Carnegie Education

We all need an Anam Cara; finding my inner Anam Cara

In this blogpost Kerry, one of the CollectivED Fellows reflects on the recent CollectivED Knowledge Exchange.  She considers the concept of Anam Cara, introduced by Viv Grant during the event, and drawing on the work of John O’Donohue.

Red bench

To see, or conceive of my role as a coach, as your Anam Cara, a soul friend, is a truly profound takeaway from Saturday’s #CollectivEdBetterConversations Conference. Thank you Jonny, Viv and Jim. Thank you the #CollectivEd community, a team committed to building knowledge through collaboration, exploration, criticality, creativity and imagination. Saturday was a culmination of slow thinking; it will contribute to a significant development in my coaching practice.

Reflecting on the last few weeks and the next two weeks ahead of me, I am thinking now about the numerous coaching conversations I have had and will be having. I am reflecting on how the conversations I have had and how those conversations I will be having can be even better. What have l learnt, or rather, what commitment am I making following Saturday?

It’s Sunday evening, readying myself for another diary jammed week ahead. Aware, if I don’t pause now, processing and making meaning from Saturday’s conference risks being lost. Spending time over the last four weeks, both contributing, listening to and in discussion with the #CollectivEd Community, has been a powerful and empowering CPD opportunity. Once again, I reflect upon who I am as a Coach. I now want to see myself as your Anam Cara. This feels a privilege. I do not take this role on lightly. It’s a role I need to understand more and better. So, here I begin.

Listening with intent, focusing on listening. Hearing what you are both saying and not saying. Recognising the myriad of anxiety that troubles you, enabling you to navigate this space. Valuing slowness, the gradual unravelling, the acknowledgments and sense making of complexity. I may have some experience, some expertise, some insight, but this is your space. I will offer this knowing, but not as a know it all. Do any of us ever know it all? No, it is always about discovery and sense making of the complex spaces in which we find ourselves.

Creating a safe place to be vulnerable, to question, to challenge self and system, contexts and cultures. Asking those awkward questions, when you don’t need or want a reply. You just need permission to be able to ask them, think and speak the unthinkable.

Finding kindness to others and self. Maybe mostly to self, because these are the hardest times. We are all surviving the isolation of a pandemic, each one of us have our own difficulties. No one is immune from the virus and everyone’s life has been turned upside down. Investing in individuals, our colleagues, our staff, our selves; valuing and building cultures that value valuing is important now. But why not always?

The day ended with a challenge, or a provocation. There is an opportunity to NOT return to what we had before; a system constructed on a foundation of competition, toxic cultures that left the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the struggling, the silenced and marginalised. Those who feel defenceless in a survival of the fittest context searching for purpose.

As your Anam Cara I will invest in your optimism, your excitement, your courage, your commitment to change, to disrupt, to rebuild, to transform. This is a privilege, a journey that I am looking forward to going on with you. Thank you letting me be your Anam Cara.

This blogpost was first published at

‘Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’ was written by John O’Donohue in 1999 


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