Last week, while I sat in a sunny field in West Sussex, I realised it was exactly two years since I made the decision to start my own business. Roll back to another sunny May half-term holiday. I woke up from a quick nap in a deckchair on Saunton Sands beach and realised with such clarity that my next step was to go out on my own. I had no idea what I would do, what my business would be, but for the first time in a long time I was really excited about work and my head was buzzing with ideas. (Read more about that story here.)
Looking back two years on, did I have any inkling that this is what my life would look like now? Some of it is still very familiar – May half-term still happens in a field – and some of it is so new – we are now accompanied by a dog. Honestly, I can say now, I never would have dared to dream that the decision I made then could lead to this life I now live. That I could feel so completely ‘me’ in my work. That I could look forward to every day. That I could be so excited about what’s coming next, without really knowing what that will be.
I have learnt so much in these past two years. How to get comfortable with uncertainty, how to understand and own my value, how to say no with grace and without guilt, how to challenge myself. How much I love connecting with like-minded people, how much I love to write, how much I love to learn. I have learnt that work doesn’t have to be ‘hard’, that success doesn’t have to mean burnout, that the opinion of others is not where my value lies, that I don’t need to feel afraid, that I always have a choice.
But perhaps the biggest learning has been that it is OK to not have all of the answers before I act. I knew on that beach two years ago that setting up on my own was the right thing to do. That somehow the what, where, when and how would come later. What really mattered was my Why. I wanted to create a life I loved. A whole life. Back then I thought I the answer lay in balance but I’ve since rejected the idea of work/life balance. It’s all life. And I want to love every bit of it.
That’s my number one value – Love – closely followed by connection, joy and purpose. That’s what drives me. That Why allowed me to leap. To take the big step in to the unknown. To trust that clarity would emerge. And it’s what keeps me curious and excited and purposeful. Without it I was lost. Finding it has been truly transformational.
If you want to reconnect with your purpose and passion, to create a life you love to live, I’d love to talk to you about how my coaching programs can help. You can get in touch using the forms below.
I’m writing this on a train on a sunny Saturday afternoon heading off to meet some inspiring women. A lovely ex-colleague and friend of mine has organised a meet-up in London. She is someone who always lights me up and fills me with energy. Her positivity is contagious and I love spending time with her.
When she mentioned the meet up to me last time we spoke my immediate response was to think about all the reasons I couldn’t or shouldn’t go. It’s a Saturday, I should be spending time with the kids. It’s a long journey. I won’t know everyone there. And then I paused and asked myself, ‘Do you want to go?’ and the answer was a resounding ‘YES!’ So the next question was, ‘How will you make it happen?’. A chat with my lovely, supportive partner later and a quick look at the train timetable, and I confirmed I would be going.
It’s interesting to me that this wasn’t a straightforward decision. Connection is a core value for me. It is core to my business, to my well-being, to who I am. And yet saying yes to this meet up, and others like it, or coffees with contacts, can feel really hard. Like a luxury. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. For allowing feelings of guilt to take priority over connecting with friends, contacts and colleagues. And then we find ourselves saying, ‘I haven’t seen anyone for ages’. We’ve given our energy to everything else that needs it. We’ve allowed duty to outweigh what we need for ourselves. But it comes at such a cost.
I know for myself that it’s my network of friends and colleagues (actually they are friends too!) that lifts me up, that supports me, that champions me, that inspires me, that puts opportunity in my way and that provides a whole heap of fun. And however busy I am, that stuff is too good, too important to de-prioritise.
So how are you making time for connection right now? When was the last time you were lifted up by your network? Where are you finding your inspiration? Without connection we merely survive. What’s stopping you from staying connected? Is it worth it?
I’m on my way home, on a packed and sweaty train, and I am full of energy and ideas and excitement and joy. Feeling the impact of connecting with brilliant, like-minded women is buzzing through my veins. It has built me up. It has reinforced my belief that when we come together we can achieve anything we set our minds to. It has reminded me that it is always worth making time for this. It is always worth battling train cancellations and mis-placed, unnecessary guilt. It is at the heart of everything. Stay inspired, stay energised, stay connected.
