I wrote recently about The F Word (Furlough) where I described how my 100mph life had halted to a stop over night and how that had affected me mentally and physically. It generated a lot of discussion and great feedback as we all take note of Mental Health Awareness Week.
In the last 8 weeks since lockdown began, the heavenly bird song has become louder than ever, the streets are filled with people exercising and having meaningful walks with their families, there are no cars on the roads, no commuter traffic to worry about, and you can even find rice, pasta and loo roll in the supermarkets. Fast forward to now a place where people are considering venturing out to shops, parks, and even back to work. I sensed a dramatic shift after last week’s government announcement to ease the restrictions which meant people emerging from hibernation in their droves.... mostly to B&Q.
Whilst talking to those who have started to go back to work, I wondered, have we considered the impact that this freedom and speedy return to ‘normal’ is going to have on people’s mental wellbeing? With this weeks Mental Health Awareness campaign, I am catching up with an old colleague to do a recording talking about our experiences of mental ill-health and how we see this situation unfolding.
Not only will the nature of the work be demanding on so many as we start to rebuild the economy which has been annihilated, but the resurrection of our daily rigid routines! Diary management, family management, doing the 9-5, getting dressed up again… its going to take some time to get back up to where we left off with our resilience to the day to day dramas.
It was only the other day I saw a friend post about how he had returned to work and on his first day had mentally crumbled with the volume of work he had walked back into. Numerous phones and radios loudly ringing, suppliers at the doors, email inboxes close to bursting. The noise, the hustle and bustle, the demand on our time, how quickly we can turn round a tight deadline, our resilience. After acclimatising to a slower existence and living in a bubble of tranquillity – was it all too much too soon?
So, I ask the question – as an employer, what are you doing to help your people transition back into work? And as an employee, what are your return to work strategies going to be to look after your physical and mental wellbeing? Although we are all enjoying this slower pace of life, we all know that this is not going to last forever. We need to plan now for a phased return to work strategy to ensure that we can all cope with the ‘new normal’ whatever that will look like…
FURLOUGH… a mandatory career break that you may not have wanted or needed… or maybe you did?
Having worked myself since 13 - part time, always wanting to have my own money from a young age - I have devoted much of my life to my career with great compromises. I counted the other day how many times I have relocated for a role or contract and counted 8 locations around the UK and worldwide with stints in Brazil, Australia and Abu Dhabi.
I have never been the 9-5 type, devoting myself to the goal, the business, to the team where I am working at the time. Making myself available anytime of day and even putting off children, pets, commitments outside of work in order to give myself without distraction and be available should I be needed. This was always my choice and I thrived on being able to meet the demand of the role, support others who were unable to, and be present every step of the way.
With this work ethic and driven ambition, it resulted in a fast-paced existence. One where I would have to consciously schedule quarterly/biannual reunions with my family around the UK, monthly catch ups with friends, weekends away and time with my partner. With his support I was always able to put work first – and if that meant a weekend with work with no consultation – then that would be fine. Networking events, launches, industry events, keeping on top of my game – I gave it everything and did so at 100mph. Paired with trying to get to the gym, social events etc – my feet did not touch the ground.
Then BOOM. The C word brought our world to a standstill. Working for a Travel Management Company I witnessed first hand every border closing, every hotel closing its doors, every airline cancelling their flights, visa’s being cancelled, customers being stranded, customers unable to travel for work or for their holiday of a lifetime – I witnessed the crisis unfolding in front of our eyes.
Sitting in the offices at the time we were in full crisis management mode – working all day, every day, weekends, evenings and with everything against us. As a team we pulled together and undertook roles outside of our remit to help with the thousands of cancellations that were hitting the inbox. My 100mph life had took a turn but was still fast paced and full of adrenaline.
Then BOOM. Then the F word landed. Literally out of nowhere – I do not think I had even heard the word before. I accepted the situation and witnessed the whole country retract and go into hibernation mode. At first, still supporting my team and wanting to help the business I continued to be as helpful as I could. Until – that is – The F word meant you could not do ANYTHING!
