Chloe O’Sullivan is the founder of War to Peace®. Once a miserable, senior banking professional, Chloe turned her considerable experience of being in conflict with people into a mission to uncover the root cause of relationship difficulty. Through her professional training as a coach and systems worker, along with many years of research and practical application of what she had learned, Chloe worked with a team of people across several countries to create the award-winning* War to Peace® methodology. War to Peace® helps anyone to relate more effectively with the people they are struggling with, no matter how challenging or unreasonable the other person’s behaviour seems. It works for all relationships, both at home and at work, and is frequently described by practitioners as life-changing. Chloe is an avid globetrotter and is fortunate to have worked and played in many countries.
From living on a boat as a scuba dive instructor to being heli-lifted off black ski runs, she gives 100% to everything she does! Whilst her passion for life, travel and adventure still burns brightly, Chloe loves that her husband and eight year old daughter provide the opportunities for fun nowadays. Although the water slides on her family holidays seem to be becoming increasingly daring, so who knows what is next….?
School For Mothers: Who are the members of your immediate family?
Richard is my wonderful husband, and Katie (8 + ¾ – the ¾ is very important when you’re 8!) is our gorgeous daughter.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in a farming village in Devon, which sounds far more idyllic than it was! There were some happy times, especially when we stayed with my wider family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, but I experienced my childhood as difficult and unhappy mainly.
My parents genuinely did their best and loved me in their own way. And having come from an era of parents where children should be seen and not heard, they had learned to punish and shame when I behaved outside of very strict parameters or – in other words – behaved in any way like a child! So I spent most of my childhood feeling like there was something wrong with me, and that I was inherently flawed and unlovable.
What was behind your name-change at a young age?
There were a few reasons. From a practical point of view, there were four Sarah’s in my year at school, so I never knew whether people were talking to me, about me, or if they meant one of the other Sarah’s, so I wanted a more unusual name. The deeper, more emotional reason is that when I left home at 17 and tried to reinvent myself at college, I still found myself being triggered if someone used a sharp tone when they said “Sarah”. When I was 19, I naively decided the best way to leave my past behind for good was to change my name. I think it was probably a subconscious way of hurting my parents too, though I was far too self-centered to think about the impact on them at the time. I chose the name Chloe because it was very unusual back then – I only knew of one – and she was the carefree, funny, happy girl I longed to be.
In what way was your interview for the Post Office a crucial life changing one?
I was very emotionally immature post-college, and my self-esteem was at an all time low after I left with some pretty poor A level results (in stark contrast to my all-star, A-grade-with-distinctions sibling!). I wanted to be seen as a success too and thought that getting a job that had ‘manager’ in the title would achieve this. So I set about applying for any job that fit the criteria ‘bookshop manager, ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant Manager’ – you get the picture!
At the time, the Post Office was running a national recruitment campaign for managers to run the stationery shops they were newly opening within the Post Office branches. I applied and had to attend some numerical reasoning and English literacy testing. As ever, I was the last to finish the tests and only just managed to complete them time. To my astonishment I was called for an interview.
I’ll never forget it – and only wish I knew the name of the ‘old man’ (he was probably only in his forties at the time, but was old to me aged 19) who sat in the middle of the panel of three. He asked me how I thought I’d done on the tests. “Not very well” I replied. When he asked me why, I explained that I wasn’t very intelligent or any good at tests. His answer changed the course of my life. He said “That’s not true. You did very well. In fact, you came top in the country. Which is why we’re not going to offer you this job, you’d be bored. An intelligent young woman like you should be going to university.”
I’d never even considered it! No woman in my family had ever been to university! Me, capable of getting a degree? I was genuinely honoured to be offered a place at the University of Cardiff (I had to write a letter and attend an interview to explain my poor A level grades) and thought it a true privilege to be able to study there.
Several years later, I went on to win a scholarship to study for an MBA, but I would say it took me until well into my thirties before I finally accepted that I had a reasonable level of academic intelligence.
What were your top learnings in your time as a banker?
Surround myself with the kind of people I admire and respect, because it’s not difficult to be subtly (or not so subtly) influenced by the people I spend most of time with.
A transactional / task-orientated style of leadership is useful in small doses and under limited circumstances. Whilst it may seem to be the most efficient way to get the job done, a relational approach will be ultimately far more effective – and far more rewarding.
Being the natural (and therefore best version of ourselves, which I call being at Peace) is always going to be a more fulfilling and effective way of working and living life.
What was your journey that led you to birthing War to Peace®?
By the time I was 34, I was terminally single and I’d not spoken to my Dad for 17 years, or my brother for 18 months. I’d fallen out with my best friend, along with both of my bosses at work. Then, just six months after my Mum passed away, my beloved Step-father met me for lunch and said that this was the last time he’d ever see me. My life was full of conflict and I was thoroughly miserable. This level of conflict was replicated in my professional life too.
I wanted to understand what was at the heart of these conflicts, I had to – I simply couldn’t live like this any longer. After an unexpected and massive explosion of temper at work one day that shocked the life out of me (and all my colleagues to be honest), I realised that I needed to work on my emotional intelligence. So I quit a senior banking career, with no plans, few savings and no idea what I was going to do, other than having an urgent need to sort out my relationships.
I traveled extensively, attended courses, workshops and retreats that I once would have derided as ‘woo woo’, and went a long way outside of my comfort zone. Once I understood the root cause of all the conflict in my life and started applying what I’d learned to my own relationships, everything changed. I simply had to find a way of making this accessible to anyone and everyone who wanted it.
Just five years later, I had met the man of my dreams, my Dad walked me down the aisle on our wedding day, and my brother and step-father were there to share our wonderful celebration, along with my best friend and my two former bosses. I’m so happy to say that all of these relationships remain intact to this day and serve as a constant reminder to me of what is possible when we are willing to learn and grow. And they provide me with a regular supply of opportunities to tell on myself to my participants about all the times I still, even now, sometimes get in my own way of being at Peace!
What will be the legacy of War to Peace®, the award-winning methodology you founded?
That this life-changing work is available globally, in multiple languages, to anyone who wants to experience it. And this is really important – War to Peace® is world-work that anyone who is willing can understand and apply to his or her own relationships. There’s so much guru-ship happening in this era of ‘self-help’ and this defeats the very nature of War to Peace®, the idea that someone out there is ever superior or inferior to us.
There is only one expert in your life, and that is you. The endeavour of War to Peace® is to simply help you to uncover your natural, brilliant self, and to reveal to you the unhelpful places we inhabit when we let ourselves get triggered by others. It brings a life of ease and fulfillment, and an ability to relate to anyone, even those we have previously found so difficult.
What changed everything for you professionally?
Getting a boss who believed in me and wanted me to change for my sake, because she felt I was wasting my potential – not because she couldn’t tolerate me.
Losing it at work in such a spectacular fashion in front of all the most senior and influential people in my organisation, and realising that I couldn’t hold in my anger any more, I had to understand its root cause.
The 7/7 London bombings – I was living and working in the Square Mile at the time and being so close to the bombings was a terrifying experience. Walking home alone that evening, I realised that all I’d accomplished in life was a grand job title, some letters after my name and a flashy, soulless apartment. It was a wake up call that life is precious and I was wasting mine.
What is your relationship to perfectionism now and how has this changed in the past decade?
I was raised by two perfectionist parents, so I had a double dose to feast on, and feast I did! It’s a double-edged sword because on the plus side, people tell me that the high standards I hold for myself are evident in my work. On the downside, I can be unrealistic in my expectations of both myself and others, which does everyone a disservice. Fortunately, my husband and I often work together from home and he is a great leveler for me – he has equally high standards, but without the pesky perfectionism, so he helps me to have a better understanding of what’s realistic, reasonable and good enough.
This has helped me with both my business and parenting, and I remain determined not to pass on this trait to my daughter, though trying really hard not to be a perfectionist is a bit of an oxymoron when you think about it!
‘Good enough’ is my mantra these days when I feel perfectionism rearing its ugly head – and that’s working better than anything else I’ve tried in the past.
How important is the practice of asking for help?
Essential! And I was rubbish at it until I embarked on a leadership programme. Along with my course mates, I was blindfolded and taken out into the woods, in the pouring rain to a maze. My job was to find the exit. It took me over 2 hours to realise that the exit simply required me to ask for help. It’s a lesson that’s stayed with me and I remain immeasurably grateful for learning it, albeit the hard way!
How did you grow your emotional intelligence and why?
How long have you got! I’ve spoken about the moment I lost it at work – that’s when I knew for sure I had to do something, though I’d had plenty of signs along the way that I’d ignored or convinced myself meant something else.
The process for me of growing emotional intelligence is ongoing. What’s changed is that I once felt broken and in need of “fixing”, so I became a personal development junkie, attending every course known to man, analysing every interaction I had – it was exhausting, for me and for those closest to me. And somewhere along the way, I learned to be loving and accepting of myself as well as others. So my desire for growth these days comes less from a place of neediness and more from a place of worthiness.
Your original ambition was to be married with children, in what ways did this this seem elusive for you?
It really did seem elusive for many years – especially in my thirties when my dear, terminally ill Mum was so desperate to have grandchildren and to see me married that she was trying to plan my wedding for me, even though I was still single; it was heartbreaking.
That said, I was very fortunate that I met and dated some really lovely men in my twenties. However, because I felt so unlovable at the time, I either didn’t believe they loved me or I thought if they genuinely loved someone as unworthy as I believed I was, they were not worth having, so I made it impossible for them. I was pretty difficult to be with and I’m so grateful to have remained friends with those kindly exes.
Funnily enough, my elusive quest for a husband led to me developing War to Peace®! When I was training as a professional life coach, I met a lot of great people – authentic, kind, spirited and giving. I liked this community and thought it would be a great place to find my sexy soulmate. So I enrolled on a leadership programme that was run by the same organisation for this specific purpose. I had no interest in leadership, I’d been a leader at work for years and I wasn’t looking to take on any responsibility, I simply wanted to meet my future husband!
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t find my husband there, but I did experience how our perceptions and beliefs are not reality, and how our certainty that we’re right about them fools – and therefore undermines – us in our interactions and relationships. This is what inspired me to create War to Peace® and I genuinely believe that through finding the purpose and fulfillment in creating and spreading this work, I felt worthy enough to be in a relationship with my husband when he showed up in my life.
As for babies, I’d decided that should I still be single aged 30, I would begin investigating having children alone. After years of research, I carefully chose a donor and went through two rounds of clinical insemination, but both rounds failed. I was devastated at the time but, upon reflection, I wouldn’t be the mother, wife and business woman I am today had either attempt succeeded, so it’s been a great lesson in learning to love what is, rather than a preconceived notion of how I think it should be.
When you met your husband what was compelling about him?
Oh, just everything! And I was not short of ideals – I had listed 45 traits I wanted in my future husband, much to my friends’ and family’s amusement! I always reasoned that I would be lonelier in a relationship where I wasn’t deeply in love than remaining alone, so I was prepared to wait indefinitely for someone who ticked all the boxes. And I have to say I was thrilled (and pretty relieved to be honest!) to have met him just before my 39th birthday – it wasn’t the easiest being single for so long, especially in my thirties, but I’m truly grateful that I waited.
What led you to question the importance of passing on your genetic material?
Funnily enough, I was never really concerned about passing on my genes (I’d spent most of my life believing I was deeply flawed after all), but I did want to pass on my husband’s, and I really wanted to experience childbirth and breastfeeding – though my friends are quick to point out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be!