And so it goes. On and on. We are so busy we don’t even know how we are. It is our accepted state of being. Some say it’s a badge. I don’t think so. I think it’s a flag. A red one.
We are so busy focussing outwards. Focussing on what we need to do for work, for the kids, for the house, for our friends, for our neighbours, for our family, for the environment, for the community, for, well, everyone else. So where do we come in all of this? How can we possibly find time for ourselves? I often ask the women I am working with this question: and what about you? Often they duck the answer, tell me about someone else’s needs. Sometimes they laugh. Sometimes they raise their eyebrows. Sometimes tears well up in their eyes. And all of these responses are red flags to me. Because how can we keep on giving when we are empty?
When I ask these women, what is it you need to help you feel ok? They often struggle, really struggle, to answer. It is something they often haven’t even thought of. Or, they feel guilty for prioritising it, so they don’t. And yet I know that without paying attention to those needs, overwhelm is around the corner (or already here) and just beyond that is burnout.
It’s the oxygen mask analogy. You must allow yourself to breath, to survive, in order to help those around you, including those you love most. Getting enough sleep, eating well, moving, connecting, or whatever else feels essential for you, that’s your oxygen mask. Do you know what yours are? The things without which you start to wobble or snap or, eventually, break.
I know answering this question isn’t easy. It never fails to amaze me how something so simple can feel so hard and at the same time, make such a powerful difference. But I will ask you – how are you? And if you aren’t OK, what do you need, right now, to get you to OK? Really pay attention to your answer. Is it peace and quiet? Is it sleep? Is it a chat with a good friend? Is it a run? Is it a lovely, long soak in a hot bath?
Whatever it is you need, I want you to give yourself that gift today. Give that to yourself. Because if we pay attention to what we need; those simple, straightforward, everyday things that keep us at OK, then we can truly give of ourselves. To those we love, to what we love, to a life we love. But it all starts with getting to OK. So pay attention today, and every day, because this matters. Your health matters. You matter.
Deliver Grow Coaching
I work with women who are ambitious for themselves and the causes they believe in. They are working hard to achieve those ambitions but it’s coming at a high cost: they are feeling increasingly overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated. My work supports them to step away from overwhelm and empowers them to achieve those things that are most important without burnout and sacrifice. If this sounds interesting and relevant for you, let’s chat.
Well, that’s a bold ask isn’t it. This time last year I would have balked from making such a statement. I would have hidden behind fear of judgement, ridicule or indifference. But a lot can change in a year…
In 2018 I finally listened to my heart and made the decision that had been to-ing and fro-ing in my mind for years. I decided to train as a coach. Making this investment in myself felt like a huge decision but I realised that now I was self-employed it was utterly mine to make. I didn’t need to meet anyone else’s view of what would be valuable or worthwhile. And so, I listened to that insistent voice that was telling me this would be work I would love. And now, almost a year on from making that decision, I can confirm the voice was dead right.
After some research I came across the training that really resonated with me: to become a One of Many Certified Women’s Coach. Empowering women to step in to leadership in their lives, communities and organisations. That was a compelling vision and one that spoke to my heart. I haven’t looked back. My training with One of Many has led to many deep and life-changing insights for myself. It has helped me to identify what has been holding me back, what has been getting in the way (fear, so much fear) and to let that go to make space for the vision that has emerged in its place.
Because I have a vision now. I think it’s the first time in my life that I have truly had a clear vision for the future I want to create. And that vision has women absolutely at its heart. Because you see, I believe that it is when we, as women, step wholeheartedly in to our unique female power that we can change the world. And it is that kind of power that the world needs right now.
I work in the charity sector. It is a sector bruised and smarting from abuses of trust. It is essential for the greater good of the world that that trust is rebuilt. And I know that it is women, through passionate, compassionate, collaborative, focused and visionary leadership that can herald that change. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say there is no place for men, that men can’t lead or that women are better. It will take all of us to work in harmony to make the changes that need to be made. But it does mean that there needs to be space and support for different approaches, for new ways of approaching old problems, for new styles of leadership to work alongside those styles of leadership we have recognised until now.
My coaching work will focus on women leaders and emerging leaders who are ambitious for themselves and the causes they believe in. Women who are working hard to achieve those ambitions but who feel that progress is coming at too high a cost for them. Women who are feeling increasingly overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated. Women who want to lead from a place of authenticity and integrity but see so many obstacles in their way. Because the world needs you to step in to that powerful position of leadership and for you to be able to do that with ease and impact.
This is me telling fear to shove off. This is me sharing what is in my heart. If it speaks to what is in yours let’s join together. Let’s make a difference. Let’s change the world.
Last September I took a month off the booze and then went straight from that in to a month of blogging every day. It took me far longer than 30 days to write 30 blog posts but a fire had been lit under me and I was hooked to the idea of a challenge every month. I was setting up a new business and I knew I had to challenge my thinking, change the way I viewed myself and my place in the world and challenge myself every day if I was going to make this new life work. So setting random challenges every month felt like a great way to get me out of my comfort zone and exploring the possible.
I had enjoyed the contrast of denial one month and then trying something new the next. It added variety and made the challenges feel less of a year of hardship and martyrdom. It took me a while to think of 6 things I could deny myself and 6 things to aim to do every day. This is the list I ended up with:
Blogging – tick already done, Meditation, Painting and drawing, Exercise, Morning pages, Cleaning (I didn’t decide on this one until it was upon me! And yes, for some of you, the fact that this was a challenge will seem unfathomable and icky)
Booze (done}, Meat, Sugar, Caffeine, Make up, TV
Once I had my list I just had to get cracking on it. I started easy and cut out meat in November. We don’t eat a great deal of meat in our house and I didn’t expect it to be difficult. It wasn’t. In fact, I was a bit disappointed with myself. I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough and it didn’t feel like a challenge. Lesson: make it hard. Easy challenges are no fun and don’t achieve anything.
I knew December was going to be a tricky month for adding in. It’s the most extra month of the year as it is. I decided that it would have to be something that could really benefit me during silly season. That’s how I decided on mediation. In the crazy month of consumerism and excess, daily meditation could only help. I didn’t meditate on Christmas day and I did miss a few days over the month but I pretty much stuck to it and it was a life changing experience. Meditation is bloody amazing. I do just 7 minutes a day. I say do because I still do do it. Not every single day and there are times when I will go long stretches without meditating. Mistake. It calms me, gives me perspective, energises me, makes me feel ready for the day and gives me more resilience during tricky times. I use an app called Stop, Breathe, Think. It is free and super simple to use. My go to meditation is Relax, Ground and Clear. There is no better way to start the day. This was more like it. This was the kind of life changing habit I was hoping these challenges would give me.
So I didn’t go easy on myself in January. I gave up sugar. Oh. My. Life. I never used to be a sugar addict. I developed a sweet tooth after having kids. Sleep deprivation will do that to a person. I can honestly say (with no pride whatsoever) that not a day goes by when I don’t eat sugar. Not a single day. So this was a biggie. I was terrified. A whole month without sugar. I actually didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it. I read loads of articles about it before I started to give me an idea of what I was letting myself in for and to work out what I could and couldn’t eat. Sugar is in bloody everything. I didn’t go totally purist. I still ate fruit – don’t tell me that’s not good for me. I cut down on refined white flour products but didn’t completely cut them out. And the obvious stuff was banned. Oh boy. That first week was SO tough. I was irritable. I had a headache most of the time. I grudgingly ate nuts as a mid-morning snack and my morning coffee was just too bloomin’ wet. But then something rather unexpected happened. I found I was LESS hungry. And I had MORE energy. I stopped wanting sweet stuff. It took a week but my body totally shifted. And on top of that my complexion was clear and, well, healthy looking! I had my healthy snacks in to get me through the day but I didn’t need them. I had no idea how addictive sugar is and how much it was impacting me. I resolved to change the way I ate, bringing my sugar intake right down. And I would love to tell you I turned a new leaf and no longer eat sugar. Pah. It’s totally got me in its clutches again. It’s only writing this now that I realise how much I’ve slipped back into dependency through the year. I am back to having sugary food every day. It’s sidled back in and got me back in its grip. Time to stop again?…
The next two adding ins were tough to stick to: painting and drawing and exercise. I love painting and drawing but never make time for it. And I still didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I did more than I have done in years. And maybe that’s enough. It was great to reconnect with that part of my brain and just paint for fun. It showed me that I can make time for things I want to do but feel I can’t squeeze in. But not every day! And exercise was just too much for me. Three times a week is my limit. I tried yoga apps and 15 min dance classes on YouTube but I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise every single day. Hats off to those who can. It ain’t me.
