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Libby Kemkaran-Thompson MA VetMB MRCVS

Libby lost her income when the twin towers went down.  She became a vet as a mature student and then was hit by a car.  

Hello – this is me, Liz, the interviewer, who mostly writes in the first person.  For Libby, there has been a small change of plan.  Not because Libby can’t tell her own story.  Libby is an expert communicator: warm, smooth and competent. She’s eking my story out of me before I know the first thing about her and I’m not surprised when it emerges that she’s a business performance coach.

Borrowed with permission from her company website Kemkaran.com 

 

But even assuming that I could type fast enough to transcribe her word for word, it would read just like a glossy magazine. She tells her story so effortlessly that without me sharing a little of her at home, it would be easy to miss the full force of this woman..

It’s half-past nine and Libby is deftly preparing dinner at home in London. 

.”Just mashing a pan.  I’ve been working all day upstairs.”  

My view of the pan isn’t great – I am on a screen on a shelf, looking over the pan at Libby. There is vegetable-chopping.  She moves around the kitchen, telling her story.  Now boiling a kettle; now warmly asking me to wait as a child trots into the room to ask for something. 

He is spoken to considerately, introduced on his way past (she’s remembered my name), gives me a friendly wave and off he goes. 

‘Kids are a service job the way I see it,’ Libby says brusquely.  ‘I grow them like you grow a tomato plant;  a lot of production grows into them.  It’s a task that goes on and on but it’s good to remember that you’re into it deep.  Nine months growing it, twelve years of carnage raising it, but hopefully ….’

From the motions of her shoulder, Libby is stirring something in.

I never had a Laura Ashley pregnancy.  There’s always been heart-burn, back-pain;  once it was so bad I was in a wheelchair.  And there is a wake-up moment near the beginning, when you realise you’re going to be constantly there with your boobs out. 

But then you’re suddenly like – hold on – I can hold a coherent conversation with my child. 

I am the product of a head-injury story myself.  My father got kicked in the head at school.  I was in the middle of A-levels, planning to be a vet.  He was immediately hospitalised;  lost the power of speech.  He was a head-teacher in London;  didn’t work again.

I’ll give these a wash…..

Shhhhhhhhhhh.  (That’s water).   Chop, chop, chop. 

On the same day my best friend also got hit by a car and died. I lost two pillars of my life on the same day. Oh, then I caught glandular fever. I dropped out of A-levels. I tried to go back but I somehow ended up working in the City.

I loved City life. I loved what I was doing. I was a management consultant for many years and then I had my own consultancy, focussed on change management and business development. And then 9 / 11 happened and just like Covid, the world entirely shut down.  Not having such power of the Internet, everyone was reading the papers to see what had just happened in the world. I lost two of my biggest clients overnight. For a small business, it was enough to really flatten things.

‘Oh!’ Having been quite young and self-absorbed at the time, nine-eleven was little more than a horrible news event to me.  I am faintly surprised by the impact it had on Libby.

I had to give up my house or come up with plan B.  I’ve got a big thing about contribution so I went to work in a cat sanctuary for two weeks to do some thinking and while I was there…. I was in the middle of examining a cat for what seemed to be an injury.  I was flexing its shoulder, thinking ‘I don’t think its its shoulder’ and the other woman looked at me and went ‘Why aren’t you a vet?’

I thought, ‘that’s a good question’. So my vetty career started late in life. I rang the Royal College up and asked them, ‘What do you need?’ They said A-levels, so I got on the phone to a college and they said, ‘Well you can’t join this year, it’s half-term already.’ And I was like, ‘I’ll be ready. Just let me in.’ So I started in the October of the second half term.

Until then I’d only ever used a calculator to calculate my wages. I had to teach myself GCSE maths in two weeks flat. I joined the course. In the January mocks I got U grades. I got an A in the May at AS. That gave me enough to apply for vet-school. The college was in Bromley, inner-city London. They’d never had anyone go to Vet-school, or anyone in 25 years going to Oxbridge. I had to call Oxbridge and organise the entry Step-paper myself. So I filled in my UCAS form and went for my first interview which was so awful that I went out and got drunk. They hadn’t decided the roles in advance. I think both of them were playing Bad Cop.