I’m really pleased we got to experience pregnancy though, especially the first time, which was quite the most wonderful period of our lives we’d ever known. We saw our baby’s heartbeat and we were besotted! It was very sad when we lost that baby, but we were optimistic that we would fall pregnant again. It wasn’t as easy as we had hoped but we were lucky enough to experience getting pregnant with twins through IVF – that joyous moment when we found out will be forever etched in our memories. Again, that pregnancy didn’t work out, but we are glad we had the experience nonetheless.
How do you integrate celebrating the babies you lost/miscarried (please assist with wording that honours your children) in your present life?
We honoured our first baby by choosing the day we found out we were pregnant to be our Valentine’s Day. So, we don’t celebrate it on 14 February, we celebrate on 25 July.
Our twin boys we honoured by buying a small copper / brass statue of two intertwined sleeping babies. It’s really beautiful and it sits on a coffee table in our living room.
What was the process of adoption like for you?
Intense and long! And illuminating and educational. And deeply frustrating and nerve-wracking at times.
Many people advised that I should not reveal the truth about my childhood experiences to social services and to conceal key events. I completely understand why, yet I was unwilling to do this, and whilst sharing everything came at a cost (it lengthened the process, a lot of painful memories were prodded and poked, and my resilience was tested fully and thoroughly), it meant that when we achieved approval, we could be sure that the highly experienced social workers knew us inside out and trusted us with the precious children they are responsible for. We also firmly believe that this is why the match for our daughter and us is so good!
Being almost six years old, and having been in foster care for two years, our daughter was weeks away from being placed in permanent foster care. Social services had turned down more than thirty couples before unanimously agreeing that we were the right match for her, and we couldn’t feel more honoured or more perfectly suited to one another.
I’ve nothing but respect and admiration for the work of social services. They get a raw deal, we only ever hear the horror stories that are reported on the news and to get a glimpse into their world, what they have to deal with, and the care with which they carry out their incredibly important work, was both illuminating and humbling.
What was the wait for your daughter like and how did it impact on your marriage?
Exciting and nerve-wracking! We were on another ‘final holiday before we’re parents’ in Sri Lanka when we started to question the 0-3 year old age range we had chosen for our future child. One day, my husband said “don’t you think we could help an older child?” We realised that we were in a good position to do this and decided to expand our age range from 0-5 years old, nervously telling our social worker in her final assessment visit when we returned home.
When she left our house, my husband said “she’s got a match for us, I know it!” I had been too busy feeling scared that we may have blown our chances by changing the age range at the last minute, but he was right, and the next day our social worker phoned to tell us about our girl!
A month later, we were due to be approved as adopters and to see a video of our daughter for the very first time. We both run our own businesses, so we had begun the process of winding down our work and making the preparations needed for taking time off. Sadly, our elation at being approved was immediately replaced with devastation when we heard that our little girl’s case was being contested and she may not be available for adoption after all. Our social worker asked if we wanted them to search for another child for us because they could no longer give us any information or likelihood about our success with her. We took no time at all to decide, we just believed we were meant to be her parents.
The wait was really tough. Not only did we have to wait for the court to rule on her case, we then had to wait for a new date to go back to the assessment panel to be approved to become her adoptive parents. And then, we finally had a date – many weeks later, as the foster carers and social workers then have to spend a concerted period of time preparing her for having a forever Mummy and Daddy, moving into a new home and having to say goodbye to her birth parents, friends, school, clubs etc. it’s such an emotionally intense time for everyone involved.
And just when there was finally one week to go, one of her foster carers had to go into hospital for surgery, so our time to finally meet Katie got delayed once more! Fortunately, we knew by now that it was only a matter of time, so my husband and I went out for multiple, wonderful dates, knowing that it would be a very long time in the future before we would be able to do this again.