But the next two cutting outs were much more successful. Caffeine and make up. I was dreading caffeine. Dreading it. I LOVE coffee. I have one cup a day and it is my morning hug to myself. I have a whole ritual around it. And I think tea actually runs in my veins. It’s not so much a drink as a friend. A place of comfort. So why cut it out? That’s a question lots of people asked me. And I did struggle to answer it. But the reasons were the same as anything else. To see if I can and to see what difference it makes. I managed it. I honestly didn’t think I would. But I did it. And I learnt that decaf is actually pretty good. I regularly trade it in now and don’t drink caffeinated tea in the evening any more. But it certainly didn’t change the fact that I love tea and coffee. Always have. Always will.
Make up. This was one of the toughest. I love make up. I hate my skin. I had terrible adolescent acne and it stripped me of my confidence. I’m still working on that! So to go out of the house every day without make up on just felt impossible. Undoable. The thought of going to see a client without make up on felt akin to walking in there in my knickers. I do appreciate how ridiculous that sounds but it is the truth. I don’t wear anywhere near as much make up as I did pre-kids. I mean the school run and the supermarket do not require me to put my face on. But pretty much any other situation would. I love make up. I love buying it. I love trying new brands, new colours. It makes me feel confident, done, ready. And I knew from the huge resistance I was having to going bare that I had to do it.
And guess what. No one bloody notices. No one notices.
When I was walking in to rooms feeling naked with my bare face I started looking around me for the first time and wondering who was wearing make-up. And I realised that not only did it make not a jot of difference to me or anyone else in the room, but that it had never crossed my mind before. No one notices. I never noticed (unless someone was sporting a particularly fetching shade of lippy). So why did it matter so much to me? I was hiding. And I realised I just didn’t need to. There was nothing to hide. And that was a truly startling revelation.
I still wear make-up. I still love getting ready to go out and that involves putting on some cracking lippy. But not every day. And now I regularly see clients without make up on. They don’t give a shit! Of course they don’t. Why did I ever think they did?
I’m going to save the last two add ins for another post because they have become part of my new life routine. Morning pages and cleaning (I know, exciting stuff!). And I utterly failed the no TV challenge. Literally not a single day!
But what I have learnt, along with all of the above, is that it is much easier to take things out than to add them in. That it takes a bit longer than 30 days to create or break a habit but only a bit. That challenging yourself to look at those things that you do unthinkingly can have a surprising and valuable impact.
I will keep challenging myself. Maybe not every month. But when I recognise the signs that I need to disrupt a habit and get myself thinking differently about something I will tackle it with a challenge. This month that something is money. No unnecessary spending. I’m doing OK so far. It’s the 1st Nov.
Today is World Mental Health Day. I’ve been reflecting on how much my general mental health has improved over the last year. There are lots of reasons for this. I have more time, I feel less judged, I have spent a lot of time working through the demons that had crept in and started to take hold. There are a couple of things, though, that I think have made the biggest difference.
1) Challenging my habits. I spent last year setting myself monthly challenges – giving up and adding in all sorts of different things: booze, sugar and meat went out; meditation, painting and writing came in. Just for a month each time. And I was more successful with some challenges than others.
I set these challenges to test myself a bit and see what I might learn along the way. What I found was that breaking habits is possible and illuminating. I learnt about how I was using alcohol and sugary foods; I learnt that if I really want to make time for something I can. It has made me more mindful and conscious of decisions I make and what triggers me to make unhealthy or unhelpful choices.
