After over two decades in the luxury retail industry, Asha Langdown called it quits. She now looks to empower others through life coaching, which she chanced upon a year ago
The professional life coaching industry has been thriving in recent years, with more people seeking out coaches to journey with them to reach their potential in their personal and professional spheres.
The target for coaching sessions ranges from finding a purpose in life to working towards specific goals such as preparing to run a marathon or getting a promotion at the workplace.
Estimates from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) valued the global life coaching industry at US$2.85 billion ($3.87 billion) in 2020, following a 33% increase in the number of certified coaches between 2015 and 2019. The industry is said to have grown even further in the past year amid growing demand for coaching as well as the corresponding entry of more professional coaches.
Asha Langdown claims she only “stumbled” upon the industry a year ago, when she was looking up for courses and activities to pursue after leaving her corporate job. Up till that point, she had no clue whatsoever about life coaching. “Honestly, I really did not know what it was when I first came across it,” says the Singaporean in a recent interview with Options. A fascination to know more about what life coaching encompassed pushed her to research further into the discipline. “I dug deeper and deeper, and then I eventually thought ‘This is it. This is what I want to pursue’.”
The opportunity to support others in realising their vision gave the 55-year-old a new purpose. But the road to becoming a certified coach was not easy as she took up an intense course administered by the US-based Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). She is now on her way to attaining an ACC (Associate Certified Coach) certification, which is also the first level of accreditation for a life coach. The programme involves sitting for at least 60 hours of training and 100 hours of coaching.
It was an arduous yet invigorating journey, as “I have not felt so engaged with something new in a really long time,” says Langdown. Even as she looks forward to applying her learning in actual coaching sessions, she already has her sights on deepening her knowledge on life coaching by taking on additional certifications. Top on her mind are the PCC (Professional Certified Coach) and MCC (Master Certified Coach) titles, which would entail clocking in more hours for course work and life coaching sessions.
Given her experience in the luxury retail industry, it may surprise you to know she is actually very breezy in person. Minutes of meeting her, it is apparent that she is warm, down-to-earth and a very easy person to converse with — perhaps the ideal traits for someone in her new chosen profession.
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Just hearing Langdown speak about life coaching is enough to know that her passion for the discipline is legitimate. It is also clear that she believes in her new skills and what it allows her to do for others. She pauses when asked what exactly it is about coaching that she enjoys, replying: “[I appreciate that] it is about human nature and about ourselves. Life coaching is very empowering, it is about what we want, how we get what we want, why we are not getting what we want. It looks at what blocks us, motivates us and influences us. Basically, it is the study of you”.
For the uninitiated, life coaching is nothing like a counselling or therapy session. Langdown says the two disciplines are actually quite different: Counsellors are trained in medicine or psychology, while life coaches are equipped with a set of methodologies which may differ slightly based on the institute they are certified with. The nature also differs: During a counselling session, clients could revisit episodes of trauma and anguish to talk about their feelings and how the incidents have altered their perception of life. A coaching session, however, involves establishing what a client wants and then exploring ways to achieve that goal.
“In coaching, you work with your client and support them in their journey,” adds Langdown. “It is not counselling or therapy so we are not allowed to give advice.” On the other hand, coaching is seen as a partnership between the coach and the client. In this dynamic, the coach is a critical partner who asks the client thought-provoking questions touching on areas like: Why they want what they want, what will change when the goal is attained and how they can go about achieving it.
“You talk and as your coach, I listen. I give you my presence,” she adds. Essentially, the coach and client partnership is a safe space allowing individuals to answer uncomfortable questions that may even challenge their assumptions. “It is done in a very respectful way,” she says, adding that a client can always choose not to answer something if they do not feel comfortable.
Each coaching session kicks off with establishing a key performance indicator (KPI) and how its attainment can be ascertained. “Some people may come to me and say ‘oh I want to discuss something specific with you in our session today’. Others may want to have a plan at the end of the session. So different people may have different KPIs.”
When asked what are the common themes that clients seek coaching on, the life coach says it really depends. “The issues could be different from week to week, or some clients may want to work on just one specific subject for a couple of sessions,” she mulls. Areas she has coached her clients on include preparing to relocate from Singapore to another country, transitioning from one job to another, having a difficult conversation with a manager at work or even coping with being an empty nester.