At first embracing the rest after a traumatic few weeks – I soon realised I was slipping into a hazy existence. No routine, no deadlines, no to do lists, no structure – I lost all sense of me, my why and what exactly was even happening. The days rolled into one and before I knew it almost a month had passed without really doing anything constructive, proactive or stimulating. I stopped watching TV, the news, social media and was reluctant to join the million zoom invitations, catch ups, quizzes and so on. I needed to do this in my own time and until then – keep myself to myself until my head had digested what on earth was going on here.
Then – something clicked, and I emerged out of this haziness. I started to feel a bit more like myself again and started to pick the phone up, join virtual catch ups, activities and take on some home projects. I ramped up my passion project (The Professional Retreat) and have been hosting online virtual retreats for professional women every Sunday morning helping others to figure out this situation too. Reflecting on the last 8 weeks that I have now spent at home – I think I have figured out what I was going through.
I have been mourning my old life.
I have gone through an internal grief cycle of my past lifestyle, career… just everything that I took for granted about my life and my freedom. I have mourned the potential loss of my job, my work colleagues, my network, the industry we love so much (events and travel), my social life, my planned adventures this year, travel, weddings, birthdays. It had really knocked me for six – and I just did not see it coming.
Coming out of the other end of it now, I am appreciating what this lesson has taught me. Quantity does not equal quality. Social anxieties, FOMO and hectic schedules are not good for you. Your salary, job title or size of your team does not necessarily mean that you are fulfilled, happy or successful. There is more to life than work. Ensure that you are looking after your personal life as much as you are nurturing your professional life.
I see this time now as an enforced career break that I did not know I even needed. I have 2 new rescue dogs to focus on and rehabilitate. Helping them is helping me. I am cooking, enjoying my home, having quality conversations with friends and family as well as enjoying nature, and all the simple pleasures in life.
We have heard in recent days about the extension of the furlough scheme so I will await to hear more on that from my employer. I am at peace with any outcome now – if I look after myself, I can be resilient to anything that comes my way during this time. We take every day at a time and feel thankful that I we have this time to re-evaluate what is important and enjoy our new lifestyles.
I guess the question is – would we want to return to our 100 mph lives? Or are we going to bounce back in a whole new way when this is over?
Well, hello 2020 and to a new decade!
It was this time last year that I sat at home wondering what I wanted to achieve or what goals I wanted to set myself for 2019 and feeling a complete lack of direction for the first time in my career. For all my working life I had always known what my next move would be or what I wanted to do next - until 12 months ago.
Feeling happy and secure in my new home and in a job that I love, I wanted so desperately to strive for the next big thing and set some audacious goal to get there, but simply couldn't identify what that was anymore or what that goal might be. Marriage? Starting a family? But what about my career? Going for a promotion? But what did I really want to do? Did I want more responsibility? Did I want to achieve a fitness goal? Health? Work life balance? Who knew... I was so confused and yet at the same time quite content about my immediate situation.
I'm not the person who can sit still, waiting for the next opportunity to come walking past me. I work hard and passionately for everything in my life and take pride in making the most of my time on earth. So this time, although I felt somewhat content with what I had I still wanted to explore a little bit deeper and take some time out to identify what was actually really important to me.
As I researched for a retreat to attend to help me with my personal and professional goal setting - I came to a bit of a dead end. I didnt find what I needed - and so I created it. Stimulating the need to work towards something new and exciting but also exploring a new field, an area I have never looked at before. Holistic wellbeing for the personal and professional versions of ourselves. A retreat was what I needed to Reset, Refresh and Refocus what as important to me.
After months of research, investment, a website, an Instagram account and some networking, I proposed my ideas to anyone who would listen. I identified three possible groups of women who may find this retreat useful and created an agenda of content and activities which I thought that they may benefit from. Looking for the right locations, the right surroundings and settings to help achieve the sanctuary that would become a haven for trust, reflection and light bulb moments.