It was only by really confronting these habits that I could see how my subconscious was driving some of my less helpful behaviours. It has had a significant impact on my physical health which has had a direct impact on my mental health.
2) Understanding my basic needs. This is something that I was introduced to through my training with One of Many. I was encouraged to think about what it is I need in my life to be OK. Not to be singing from the rooftops but to be able to do what needs to get done. Because if those things aren’t looked after how can I possibly deliver on everything else in my life? How can I give where I need and want to give if I am running at a deficit myself? Understanding what those needs are has taken me a while to figure out. I’ve been looking out for when I snap, feel low or get ill. What have I neglected? What needs attention?
And I’ve figured out that these six things are my foundation stones for staying well:
·Sleep – 7 hours a night
There was a time when I thought I would never get back to this. When I believed I would only ever sleep in three-hour chunks because of the kids; or when the swirl of demands on me would never stop breaking through every night. But it has happened. The children are older and now do actually sleep (miracle); I have worked hard to create calm and space before bed; and I have introduced strategies to get the crap out of my head – a kick-ass to do list system and writing writing writing! I know when I need to go to bed to cope with the early starts my firecracker daughter insists on greeting the day with. I know when to stop the caffeine. Project sleep is paying off!
·Nutritious food, including enough water, every day
I love chocolate. I love cake. I love crisps. I love chips. I still eat all of these. But I don’t rely on them. When my girls were little I genuinely felt like cake was a need. If I didn’t get my daily fix I would feel so hard done by. Cutting out sugar was a huge revelation. I felt better without it. I had MORE energy. I literally could not believe this! Eating well makes me feel better. I love cooking and trying new things and I just operate better on a good diet.
·Exercise at least three times a week (and getting outside everyday)
This is often the first thing to go out of the window when I’m busy but I am working super hard to change that because I know it is the one thing that has the biggest impact on keeping me well. Exercise clears my head, it fires me up, it helps me to keep perspective and it makes me feel strong.
·Alone time every day (minimum 30 minutes)
This one took me a long time to realise. I’m pretty extroverted and I love company but if I don’t have time by myself, quiet time in a quiet setting, I get antsy and impatient and snappy. It’s why working from home works so well for me. I savour my alone time. It allows me to be fully present when I’m back in the thick of it.
·Time to reflect through writing or meditating every day
I started doing morning pages (see The Artists Way) earlier this year. Three pages of stream of consciousness writing as close to waking up as you can. I don’t manage it every day but that is my goal. It clears my head, allows me to focus on what is important and allows flashes of insight and inspiration to be captured. I am a huge convert and would highly recommend giving it a go. I resisted it for a while – no way do I have time for that – but I do. Because I want to.
·A clean and tidy house (30 mins attention each day)
This one will be particularly hilarious for anyone who has known me for a long time. I am not a tidy person. Except I am. I am organised in every other element of my life and it is only very recently that I’ve realised I had a whole load of limiting beliefs around housework. I have taken control of the chaos and taken a conscious decision to lead in this area of my life. And it has been transformative. I feel a renewed sense of calm in my home and more able to cope when life is hectic. Little and often works for me. And if you need a kick start, check out the_organised_mum on Instagram or Facebook. Her method has helped me make a change that I sorely needed.
These things seem so simple don’t they. How could this possibly be a breakthrough? But it truly has been. Firstly, paying attention and noticing that when it is these specific things that go out of the window I will start to suffer, and if they are neglected consistently I will become unwell (when I say well and unwell here I am always talking about my physical AND mental health). By identifying them and writing them down and taking note of how I’m doing against them I give myself and those around me a clear message that these things are important. They are fundamental. They are not nice to haves. They are not luxuries. They are necessities. It is all too easy to forget them or lose sight of them when life is busy and hectic but that is exactly when they need to be heeded the most.
For me, this is self-care. This is me looking after me. And realising that this is important, knowing what I can do to keep myself well and committing to it every day has made a real difference to how I cope on a daily basis.