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‘I wish I had a coach’
Knowing what she knows about the coaching industry today, Langdown wishes she had a coach to journey with her throughout her career. Interestingly, the self-professed “service-oriented” person started her career in the hospitality industry. “I like to help people and make them feel at ease. So, for me, hospitality was about taking care of people as well as the decorum of doing things properly.”
Throughout her six years at an international hotel chain, Langdown went “everywhere” — from the front desk to the laundry department, house-keeping, public relations to sales and marketing and F&B outlets. From learning how to liaise with clients to how to clean a room, each role offered a chance to get acquainted with the systems and processes in the hotel.
Still, Langdown acknowledges that the hospitality industry is a tough one. The industry taught her to be independent and to dress well when meeting guests. It also taught her the finer aspects of hospitality like creating an unforgettable experience that would make guests want to come back.
One example is learning to read her guests based on their demeanour: Some people — especially those rushing for meetings during a business trip — are matter-of-fact and prefer being alone. Others — like tourists who strike up a conversation on Singaporean culture and places they should visit — would probably appreciate more attention and help.
Mastering this skill of understanding needs has served Langdown well, even after she moved into public relations — first at a high fashion label in Singapore and Australia for about three years, and then to Italian luxury brand Bulgari for 22 years. The tone of communication adopted in the fashion sector is not very different from the formal voice used in the hospitality industry. However, Langdown says that the difference — albeit subtle — is that the fashion industry allows for a more creative and maybe a little playful tone of communication.
A wonderful experience
Throughout the interview, it is clear that Bulgari still holds a very special place in her heart. As she says: “Bulgari was such a wonderful experience for me. I think the fact that I was there for 22 years says a lot.” For our meeting, she is sporting gold bangles and statement rings, perhaps a reminder of her time at the brand. Founded in 1884, the label is known for its jewellery, watches, fragrances, accessories and leather products.
A large part of Langdown’s appreciation for her time at the company comes from the growth she had from the areas she oversaw and opportunities that came her way. She started off by managing and supporting the public relations and communications strategies of franchisees who were responsible for growing the brand in countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. Her portfolio later included overseeing marketing across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Australia, Korea, China and India.
Even as the countries shared borders and were part of the same region, there were often vast differences in the tastes and preferences of customers. Take Singapore and Malaysia, for example: Both countries are neighbours, yet our inherent sense of style, dressing, way of doing things and spending habits are different. “What works in one Southeast Asian country may not work in another. Even in bigger countries, what worked in New South Wales could be different from what works in say Melbourne or Sydney,” says Langdown.
The seasoned communications expert kept her eyes and ears on the ground by staying connected to her teams in the various markets and keeping abreast with data on consumer trends. She also kept tabs on the happenings in the shop floors by asking the salespeople — or the front-liners as she calls them — what the loyal, long-term clients were asking for. These clients would say things like ‘I don’t like yellow gold so much, or I prefer diamonds that are two carats and above’. So, it was important to have the staff aware of how to ask the right questions and take down the information to pass it along, she adds.
Being diplomatic is also key, especially since the brand has to be seen as respectful of the various local cultures. “You cannot impose your cultures. If you want to grow, you have to be known — you have to be respectful, you have to listen and of course, be true to your values,” she adds.
Despite having spent over two decades in the luxury retail industry, Langdown maintains that one need not be decked from head to toe in luxury brands to look good or well put together. Instead, she suggests that one should be introspective and ask themselves — what is the message I want to convey or am I happy with how I look?
Master of your life
Langdown’s wealth of experience — either as a professional or as a mother to two sons aged 29 and 23 — has put her in a good place to give solid advice to her clients during her coaching sessions. In fact, an often asked question is: How would she respond to a situation if she were in her client’s shoes?
Her reply? The sessions are not about her. She continues: “Who I am and what I will do may be completely different from what you will do or say, because I am not living your experiences or circumstances. I am not you.”
Instead, she notes that every individual has an inherent ability to know what is best for themselves. Langdown also observes that women — whom she specialises in coaching — have a tendency to second guess themselves.
Conversely, women have the ability to achieve anything they set their mind to given their intellect, strength and capabilities, observes the life coach. What holds people back is that they often stand in their own way by believing that they cannot achieve what they want to.
Ultimately, you are the only master of yourself, says Langdown. “Each of us has everything we need to reach success — you just need to be confident that you have what it takes to achieve your dreams”.
Cover image of Asha Langdown: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore