What A Difference A Year Makes – The Ups and Downs of Being an Entrepreneur

As I stare out of the aeroplane window admiring the coastal line of Spain, after a fun football tour and as I write and reflect in my gratitude diary about the things I am grateful for, I’m reminded that tomorrow I’m off to Glastonbury Festival. I can’t help but reflect on the year just gone and how differently I was feeling this time last year. This year, I am off to the festival feeling so happy. Last year, I was devastated.

It was around this time last year that I handed in my notice at a company that I had co-founded and helped to grow for the previous 3 years. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’d ever had to make, but I couldn’t continue working for the new CEO, whom I didn’t respect or value and who later proved to be a complete mismatch for the business, leaving the company himself a few months later having spent the last round of investment quickly and questionably.

I had a heavy heart. It felt like I was going through a break-up. One minute I would be excited about Glastonbury and the next, I’d be thinking about the decision that was forced on me and become really sad. As is true for many entrepreneurs, the start up had become part of my identity and I felt like I had lost a part of myself. When friends and family would ask how I was (before the break up), I would reply invariably with a status on the company. Some may think that’s not healthy, but I cared so much and put so much time and effort and passion into nurturing what felt like my baby, that it became everything to me. Anyone who has ever started and grown a business will know what I mean.

So, even at Glastonbury, where I was surrounded by other loves of my life – music, friends and family, I found myself mulling over what had gone wrong, whether I had made the right decision and generally feeling pretty depressed. It even got to the stage where I was still so sad when I returned from the festival, that I asked if I could take back my resignation, something that people who know me well will know was an extremely difficult thing to do. Needless to say, it didn’t work out and I left the company a month later, only to return again to help the original founder regain control a few months later, which is a whole other story. Rather than dwelling on the past however, I’d like to focus on the present and future, which I’m extremely excited about and on which serendipity has played a huge part.

In September last year, I embarked on a course in Amsterdam at the THNK School of Creative Leadership. I very nearly didn’t join the course as it was something that I came across whilst I was at the start-up and I wasn’t sure if it was still the right thing for me to do or whether it was wise, considering I didn’t have a job. But something, call it intuition or something higher than myself got me there and it’s really changed my life for the better. I’ve met incredible people, been fortunate to have been matched with a wonderful coach and grown so much personally. Whilst at THNK, I was able to finally crystalize an idea that had been brewing for years. All the pieces suddenly fell into place and I did something that I have been wanting to do for years, I created my own business.

My passion and purpose were clearer than ever and nothing could hold me back from moving forwards with it, not even the voice of the saboteur. I also found my business partner, Martine at THNK and together we co-founded Young Happy Minds, whose vision is to get society to value wellbeing in young people as highly as academic success. We’ve already had some great feedback on the business and we’re starting to really grow our online presence. Yesterday we got sign off on a 10 week programme starting in a school in West London in September. It’s the school that I did my first teaching practice at many years ago. It feels like I’ve come full circle. It makes me so happy to be able to start my venture in the same place that I learnt my trade as a teacher. To quote Steve Jobs, “I’ve started to connect the dots”.

This year, I’m looking forwards, not back. I can’t wait for the festival and to grow the new business. I’m also so grateful to my very special friend Ashmi for believing in me.This year I’m going to Glastonbury with a full heart, brimming with passion, purpose and love. I may even wear some flowers in my hair:-)

I hope that sharing this story helps others that may be in a bad place to see that when you connect with your inner passion and purpose and you have the courage to take action, great things can happen.

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Tales of the Unexpected and Connected

I’m currently sat on the Eurostar, having just enjoyed a rather nice ‘light meal’ of cheese and wine, included in a Standard Premier ticket #bargain! I have to be honest and say that I’m feeling pretty hungover after having applied an exploratory mindset last night in the centre of Amsterdam with my new THNK Class 6 buddies.

THNK is a school for Creative Leadership. What’s Creative Leadership I hear you say? I don’t know if I have the answer really, but my learnings this week through the activities I’ve carried out and through the people I’ve met point towards connectivity, passion, authenticity and impact. So for me, a Creative Leader is someone who knows their passion and purpose and leads from the heart to create a large scale, positive social impact.

Last Friday, I boarded the Eurostar in London, not really knowing what to expect; excited and slightly apprehensive about the week ahead. What would the course be like? What will the people be like? What if it’s not for me? What if I’m not good enough? What if the Airbnb apartment that I’ve booked is awful? What if it’s really awkward to share with a Frenchman that I don’t know called Arnaud:-)

What if, what if , what if…….

It got me thinking about how much time so many of us spend worrying about the future when we could be truly living in the present and how much more authentic and present that would make us as individuals and how much more connected we’d feel. Luckily for me, everything turned out just fine and in many ways, exceeded my expectations, so I found myself wondering, even if things had completely messed up, how would it have helped in any way to have expended energy on worrying about it. If things go wrong, there’s usually a learning in it and learning from our mistakes (How Fascinating!) helps us grow, so as long as the stakes are not in the realm of life and death, there’s really no point in wasting energy on worrying. As my Dad often says, “Worry is like a rocking horse. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” On reflection though, a rocking horse is something that reminds of us our childhood. It’s safe. Just like worry. Perhaps worry makes us feel safe in a strange sort of way, protecting us from vulnerablilty.

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This week has been a week of realisation and affirmation. An affirmation that I am enough and a realisation that I haven’t taken the time to reflect for years! I’ve put all my energy into ‘other’ things and not my ‘self’ and I’ve started to realise that that’s just not sustainable in the long term. My eyes and my heart have been opened, I’m not afraid anymore and in being more honest, vulnerable and open, I feel like I’m ready to take my seat for landing, rather than circling in a holding pattern.

I’ve also revisited Myers Briggs this week and after a little bit of backwards and forwards; am I an “E”, am I  an “I”, am I a “T”, am I a “F”, I think I’m getting more comfortable with my new identity – ENFP, having thought I was ENTP for years. But what’s funny about this week is how much my very strong preferences “N” and “P” have been present, probably because I have been more present and open. I have felt an enormous connection to my classmates. I found myself saying things like “people like us” and “I feel like I belong”, which is quite converse in sentiment to how I usually feel. My strong “N” tendency feels like it has been set free and that that’s ok. Behaviours from my past have remerged, like mislaying my wallet and missing my train – very “P” like behaviour. And I’m excited again, in a childlike way about what’s possible for me, for my classmates and for the world.

I said on the first day, when asked why I was at THNK, that I felt like I had been called to THNK, not consciously but sub-consciously and that it felt like a serendipitous journey. But I think that it is actually more than that. I think it is a gift and for the first time in a long time, I feel like a child in a candy store. And I like it!

I’ll leave you with my own gift taken at Embankment station a year ago:

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Difficulties Break Some Men But Make Others – Nelson Mandela

I decided to write in my gratitude/musings journal last night for the first time in 8 months and this is the outcome (it’s incidentally 8 months since my last blog post)

Monday 6th January 2014

It’s been over 8 months since I’ve written in here and it’s at once lovely and sad; reading past posts back, digesting the ups and downs, as an observer, as if I were reading a work of fiction in no way related to the protagonist. It’s when the realisation kicks in that I AM THE PROTAGONIST that the pathos and happiness becomes more extreme. The warm feelings come from the positivity I feel when reading all of my gratitude posts, which invariably mention my family, my house, my housemates, my friends and my job and the sadness comes from looking back on an ‘out of sorts’ protagonist, uncomfortable with the world at times and saddened by it.

2013 was an interesting year. It’s been a year of extremes – the highs have been euphoric and the lows have taken me pretty close to rock bottom. Regardless, it’s been a year of learning, which is the one positive I will take from it. I’ve learnt more about human nature this year. I’ve learnt that human beings have an incredible capacity to cause pain and an incredible capacity to create immense joy in another human being’s life.

I’ve been the victim of 3 crimes this year: the first was pretty minor and has happened to most of us – I had my phone stolen. It was the way in which it was stolen that shocked me though! I could not believe the brazen attitude of the thief, who pretended to be pulling back the chair next to me to sit down, so I moved my bag, but there was no need for me to do that, as unbeknownst to me, he had already been helping himself to my phone that had been residing in my bag. I, being thoughtful and considerate (actually naive/foolish) asked him if my bag was in the way. When he wouldn’t look me in the eye and subsequently walked and then ran away, I realised that I had been duped and I felt a bit sick – my accommodating and considerate nature, taken advantage of.

The second crime was heinous. There is no other word for it. Pure evil and set up in such a way as to cause ruin to myself and my family. Those who are close to me know the details of the crime and this is not the place to document it, but suffice to say, it was as malicious an allegation against me as one could ever imagine – contrived, evil and intending to and succeeding in causing a massive amount of emotional stress to those affected and to ruin me and my reputation. I’m happy to say that the plot did not play out in the way that the orchestrator had planned, but enough emotional damage was caused for that person to have gained whatever revenge they were looking for. I’m not one to bear grudges and I can only conclude that the sick person in question was just that, very mentally unstable/ill, but I have to take this one further, as I will not be leaving myself open again to this sort of mental assault. It’s made me more guarded, closed and suspicious of people’s intentions, which maybe sometimes I need to be.