Scuse me….. (aside) Are you in the shower? (returning) Thank God for that. A peak teen shower can take fifty minutes.

Anyway, I was twenty-six when nine-eleven happened and twenty-eight by the time I got in. Vet-school was a joy. I was 28 but I was so diligent, because I did value the opportunity, but the young girls also led me astray. They were like ‘lets go to the pub.’ The mature students banded together and formed a little gang – great fun – until I counted on my fingers, realised that I would like a baby after all and thought I’d just pop one out.

Cambridge was heavy on pharmacokinetics and training you how to be good little scientists. I was too busy puking; couldn’t stand up without fainting. I ended up being so poorly that I couldn’t even walk into anatomy lectures. The only subject I passed was reproduction. The lecturer was like, ‘I see you’ve already passed the practical….’

I very carefully popped her out on the last day of term just before Christmas. I made it through the beginning of the neuro-mechanisms of behaviour and the neurobiology of development, thinking ‘Please don’t give birth. Please don’t give birth.’

I went straight back after Christmas for lectures. I had to ask for a room to express milk in. They were like, ‘What?’ I had to do re-sits at the end of that summer, but then I put my pen down and just enjoyed her a bit, left my year-group behind, took a year out and moved house.

Anyway, I passed everything else first time and got through, out into the world of vetting. I enjoyed it for five years, two more babies, loved it – and then got hit by a car.  I remember it well. A dark, foggy night, we’d just finished one of those never-ending days, me and one nurse. I was desperate to go home and feed my baby. I saw a client coming out of the driveway in front of me so I waited for her, then she got through the traffic lights and I didn’t. So I sat by the traffic lights, gazing around and got smacked in the rear end by someone who didn’t know that the traffic lights were there. I jump out, go into First Aid mode making sure she was ok, then I jumped in my car and sort of drove….

There wasn’t much mending to be done; that’s the thing with pain. I eventually buckled and got some pain relief injected into the vertebral spaces and it was amazing. I’d just been hired to be a keynote speaker for the Snow Scene and I just went. I couldn’t ski, obviously, but it was nice. My first proper holiday really. Until then I was in pain all day every day, 3 young children and just trying to cope. Very tense

I haven’t vetted full-time since.  I was once doing a dental, my back went into spasm and I had to lie down and let the nurse finish the dental.  That’s when I knew that I somehow had to reinvent myself.   

I was spoke at a couple of conferences that year, talking about business experience. A vet who has run businesses, scaled them, sold them is not common. And I also know what it is to work in practice. I came round full circle. I’ve got a reputation as being a mindset speaker.  I’m interested in behaviour: why do people do what they do?  

I love what I do. Pharmaceutical businesses have me teaching salesmen how to talk to vets.  I also coach individuals about coping post-trauma and how to live a better life. My course is called ‘Tame the Brain.’ I’m trying to build a course I can sell for money and educate people round the world without ever meeting them.

Today I’ve had a client in New Zealand; Singapore in the morning. Lots of clients in America. It’s like a veterinary entrepreneur training club. This is what got me into vet-school. Have you heard of Tony Robins? A world performance coach? I was learning all this amazing stuff with him in the Hilton, Hawaii when the planes went into the Twin Towers.

I’ve read all about the power of your brain and its neuroplasticity. Your brain finds ways around things and you an do the same. You have to know your outcome; you have to know where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, a stray gust of wind might nudge your plane and you’re never going to get there. You need to know where you’re going to, even when that gust of wind is a car crash that cripples you.

They tell you what you should settle for; never settle. End the chapter then turn the page and read the next one. Because, if there isn’t a way, you find one. Right. It’s time I had something to eat.

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