Learning to unplug

I was brought up to believe that I could achieve anything I wanted if I worked hard enough.  It was a belief I strongly held and yes, I have achieved lots in my life: good exam results, great career…but that did come at a cost – I did have to work really hard at it.

Not only that, when my career involved being an employed Director (employed by someone else, not my own business), it seemed that everyone was conditioned to work really hard: putting in as many hours as they could, skipping lunch, and running round the building like headless chickens whilst they demonstrated just how busy and important they were.  And yes, everyone was important, they were doing a great job – but the stress was so visible and a number of colleagues burnt out, including myself.

For me it was a wake-up call.  My burn out manifested itself in lots of illness that wouldn’t go away – my body was literally telling me to stop.  I knew that if I continued at the pace I was, my body might stop for good.  As a mother of two young children, it scared the hell out of me.

It taught me a lot – about the power of stress (and how at it’s worst it reduced me to feeling useless and helpless) but most importantly, about resilience.  I thought I was highly resilient – and I was.  That meant that I was seen as a good worker who delivered, which meant more and more work landed on my desk.  But what I learnt about resilience is that it’s all a balancing act – if our stressors exceed our resilience, then we will break (and everybody has a breaking point, no matter how resilient you think you are).

In order to become more resilient, we need self-care: we need to do things that top up our cup and make us feel good and happy. It really made me evaluate just how much I did for myself: very little.  I thought about all the things I love doing such as running, walking, reading, spending quality time with my boys, spending time with friends, taking a long soak in the bath and actually, I got to do those things infrequently.

Since then I have changed my life enormously.  I now have my own business which I have grown over the past four years – I spend my days coaching and training others in how to develop their business and make it successful.  One of the biggest messages I give, is that in order for us to be successful we cannot work at a hundred miles per hour all the time – if we try to operate like a machine, we will burn out (and actually who leaves their machines and gadgets on 24 hours a day? We all know they will burn out and go up in smoke!).  If we are to be successful we need to be clear on our strategy, focus on the important and we need to make time for ourselves; we need to unplug from the daily treadmill and do things that make us happy.  It is then we have the energy and focus to live enriched lives, to deliver what’s important and to be truly successful.


Celebrating Women Everywhere

As it’s International Women’s Day, I thought it was a good opportunity to reflect on the success of women everywhere.  Times have changed and now women are brought up believing  and expecting that we can ‘have it all’ – but that does in itself bring challenges.

I know I have said this before, but my own story is that I spent many years working in the NHS at a very senior level; whilst juggling two very small children.  I felt an obligation to work, to be a good role  model, to make use of my degree, to use my brain (I also had a financial obligation to work).  I also had a strong need to do a good job and deliver the best I could.  However, that was in direct conflict with my need to be a good mother to my boys and to not miss out on their sports days and nativities.  This resulted in a lot of guilt: guilt that I couldn’t do my job well enough and guilt that wasn’t the mother I wanted to be.

I was lucky; this was my impetus to change and I retrained as a Coach (in hindsight I am not sure how I managed this alongside working full-time and looking after the children!), and eventually I set up my own business.  I haven’t looked back – I love my job and I now have the opportunity to agree my own hours; being able to go to the important school events, help the children with their homework and have a rewarding career.  There are still juggles along the way and I don’t always get it right but I know that I am doing the best I can for both my job and for my family life; and I believe that I am finally a good role model for my children and other women who want to ‘have it all’.

Of course, I appreciate that I was lucky as I was clear about what I wanted to achieve.  It isn’t always that easy – and I coach a lot of women who feel as stuck as I was in a corporate job: wanting to find a way out, but not knowing how.  I also coach a lot of women who feel guilty about not being able to cope, or they feel they should be better in some way.  But in all the time I have been coaching, I have never met someone who isn’t genuinely doing their best, given the situation they are in (and that situation is often combining working, being the main care-giver and looking after the home).  For that, we should be proud – we should be proud of what we are achieving and most of all, we should be celebrating the success of women everywhere.


A different pace…

This week in the UK is half term, with children being off school for a week.  This to me, has always represented a juggling act (even more than my usual working weeks): getting work done, finding childcare (usually begging grandparents), and spending quality time with the boys.  This juggling act used to make me feel utterly exhausted by the end of the week and I’d go back to work feeling like I really needed a holiday.

Now life is different.  I am lucky enough to work for myself and decide what hours I work and because of this I deliberately do not book coaching or training during the school holidays.  But as a self-confessed workaholic, I have always found it difficult to find the right balance.  I have always favoured life on the chaotic-side, meaning that unless I am a little closer to burnout than most would find comfortable, I feel that I am not doing enough.  Consequently, in the run up to holidays I usually develop a long list of tasks that I will get done on my days at home; as well as planning day trips and quality time with the kids.

This half-term started no differently: the list included cleaning cupboards that are so over-filled, I can no longer tell what’s in them; developing content for my website; updating social media profiles; sorting out my tax; and of course, spending days playing with my children and making sure I got quality parent / child time.

But along the way, something changed.  As usual my boys wanted to play cricket & football at every opportunity – but instead of bargaining with them so that I could get my long list achieved and spend time with them; I stopped myself in my tracks and just went along with it.  As a result my days have been more relaxed & more fun; and I have felt that I have really spent quality time with my boys (rather than the token slot of time I usually allocate).  Living life at a different pace has been rewarding – and whilst the to-do list is still full, the list can wait until tomorrow – my children however, are growing up too fast to let them wait.