growing up
Parents of children struggling to navigate the difficult teenage years are being signposted to a simpler route thanks to a new service set up by a Belfast woman.
Lindsey Nicholl has been helping smooth out all kinds of bumps on the road to adulthood for children struggling with anxiety, depression, peer pressure, cyberbullying or any issue which is impacting on their wellbeing.
Her one-to-one resilience coaching has had such an impact that grateful clients and parents have nominated her for a major business award.
Lindsey (34) who runs Aspire2Achieve training, education and coaching centre in north Belfast has just been shortlisted in the 'Mighty Woman' category of the 2019 Families First Business Awards.
And when you hear her own personal struggles and what she has overcome to get to where she is today, mighty is certainly a synonym that perfectly suits this very special woman.
Lindsey has always been self-employed and just rebranded last year with the launch of Aspire 2 Achieve.
As well as offering training, she now has a huge focus on youth development, working with youth clubs and community centres to develop programmes to tackle all sorts of issues facing children.
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She has launched a series of 'camps' for kids during the school holidays but it is in her one-to-one coaching of children through challenging times where she has made a huge impact in the past year.
She is dedicated to helping everyone to fulfil their own potential and this is driven in part by her own tragic experiences.
When she was 18 she lost her older sister suddenly to ovarian cancer, then in her 20s she believes a combination of delayed grief and workplace bullying, led to a mental breakdown.
In her late 20s she came through a marriage break up which she describes as "absolutely brutal" and although now happily settled with a new partner, she recently had to accept the devastating news that she is unlikely to ever have children.
Little wonder that resilience training plays a huge part in what she does as she herself has had to bounce back many times only to find herself stronger than ever.
She says: "My aim with my coaching is to encourage young people to follow their dreams and believe anything is possible.
"Initially I wanted to be a nurse. My sister Kelly died when I was doing my A-levels so I dropped out. She was 27 and was mum to little Ryan who was only seven. She died just eight weeks after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"It was horrific. We were all in deep shock and I think I was numb for a long time."
Lindsey, who grew up in north Belfast, also has another sister, Ashley (42).
Her dream was always to help people and she became a carer in a residential home at 16 and agency auxiliary nurse at 18.
She then went into teaching and quickly realised it was in helping and supporting others to be their best selves that she herself excelled and was at her happiest.
She says: "Seeing people young and old achieve their goals, pass their exams and achieve things they may not have believed themselves were even possible was my driving force. These people inspired and encouraged me to do more."
However, in her early 20s she learnt the hard way that not everyone is so well intentioned when she became the victim of a workplace bully.
The experience left her feeling stressed, exhausted and ultimately led to a breakdown at the age of 24.
She says: "I was quite young and successful and that opens you up to a lot of criticism and jealousy.
"My attitude is that we should all be working together to lift each other up, not drag each other down, but unfortunately that's not how everyone sees it and one person tried to drag me down.
"The bullying and the fact that I hadn't really grieved for my sister combined and it all came to a head and I had a mini breakdown.
"I was very low and suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and was not sleeping.
"I was also planning my wedding and it was impacting on my relationship.
"It lasted about six months and then this English business woman took me under her wing and there was no better wing to be under.
"She ran a very successful training and education centre in England and she got me working for her and I learnt a lot from her and my own company initially was set up to mimic what she was doing."
Working initially as a self-employed tutor and assessor in health and social care she set up her business as a trainer working from home.
She travelled extensively across Northern Ireland and England assisting people in the healthcare sector to achieve their qualifications.
Believing that a holistic approach to self care and self love were crucial to her own recovery from mental health, Lindsey decided she wanted to help others and trained as a life coach.
After slowly expanding her resume and enhancing her career objectives Lindsey was chosen, because of her contribution to youth work and dedication to good relations, to attend an intense four-day retreat last year.
She says: "I was cut off completely from the outside world for four days.
"The retreat was focused on developing strategies to deal with peace building in NI but I came away with a new business idea.
"I had always said from my teens that we should aspire to achieve and so I created my dream job and rebranded the business and in June 2018 Aspire2Achieve (Bespoke Services) Ltd was born. I got myself premises and I now provide a diverse coaching and training service which provides youth and community development, care training, youth training and coaching.
"I'm not driven by financial gain, I'm driven to help others and hearing them tell me how they have turned their lives around because of my influence, because I believed in them and their vision makes me immensely proud.
"Five years ago I came through a marriage break up which was a very difficult time for me but everyone goes through ups and downs in life and it is how you actually use that experience that really matters.
"For a long time I used work to mask my feelings and I worked seven days a week and maybe 80 hours a week but now I have realised the importance of a work-life balance.
"I take time off and I don't work weekends and my laptop stays in the office and I don't take work home with me.
"I have a new partner and I found out last year that I can't have children after years of trying but I realise now that it's okay, I'm here to empower all these other young people to realise their dreams and be their best selves - that's perhaps my calling and what I live my life by now, always having a positive outlook."
The youngest child Lindsey has coached was just seven. Most of her one to one clients are young teens, both boys and girls.
All of her work is by recommendation as she doesn't advertise.
This alone shows just how big an impact she is having.
She says: "My coaching sessions are tailored to each child's needs. I have a young boy at the moment who is into computers, so we are doing his worksheets with the computer.
"I also have a young girl who is into art and crafts, so I take the arts and craft materials out and we use those.
"When a child first comes to me their parents will be with them and if they don't feel comfortable with the process then we don't proceed but thankfully that has never happened.
"I usually see them for at least five sessions every other week.
"I teach them resilience techniques and just give them tools to cope with the pressures of daily life.
"Low self-esteem is at the root of most issues and I work on building confidence and helping them to believe they can achieve their dreams.
"Mental health issues especially in young boys are a big thing and kids struggling with the teenage years and online bullying and health issues such as anxiety and depression."
Lindsey also has a successful adult one to one coaching service.
It was both children and adults who put pen to paper to nominate her for the Mighty Woman title in the Families First People and Business Awards 2019.
The awards, now into their ninth year, aim to acknowledge people and businesses that have helped to make life better for families living here.
Hosted by Pete Snodden, the gala event takes place at the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel in Bangor on Saturday.
Organiser Ann King says of Lindsey's entry: "When we received the entry for Lindsey in the Mighty Woman category we were certain she deserved to be a finalist - her dedication to helping others and her ability to shine through her own personal trauma are amazing attributes for anyone to have.
"We hope her story inspires others to see that there can always be a positive outcome no matter what life throws at you. The Families First People and Business Awards are designed to thank and acknowledge all who do so much for families across Northern Ireland, I'm sure you'll agree this 'mighty woman' certainly deserves this nomination."
Lindsey is thrilled to have been shortlisted. She adds: "I'm absolutely delighted and humbled. It was a bit of a shock. I don't do what I do for payback and I was really touched that so many of my clients took the time to nominate me.
"I get absolutely fabulous feedback and I am really proud of what Aspire2Achieve is doing and I feel very blessed to be doing it and helping people and I am excited about the future as I plan to go from strength to strength."
- You can find out more at www.aspire2achieve.ltd