The third crime of the year came on Boxing Day night. I was out for a few drinks with a friend in Reading and a man was being very letchy and intrusive on our personal space. Not being one to take kindly to rudeness (from man or woman), I asked him to leave us alone. The aggressive and abusive language that I was on the receiving end of was insulting and disgusting. The feminist in me wanted to retort, but the old soul in me recognised something in this man’s tone and demeanour that screamed – “I hate women”, so I decided to just turn away and not reply. This seemed to work and the man disappeared for a while only to return again a bit later, invading our personal space again – being abusive and obnoxious. Knowing that I would not get anywhere in reasoning with the man, I had a word with the bouncer and asked him to ask the man to leave us alone, which the bouncer did, but the man was subsequently rude to the bouncer, so he threw him out of the bar.

As I was leaving the bar about half an hour later, as I was just about to open the door to the taxi, I heard, “You fucking bitch” and as I turned round was greeted with a punch across the face from that same man, who had been waiting for me and became in those few seconds the victim of a premeditated, unprovoked assault.

I remember thinking, as I was about to be punched, “This can not be happening to ME!” and as I was punched and felt the blow and crack of his fist on my cheek and nose, I was completely and utterly stunned.  And then I froze. Eyes wide open staring at my friend. In utter shock! All I remember after the blow was blood – lots of it and people – lots of them. It was probably the most surreal 15 mins I have ever experienced before the ambulance arrived.

They’ve since found the guy responsible and he’s been arrested. My nose isn’t broken and I’m feeling better. As I explained to my brother straight after, who was clearly upset by the whole event, “It could have been much worse!”

So, I  guess what I’m feeling from this year is a little bit beaten up, metaphorically and physically. Usually I can haul myself up when bad things happen, but this year’s events have made me weak. But then I look at people who inspire me, people who have suffered great hardships, losses and suffering in their lives and in-spite of all of that, stayed strong, and this is what gives me strength.

We lost a great leader in Nelson Mandela last year. Without suffering in the way that he did, he would not have gone on to be the man that he was and to change the world in the way that he did. I wouldn’t say that I’m a religious person, but I do believe that Jesus existed, that he was a good man and that he had a colossal impact on the world, just like Mandela. There is a likeness in the traits that the two men displayed also – tolerance, humility, leadership. Both referred to as ‘father’ , yet both the victims of terrible wrongdoings/jealousy. Their stories give me hope.

So, I’m looking forward to 2014. I’m ready for the challenges it will invariably bring and I’m excited about learning more about myself and others and growing into a better version of myself, so that I can have some sort of impact on the lives of others, so that I can look to my true path and enable others to do the same.

I’ll finish with a quote from one of my heroes:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” Nelson Mandela

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3 Is A Magic Number

Three (click on hyperlink and play the song) is a magic number
Ya it is, it’s a magic number
Somewhere in that ancient mystic trinity
You’ll get three
As a magic number
The past, the present, the future,
Faith, and hope, and charity,
The heart, the brain, the body,
Will give you three,
It’s a magic number”

Whenever I think of the number 3, this classic song by De La Soul often pops into my head. But De La Soul are not alone in their musings about the number 3. Many world religions contain triple deities or concepts of trinity, including the Christian Holy Trinity, the Hindu Trimurt, the Three Jewels of Buddhism and many many more.

According to Jewish law, once something is done three times it is considered a permanent thing. This is called a “chazakah“. Jewish people believe that once we have done something three times, we have connected to it and connected it to this world. The number three represents permanence. That’s why we often do things in threes or count to 3, since it adds strength to our acts.

Not only did this year see me take the Live Below The Line challenge again for the third time, but I also managed to persuade two friends to join me (Claire Ainscough and Jane Hammond), tripling the fundraising effort and impact for our chosen charity, Positive Women, so according to jewish law, I guess living below the line has now become a permanent thing for me. It certainly has gained some permanence in my conscience, but I am very glad to say that it is no longer part of my day to day living.

Last year, I wrote a blog at the end of every day, but this year, I was too busy with other things (too busy being busy to write). I did reflect after each day however and thought I’d document some of my reflections in this summative post.

