Last week I , along with a dynamic panel of women of substance spoke at an event ‘Lessons from Successful Women’ organised by second year students at PPE society at Manchester University.
I thought I would share my 10 minute input on my lessons as they’re pretty universal and may help many of you reflect on your journey to date…..
I described my career journey in 3 acts
ACT ONE: THE CORPORATE CLIMBER
This started at 16 as I left school with no qualifications but a degree in popularity and my marching orders from my father as a dysfunctional relationship ended badly, so at 16 I was alone and broke, living in a tiny room in a B&B in a less than safe area. Miles away from the well-appointed, wealthy suburb I grew up in. My choices were driven by my need to prove to my damning father that I could do well without him or his money. For the next 10 years I worked hard, climbed the corporate ladder and studied to prove to him and myself that I was worthy of something.
By 28 I had a top job – I was a Marketing & Brand Director for a big training company. I had the company car, the corner office, the team, the multi million pound budget and the seat around the top table. I also had 2 degrees, 3 post graduate Diplomas and an MBA. In terms of proofing my worth JOB DONE!
However, as is always the case as I arrived at what I thought was my career pinnacle, the opportunities dried up I started to feel unhinged, disconnected and unfulfilled.
What did my corporate career teach me?
- I honed some pretty awesome interpersonal skills and recognised my talent in the area of people management.
- I recognised the power of visibility and my network. I was head hunted several times and always invested in my peer groups and wider network.
- I fell in love with learning, and was sponsored to enter higher education. This kick started my personal development journey.
- And finally as I reached my late twenties my time in corporate made it clear to me it was time to move on. My inability to manage complex office politics, a linear career path and financial pressure from shareholders all helped to push me towards entrepreneurship where I would forge my own destiny. In other words I hated being told what to do and I needed to create my own money train!
ACT TWO: THE SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR EMERGES
So at 29 after a heart-breaking split from my long term boyfriend I walked away from the safe Director job and set up my first business. Naturally I tried to be as risk-averse as possible for my first venture and set up a marketing company running a business in the profession I was trained. This was not to last long as after a few years I became bored and sold the business, moving on to pastures new and diverse. In the next 10 years I became a serial entrepreneur creating, building and selling 8 businesses in all, mainly focussed in business to business and people development sectors. Some of these businesses were hugely successful and made me a wealthy women; others were the result of bad decisions and took me to the point of bankruptcy. In a decade I made and lost money twice and have the scars to prove it!
What did my entrepreneurial journey teach me?
Well the lessons come fast and furious when you are in business…
- I learnt to trust my intuition. If it does not feel right it generally isn’t. On the occasions when I have ignored or overridden this, chaos has ensued.
- That I am a risk taker, in flow living at the edge of my comfort zone and driven by the fear of complacency and mediocrity.
- To embrace failure as it is the biggest teacher. I have learnt so much about myself standing in the shadow of failure. I may not always have appreciated this as I worked my way out of one critical moment after another, but I have my failures to thank for my awesome resilience and self-belief.
- To recognise the power of authenticity and that being me is enough. I have learnt to ride the roller coaster and share the journey with the people close to me. I have embraced my vulnerabilities and my strengths and tried to bring me to the party every day.
- I have learnt to let go of my emotional attachment to my businesses as this is a sure way to stay small. To grow and scale demands letting go and sharing your vision with others. Although to be fair I still struggle sometimes with this one so let’s be honest and say this is work in progress!
After many years in this mode I reached burn out and knew I needed some time out to reflect and consider my next move, a move I knew for certain had to be heart driven and cause related as opposed to simply creating and growing another business.
ACT THREE – LEGACY
In my late thirties I had a step change and became interested in personal transition. I retrained as a coach and behaviour therapist and invested in several courses including Neuro Linguistic Programming and Hypnotherapy. In 2004 I set up a coaching practice, attracted lots of women to my door and the next journey began. In 2007 I founded The Well Heeled Divas, a personal development organisation inspiring women to step up and shine and close on it’s heels in 2010 I founded Girls Out Loud a social enterprise on a mission to raise the aspirations of teenage girls. Today my life is driven by my passion for potential and making a difference. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment. I write about it, I develop programmes to facilitate it, I train others to deliver it, I campaign for it and I speak about it.
What have I learnt on my journey towards legacy?
- If I thought being an entrepreneur demanded resilience I knew nothing! Running a not for profit in a market where demand is high but funding non-existent, where every penny has to be raised and the goal posts are constantly changing, this is the real deal!
- Passion trumps money every time.
- Passion keep ya sticky. Without my passion to make a difference and change the lives of vulnerable teenage girls I would have walked away years ago.
- Leading a workforce of predominantly, volunteers demands different skills and dynamic leadership ALL THE TIME!
- No matter how uncomfortable it makes you or how cheeky you feel you have to ASK – Ask for money, ask for resources, ask for space, ask for sponsorship, ask for volunteers, ask for help. And what goes hand in hand with this is learning to accept rejection cos asking does not always lead to yes.
As I reflect on the past 30+ years I wonder what my fourth act will be? What I know for sure is standing still is not an option, I am only in flow when I am moving, progress makes me happy so I am pretty sure I am not done yet!