That moment when we pulled up outside her house to see this beautiful, excited little girl beaming and waving at us through the window – and as soon as the door was opened, she shouted “Mummy!” and power-launched herself into my arms, snuggling into me as though we’d been together our whole lives. We’ll remember that moment forever.
In what unanticipated ways has becoming a mother grown you?
In more ways that I had expected to be honest! I’ve realised that just as there are some things that it would have been hard for me to know or learn about myself had I remained single, there are similarly things I think I could only experience and learn through being a mother.
What immediately springs to mind is a whole new level of forgiveness and appreciation of (precipitated by new anger and hurt towards) my own parents. I had been warned by social services that in light of my own childhood experiences I would find motherhood very triggering. I reasoned that I had been being triggered every day of my life and had learned how to deal with it – I teach this for a living after all…. yet they were right!
What I hadn’t appreciated is how I had designed a work-life that factored in time for ongoing personal development work and the flexibility to deal with triggers. Then we were given a couple of weeks’ notice before a 5+ ¾ year old child moved in with us!
The most important lesson for me has been to apply what they advise in the aeroplane safety demonstration – even though it may be counter-intuitive – always put on your own oxygen mask first, otherwise you are unlikely to save your child or yourself.
I think this is especially important to mothers, as many of us have been brought up to subjugate our needs and put others first. Ultimately, I don’t believe anyone benefits from this as a lifelong approach and I know that, for us, if I’m okay and my relationship with my husband is okay, our daughter is always okay. If any of those are out of balance, the first person to feel it and be impacted will be her. Knowing this helps me to prioritise wisely, be mindful of self-care and to overcome my immediate urge to focus all my attention and energy on my daughter.
And I hope it’s teaching Katie a new paradigm of motherhood, wifehood and working, where she instinctively knows how to get her needs met, and to lead a fulfilling and balanced life.
How do you utilise War to Peace® practices to navigate motherhood?
What a great question! A common misunderstanding about being at Peace is that it means being soft, or giving in, and this is simply not the case. When we talk about being at Peace, we are referring to us at our natural best, our effortless selves who have full mental clarity, can listen deeply and are responsive to the person we are interacting with – a bit like the person we are when we are in conversation with a good friend.
This is a place of ease – and is in stark contrast to the emotionally triggered place we find our selves in when we are at War, where we have tried everything to get the person to do what we need them to do (you know, like cleaning teeth, bedtime, homework – I’m sure you can relate) and despite our best efforts, which may include demands, threats, shouting, pleading, etc, usually result in deep resistance or sulky submission – and we end up either feeling justified, or feeling horribly guilty as we immediately head downstairs to find the nearest glass of wine… and I’m fairly confident that I’m not writing this in a vacuum right now!
So I lean in to War to Peace® all the time, every day. And yet I still forget, and get triggered into a reactionary place because I will be a lifelong student of this work as well as a teacher of it. In common with all parents, I suspect, I sometimes forget that when my daughter is ‘acting up’, she is simply trying to get her needs met in the best and only way she knows how in that moment. She is not being deliberately naughty or trying to wind me up, I just sometimes experience it that way! But when I remember she is a child whose brain will not be fully developed until she is 25 years old and, even then, she will still make mistakes, it’s easier to see the world from her point of view. It’s easier to be a loving mother, easier to maintain the boundaries that are so important to her feeling safe and loved, and just a lot less effort than being at War.
And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)
I’ve not met a mother yet who doesn’t beat herself up and wonders if she’s doing a good enough job at raising her child/ren. My experience is that we tend to be exceptionally and unreasonably hard on ourselves.
I’m very fortunate to have a husband who regularly points out all that I have done well as a mother when my focus zooms in on what I could have done better. It really helps to have that shift in focus – and means that when I become more conscious and balanced about this, it’s less likely I’ll pass on the legacy of self-flagellation and perfectionism to my daughter.
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