Day 1 was probably the toughest day. I have a coffee addiction and am used to drinking at least 3 double espressos a day (usually 2 before noon) and yet I failed to taper my coffee intake down the week before the challenge, so I did not fare well on Monday without caffeine. I was irritable and shorter tempered than usual. This might sound like hyperbole, but I had what can only be described as the onset of a fever by 1pm. I was burning up and could not concentrate for periods of time. I don’t think my state was helped by attending a 6.30am bikram yoga class in the morning. I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew (no pun intended). The food part was fine. I had porridge, water and 1/2 a banana in the morning for breakfast, followed by baked beans on toast (no butter) for lunch, 1/2 banana and bread for a snack about 4pm and pasta, tomato sauce and onion for dinner. Seriously the food part wasn’t that tough – bit boring but fine, but the lack of caffeine was torture, until I found these beauties:ImageI am not exaggerating when I say that these tea bags got me through my week of living below the line and at 27p for 80, they were a real bargain and really didn’t taste that bad!

Once I was able to feed the caffeine monster inside of me, all I had to do to get by was keep to my food budget and prepare and plan and prepare and plan. Living on £1 a day needs a lot of organisation especially when you live a busy life. I had to plan all of my food for the week. On day 4, when I was going to see The Vaccines at the o2, I had to cook my dinner at lunch, take it in a plastic container with me and eat it at the venue:ImageThis was the first gig in a very long time where I have supped tea and not cider, beer or wine throughout and yet it was still very enjoyable, even if I did get more than a few funny looks by fellow revellers!

What really struck me again this year was the absolute lack of choice that living below the poverty line/living on a £1 a day affords you. My biggest challenge this year was a mental one. It was training my mind to realise that I didn’t have freedom, that I couldn’t just pop into a coffee shop, that I couldn’t just buy a fruit juice, that I couldn’t not plan ahead, that I didn’t have choices and that for someone like me who is independent and carefree, this is castrating and so limiting. The last few years that I have lived below the line, I have felt this lack of choice, but it wasn’t until this year, the 3rd year that I guess I really empathised, that it really became real to me, that I really felt the plight of those people in Swaziland beyond just the tangible physical recognition of what it meant to live on so little. I really felt it truly and deeply within my conscience, perhaps like “chazakah“.

This year, I had my phone stolen whilst I was living below the line. Having your phone stolen feels pretty shitty at the best of times, but when you’re taking something on for the benefit of others and this happens, it feels like a really sick joke. But I was ok. I reported the phone stolen, I was able to walk across the road and get a new sim, I had friends offering me a replacement phone. It was a horrible experience, but I was able to come out of it pretty unscathed. Yet, if this had happened to me in Swaziland, I dread to think what the impact would have been potentially. With poverty, comes lack of choice, comes lack of freedom, comes lack of power, comes despair, but campaigns like Live Below The Line help charities like Positive Women, instil hope in the people that they work with, provide them funding to send orphans to school, which gives them some choices and eventually power.

So my third time below the line has come to an end. I am hoping that I have connected many more people  to it and connected it to this world. I’ve raised over £500 already, but am still hoping to raise more. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can still do so here. Namaste:-)

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A Poem For The Irish

Yesterday was Paddy’s day,

A day to drink, be merry and sway,

The weather did not dampen spirits,

The Irish are used to it, even cheer it.

 

Irish people are ‘great for the craic’,

But often take a lot of flack,

For being not the best at sports,

Like Rugby, Football and others sorts.

 

They’re great with the ‘ould horses’ though,

And are always pretty much in the know,

About who will come in 1 , 2, 3

Celebrating with diddly idle idle deee.

 

And on that note, the Irish love to dance,

Whether it’s “Shoe The Donkey” or ‘Riverdance’,

The Irish have rhythm and music in their bones,

That’s why everyone claims to be clones.

 

Irish people are proud of their roots,

A nation of people, with charm – not mute,

A nation that’s suffered, been battered and bruised,

A nation, determined never to lose

 

Its grip on its soul, its longing to be free,

And yet another generation, is lost at sea.

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Gratitude – 10 Things I Love About Life

(Aside) I said I would write more during Lent, so here I am doing it. I’ve also been cycling more, which I am feeling good about, and I haven’t had my bike stolen recently, which is a feat to be proud of, but not to brag about too much in case of fate being tempted. Am I eating less? Mostly. I’d say I’m eating more healthily, with a temporary blip around my b’day festivities. So there’s my being honest and my lenten vows update.