In September I hosted the very first Professional Retreat with 8 ladies of varying backgrounds, professions and motivations to attend the retreat. We laughed, cried and left with a feeling of direction, purpose and positivity. This circle of trust continues with the ladies supporting each other on their journeys which is so lovely to see. As soon as I got home I launched the January retreat and almost filled it in the first week.
I don't know what 2020 will have in store for me - but with two upcoming retreats in January and February to host I am sure together we will find a sense of direction together, answering our own questions in time and giving ourselves the time out of the daily grind to reflect and refocus. I believe that these retreats shouldnt be a once in a life time occurance - they should be taken as frequently as you need them, to find our what you want and then to keep reminding yourself of the journey you are on and seeing the progress along the way.
Life has a funny way of throwing curve balls at us all - I hope that these retreats help you to reset your defences every now and again and refocus on what is important to you. Sharpening your senses so that you can handle everything it throws at you whilst making progress on a path that you set for yourself.
I wanted to visualise the concept of The Professional retreat and create a brand which will portray the values of the business. We wont be targeting just one area of your personal or professional development - we will be looking at everything around you. I hope the new branding and website showcase the purpose of this venture, the values and the personality that each retreat will have. I am always open to feedback and would love to hear your comments on this creative side.
Many people have asked me, "where have you got this idea from?" after I share with them this initiative of hosting professional retreats for different groups of women facing varying challenges in their professional careers. Well, I simply woke up one morning and thought, this is what I need for my own career, so why not create one? This is what I need to do.
I love my job as Head of Events, MICE and Group Travel for a fantastic company based in Manchester. I am challenged everyday, I am allowed to be autonomous with my work, I have the respect of the Directors and the CEO and and I love the industry that we work within. But, there is still something missing for me in my professional and personal development. I am told regularly that I have so much opportunity around me and there are avenues I can take within the business to go to the next level - but in all honesty - I actually don't know what I want to do!
I have always been a driven, career focussed, ambitious character, moving continents at the drop of a hat to progress my career and work on the next big project. I have always known what I want, where I want to be and what my next step will be. I studied at school, went to university, quit one course, and started again doing another course at a different university that suited me better. I undertook a job with a graduate scheme, moved to London to launch my career and then went international with it. I was always in control of what my next steps would be and I had it all planned out in my head. Until now...
I have an impressive CV working on huge international events such as London 2012 Olympics, FIFA World Cup 2014 Brazil, Formula 1 and other motorsports events in Abu Dhabi, International Festival for Business 2016 and after a period of time moving around I have settled in Manchester. A fantastic up-and-coming city, full of entrepreneurs, hard working people and heritage to be proud of.
In my role I manage 9 people, all at varying levels of experience and expertise. I am learning everyday about coaching, leading and developing the team to unlock their true potential and achieve our team goals. Its really rewarding. With my role, I report to a number of Directors and have a close relationship with the CEO who I know all value to work that I do. We all have challenges with our line management I am sure, but I really do enjoy working with them all - especially the CEO who is just so passionate, motivated and inspiring.
The thing with me is... I'm happily dissatisfied all of the time. I'm restless and driven to the point that most people would burn out - but I just have endless energy when it comes to my career, my life and my future. I am happy, living in the present and thankful for everything I have and the people around me - but that never stops me striving for more and seeing what else I'm capable of. I don't stop, and I'm not sorry for that. I travel worldwide relentlessly. I keep in touch with as many people as I can and I arrange catch ups and weekends away months in advance to ensure I never lose contact with people in my life. The thing is now... what do I want to do next?
With all of this racing around my mind, opportunities being handed to me on a plate, my years of hard work coming in to pay off, I want to press the reset button and refocus on what matters to me. What do I really want to do?
Happy Birthday to The Professional Retreat!