‘You stupid girl, what on Earth are you doing? You won’t find another job in this climate, you are making a huge mistake’.
I will never forget these words. It was April 2010, and I was handing in my notice after working myself to the point of a nervous breakdown over eight long years. On the face of it, it seemed I had a successful career and was set to go places. I had worked my way up the organisation to a point where I was a trusted manager and advisor. Fourteen staff depended on me. Many more used me as their go to problem solver every day. My opinion occasionally mattered to the powers that be. But on the inside, I was struggling. I had terrible IBS, frequent sinus infections, and I felt like an empty shell every day, sitting in yet another meeting discussing the same things over and over, like a poorly hamster on a relentless wheel. The middle management position I found myself in meant I was mostly dealing with a huge amount of crap – from below, from above, from the sides – with little to no real support, and no end in sight. And I was only 29.
It had taken me three long years to finally work up the courage to leave. Most people thought I was just a little bit mad to be leaving a secure, safe and well paid position in a climate where jobs were being cut and people were scared about what would happen next. No-one really left this place, and if they did, they came back within a few months.
But leave I did, with no job to go to, and literally no idea what I wanted to do next. I had saved enough to keep me going for six months, I had a roof over my head, and knew I was willing to take any job if needed once those six months were up. I just needed to force a change in my life, and so I took the plunge.
As it turns out, I had a glorious first two months. I had escaped! We went on a road trip and went camping, and I spent so much time in the garden – just me and the sunshine and the great outdoors.
After a few months I secured a job working a maternity cover position for a stockbrokers in London. The pay was good, it was a completely different working environment to the one I had left, I felt confident I could do the job. Out of the frying pan; into the fire. This job had a long commute, long hours, and the kind of money hungry, out of my way, dog eat dog environment that you think only exists in films – I am amazed I lasted almost two years. The fact that I did was down to a wonderful boss, a few lovely work colleagues….and the arrival of Pilates into my life.
I started to attend a Pilates class every Monday evening at the office in London, as a way to de-stress and help my chronic back ache. Then, when I was made redundant very suddenly and out of the blue (yes, I have been one of those people who gets unceremoniously marched out of the office just three minutes after they have walked in one morning), I finally took the time to realise that I could do something with my life that might not just help me, but help others too.
Being made redundant hurt – it was a huge kick in the guts for someone who for a long time measured their self worth on how successful they appeared to be in the eyes of other people. I have always been a high achiever and I was terrified of letting others down. But what happened next, after this seemingly epic run of ‘failures’ – quitting a job, being made redundant from another – is that I realised that when you come face to face with your fears, you are presented with the greatest opportunity to change your story.
This time round, I gave myself time to create a vision of how I wanted to spend my life. To work out what it is that makes me get out of bed each day. While on honeymoon, two months after the redundancy, Keith and I were reading the likes of Tim Ferris, Chris Guillebeau, Eckhart Tolle and Victor Frankl – all authors who inspire a different kind of life, where living fearlessly, simply, and meaningfully, is the aim. We spent our days hiking the mountains, chewing over what we were reading and slowly coming up with a plan.
And so the vision for our small business was created, a vision that would allow us to create a more simple existence, to shun the traditional 9-5, and to help people along the way, and slowly but surely we took a small step each day towards making it happen.
I spent the next year training to be a Pilates teacher, building up my supervised teaching hours by driving to Saffron Walden a few times each week, and working a part time job for an education provider in the City along the way. Keith completed his Personal Training qualification, alongside working full time in internal communications.
When I finally completed my final sign off exam, becoming a fully fledged Level 3 Pilates Instructor, I was 20 weeks pregnant with Lucas. I left the part time job I had been working, took statutory maternity pay and jumped into the world of parenting and setting up my own Pilates studio at exactly the same time!
For those of you who know me well, you will know that I was yet to face my biggest challenge – being Mum to our incredible little boy while building a small business and trying to make enough money to keep us afloat. The last five and a half years have seen us slowly build our Pilates and Personal Training business from scratch – all against the backdrop of caring for our wonderful, sunshine of a boy who faces the challenge of severe eczema, asthma and allergies day in day out, night after night. Being a Mum and a small business owner is a whole other story – one that for me is filled with endless sleepless nights, facing my fears every day and dealing with the lurking shadow that is anxiety just round every corner. It is also filled with hope, and love and an appreciation of what really matters in life. More on that another time.
I recently had an old friend get in touch to ask some advice about how I changed the direction of my life, almost ten years ago. It was her message that prompted me to reflect on my story, and it felt like sharing the details of those early years again would give some helpful insight into how I ended up where I am today.
I hope reading this might give courage to those of you feeling stuck, or lost, or unsure of where life is headed. The greatest lessons I am still learning every day are that failure is good, facing fears moves you forward, and being true to yourself matters more than anyone else’s opinion.
I will leave you with the wonderful Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, who sums it up better than I ever could.
‘Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armour. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid at the exact same time.’