What would your fundamental needs be? Are you paying attention to them? If life is feeling overwhelming it may be time to pay attention to what you need each and every day to keep yourself ok. It is worth it. It will help. It’s not a luxury. It is a basic need.
Next month I will be celebrating the first anniversary of my business. I will have been a business owner for twelve whole months. I felt like a complete fraud a year ago. I had a business name, a website that raved about what I could do and not a single client. I set myself stretching goals and, despite some serious wobbles, I hung on in there with the belief that I could do this; that a life on my own terms was worth the nail-biting wait for work. And one year in I now know I was dead right to listen to my gut.
I wasn’t prepared for how this year would change me. At a party last weekend one of my friends commented that he could see physically the change in me over the last year. The lightness of my step; the happiness radiating from me. I was so taken aback by his words. I know for myself how much happier I am; how much more myself I feel; but I hadn’t stopped to consider how that might look to the world. Now I come to think about it, of course it makes sense, we hold our tension in our bodies and that tension has gone. And along with it the self-doubt, the worrying about circumstances I could not change, the resentment that had built up in my gut.
So what is it that has made this difference? It’s not just about starting a business – I regularly read comments, articles and posts about how hard and stressful this can be. Being responsible for every penny you earn can be bum-clenchingly terrifying. And it certainly isn’t for everyone. I never thought it was for me. Until I tried it. No, it’s not that alone that’s made the difference. I’ve been reflecting on what has really affected my outlook and happiness. The things that have allowed me to live so much more fully in my life. These are the star players that emerged.
Balance. Up until 2018 balance felt like an impossible dream. There was never enough time. Wherever I was I felt like I should have been somewhere else. At work, at home, at play. Taking control of how I choose to spend my time and recognising that this is a choice I can make, has made a huge difference to my happiness. I have recognised that time for me, whether that’s the gym or a girls’ weekend away or a coffee and a book, is essential to my wellbeing. And when I’m happy, we are all happy. It filters through my whole family. It’s worth it. I’m worth it (yeah, Jennifer Aniston, I am bloody worth it). I could have earnt more this year, by working more, and blimey that’s tempting when you don’t know where the next project is coming from. But that’s not my driver right now. Balance, for now, is my number one value. And by putting it at the centre and making decisions to ensure I have it, I have it.
Making a positive impact. I love my work. I had forgotten this for a while there. I actually love working with people and making a positive contribution. Having a positive impact. This is why I love working with charities. My experience is that individuals and teams in the charity sector are passionately driven. Working with organisations that make a difference to the world we live in excites me. And when I get great feedback from those people, when they tell me I have helped them make progress, it lights me up. I relish it. I want to bottle that feeling. It absolutely drives me on.
Learning. At the beginning of this year I made a commitment to learning. I read some wonderful books in 2017 that really opened up my thinking. Made me look at what drives me and what holds me back. That taster set off a thirst which has developed in to a passion. There is something life-affirming about opening yourself up to learning. Recognising that it’s never too late. As you get older, it can be harder to open up in that way. To allow yourself to recognise there is so much more you can do and be. But this is one of the things that has truly delighted me about this year. I will update my reading list because it’s a hell of a lot longer now! And I will save telling you about some of the amazing resources I’ve been using for another day. But I believe this commitment to personal development is at the heart of my happiness.
Being free to choose. Whenever anyone asked me about my career path I would say, on a good day, I’m good at spotting opportunities and I’m happy to adapt to new challenges. On a middling day, I would say I’ve been in the right place at the right time. And on a bad day, I’ve stumbled pretty blindly along and managed not to f*** it up so far. What you will notice from any one of those answers is that they are passive, responsive. They aren’t active choices. And until this year that is how it has felt. I’ll play the hand I’m dealt as best I can. But no more. Now I choose. I say when, I say who, I say how much (another 90s classic for you there – perhaps not the most appropriate analogy!). In all seriousness, what I love about working for myself is that I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to. I cherish and nurture my network of wonderful, inspiring colleagues and these are the people I choose and want to work with. I have never felt so empowered.
So in a couple of weeks I will be raising a rather large glass of something yummy to celebrate this year of change and to herald in year two. I am so very excited to see what it holds.