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.