Age: late 40s
Coffee at Colbert, Sloane Square SW1
Describe your career path in two or three sentences including any twists or turns ending with where you are now.
It’s been a winding path, I have taken a journey from what I describe as do-gooder to entrepreneur. The red thread in that path is how can I facilitate and enable human growth and change.
One of the biggest twists came at the age of 29. I was working in Zimbabwe on HIV / AIDS, it was my dream job, at least on paper and I walked away from it because I felt that what we were doing wasn’t working. It was my first big ‘No’ in life. No, I don’t want to be part of this industry, that for me, was not having the impact it should. Having the ability to walk away from a situation – whether it’s a relationship or a job that isn’t working, is a critical part of navigating our life’s paths. It’s not easy to say a firm no, but it keeps us moving forward rather than wasting time in situations we know are wrong.
The other big twist was when I wrote my book which took me many, many years. The book was an exercise in storytelling (obviously) but it also helped to give me a better awareness of my own story and a realisation that I could help other people tell their own stories. So, a lot of the work I do now is to help people see where they are in their journey and think through where they want to take it. When people start to see themselves as a character in their story, they have a greater sense of control over the narrative – they are not a subject that things happen to – they are the protagonist that can drive the narrative forward. I didn’t realise at the time that this was going to be a big lesson but it was tremendously helpful for me and my work with other people and my decision to start my own business.
What decision / experience proved to be the most helpful to your career?
Becoming a mother. One of the things I like to work with women on is changing the narrative that becoming a mum is some sort of terrible burden that takes you off of a path. I want women to begin to see the ways in which motherhood gives them a skill set that is unbelievably useful in the world right now.
I became a mother late in life. I decided when I had my first son I was going to stop my consulting work that was taking me all over the world and be with him. This was the best decision I could have made because I was really burnt-out and pretty cynical. He reintroduced me to joy, of course, there were a lot of headaches and a lot of tough days along the way but, in many ways, I rediscovered a playful side. And the space that this provided became absolutely integral to me eventually deciding I was ready to come back into a professional role that was quite different from the ones that I left behind. So, I think it is really important for women to begin to regard their time and their role as a mother as useful professional training, as useful as anything else.
Where or to whom do you look for inspiration when thinking about making a change?
I think that has to be an inside-out decision. When at a crossroad, there are plenty of people I could consult with but I think that this is the time to fire up my intuition and listen in. Obviously, you need good advice but if I look at my decision to start Antacara it was literally made right after I had finished running a retreat, I was walking away and I was trembling because I was so energised by the experience and I said to myself to ‘Don’t forget this’ – this is your body telling you what you need to do. My body, my gut – for me these are the best guides.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self knowing what you do now?
I would tell her three things:
- To remain deeply rooted in your sense of self and listen to your instincts.
- To continue to put yourself in new circumstances that cause you to look at yourself differently by exposing yourself to people and places and ideas that at first might seem uninteresting or not useful. Don’t think everything is going to reveal itself in the moment. If something tells you to be in it, then be in it and wait and see. There is patience required in order to keep going and avoid constantly being in a reactive mode.
- To not always look for approval. That’s been one of the biggest things for me in starting my own business. Not everybody is going to like it and not everybody is going to think it’s right but that’s okay. Obviously, if there is an overwhelming response you need to listen but also listen to your own instincts about who and what you value. In putting yourself out there, you make yourself incredibly vulnerable and you have to be comfortable enough in yourself to say, ‘Here I am’. It can feel like you are swaying out on a branch and you don’t know what will happen if you fall but the truth is usually you’re usually okay.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for people making a career re-entry or re-invention later in life?
As we age, there are a number of things that begin to potentially limit our sense of possibility. Sometimes our sense of duty can overwhelm us, rightfully so, because we become partners and parents and caretakers and maybe we are also business owners. At other times, it’s the ‘shoulds’ in our head. We think I should do this or I shouldn’t do that. We get this overdeveloped responsibility muscle which is necessary and (note, I said ‘and’ not ‘but’ because I think it is an ‘and’, and we are not going to shirk those things) so it is about creating a space within our existing set of responsibilities to begin to play and experiment.
There is a quote that I love by Thich Nhat Hanh that says “We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realise.” I think there is a possibility around us for reinvention big and small and I think some of the smaller reinventions are just as beautiful as the bigger ones. There is more scope for this than we sometimes recognise. Beginning to play and experiment within your current status quo is what helps us to realise it doesn’t have to be a midlife crisis to move us forward, it can be a blossoming of self within those existing relationships. And I think the people who love us, would actually love to see this happen.
What do you think are the opportunities for people wanting to work in their 50s and 60s and beyond.
Your magic. You likely have 30 years of personal and professional experience and now is a wonderful time to harvest that experience and begin to consider what is your inside-out offer. It is not about filling a role that someone else has created but beginning to consider what it is that you can bring that is unique to you.
I really encourage people to put their CVs aside because this is more than a title that you have held, it is about your full self. I imagine an old fashioned explorer with a backpack filling it up with all the stuff he/she has learned along the way and using those experiences and lessons to co-create things with other people. I see it as an opportunity to marry personal and professional in a way that is more interesting than any formal training might imply. When I thought about Antacara, I realised that I had received an education from all the travel that I had done and all that I had been exposed to and I had never considered the real value of this before. This is me on a plate.
So, I think the opportunity begins with starting to look at your story and ask where has it lead me, what has it taught me, what do I have in my backpack right now that maybe I just think it is me but actually is the thing that makes me stand out and make others want to work with me. Own your self. That’s the secret sauce. Stop looking out and seeing if there is some hole that you fit in, start to think about what it is that you are and what you want to be and do and then go out into the world and start offering it and see what happens. It is a very different mindset.
What is your top tip for people thinking about re-inventing their careers?
Get moving. Literally, move into new spaces. It can feel uncomfortable in the moment but keep going, you need to create the readiness. Don’t make any big decisions and also don’t idle until you have been forced into a big decision – too often people wait until they are pushed off the ledge. Start to create the space through your everyday habits and practices. Those things are golden – the road is paved with the things you do every day, not some big decision you think you are going to make when the magic time comes to make the leap off the cliff. Give yourself permission to know you want to do something else, you don’t have to do it today or tomorrow but start to mine your current life for the things that are going to get you moving forward.
Recommendation: Favourite book to read, website to browse or podcast to listen while sipping coffee?
The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal. It’s an amazing book which is a very thorough look at the brain-body connection and the ways in which movement is an essential catalyst for personal growth both on an individual and on a group level. There is a lot of neuroscience but it’s very relatable and readable.