Now on to the title of this post, Gratitude.  I started a Gratitude Diary last year, but not being a great “completer finisher”, I haven’t kept it up religiously, however, when I’m feeling in the mood, I’ll write a few things down that I’m grateful for. For those of you who have partaken in this type of activity, it’s a pretty cathartic thing to do, and if you’re a ‘law of attraction’ believer, you may believe that it makes good things happen. It just makes me happy, which I’ll take.

So rather than write in my gratitude diary today, I thought I’d post 10 things that I’m grateful for here for all to see:

1.  My Dad – (He often appears in my gratitude diary and he’s usually top of the list) He is the most generous, sensitive, witty and inspiring man I know.

2.  My Siblings – Each one of them is very special to me in different ways.  I feel very privileged to have such a big, close family. 

3.  My Mum – the years I had with her were cut short, but she was a fantastic, high spirited and brave woman, now an angel.

4.  My Friends – we’ve been through so much together and they are not fair-weather (apologies for the rhyming couplet – it’s the poet inside of me bursting out)

5.  My Niblings – (Niblings is a term coined to describe nieces and nephews) They bring a huge amount of joy into my life.

6.  Music – Whether it’s listening to it, or attempting to play/sing, music is nourishing for me.

7.  My Work – I took a risk to do something that I am passionate about and I have never been so fulfilled, challenged and energised.

8.  My Heritage – How can you not be grateful for Irish roots?

9.  My House – For the first time, I feel settled, even if I know I will never truly settle.  For now, I like it.

10.  The Small Things – Looks between strangers on the same wave length on a tube journey, the comedy value of the 207 bus, beautiful words, great stories, being able to see the funny side of most things, making someone’s day, someone making your day, great things happening to great people, harmonies, TenPilates, sleep.

Feel happier already?  I know I do.

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Eat Less, Write and Cycle More – My Lenten Vows

Right!  My promise to eat less, write and cycle more for the period of Lent is here and it’s in writing.  Something about ‘publishing’ for me equates to words meaning more, so writing this blog is my way of keeping myself honest.

I was looking back over past blog posts and realised that I haven’t posted since mid November and I haven’t really been doing what I said I would do. I was a little excitable when I wrote that post. I haven’t done much but register a url yet, but having it in writing is helping to keep me honest and I’ll do something to make the things that I wrote about happen, by the end of this year.

Back to eating less and writing and cycling more.  Partly I don’t write because I don’t think I have anything interesting to say and partly I don’t write because I spend too much time doing other things, most of which are productive, but some could be deemed to be a little wanting on the productivity front.  But as I have stated that I’ll write more during Lent, then that is what I will do and those insecurities (a euphemism for excuses) shall just have to hibernate for a while.  So to recap, I will write more.

Cycling more is a rather selfish Lenten vow. It’s something I actually have to do as I’ve only gone and secured myself a place in Ride London, which is pretty fucking (sorry for swearing) scary. As I was investigating cycle routes last night, I was astounded to find that Chiswick to Southampton is only 75ish miles and I’m going to be cycling 100!  How is that even going to be possible?  Certainly not on my current two-wheeled mode of transport it won’t:ImageHowever much I love my the Pashley brand and my Pashley Poppy, it just won’t cut the mustard for this challenge. It is a thing of beauty and I can sometimes be found on the Chiswick High Road, almost crashing into cars as I admire myself on my Pashley in shop windows, but really, that’s all it’s good for.  If I were in charge of Pashley, I would consider adding this tagline: “Pashley – A Bike For Feeling Good About Yourself” or “Pashley – An Ornament More Than A Bike” or “Pashley Is To Bikes What Chiswick Is To London”.  But I digress. As usual.  But I’ll digress some more because this is what it’s like to be inside my head.  If you’ve ever been in a  conversation with me and I look like I’ve gone to another place, these are generally the sorts of things that I’ll be thinking about. But enough stream of consciouness for now.  To recap, I will cycle more.

I will also eat less. I actually don’t eat that much and usually eat pretty well, but recently, I’ve been eating chocolate and biscuits and crisps – stuff that I never usually eat. Eating well is pretty easy for me, so I don’t really have that much to say about it, so I won’t.  I’ll just eat less. I suppose if I’m eating less I should also drink less, but years of experience and constant research, have taught me that the latter vow will inevitably be broken, especially when this beauty is placed before me:Image

I was of course referring to the pint of Guinness and black.

So there’s the first of my Lenten blog posts.  Pretty boring, pretty self-absorbed and pretty pointless, but some quite pretty pictures I think.

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