It can take a shock to the system to force us to gain perspective and care for our mental wellbeing. I believe 2020 has provided many of us with a chance to reset and refocus on what really matters to us. That’s why I’ve been working on a new way to support women in business – helping us all to help each other.
23% of SMEs with no employees are led by women*.
To me, that reads as 23% of SMEs are led by women who are spinning a million plates, feeling like they’re winging it most of the time and just need a holiday and/or a vat of G&T.
Amen to that, sisters.
How many times have we received a compliment about our business and replied with “oh thank you, but I don’t really know what I’m doing – I’m just winging it!” [nervous laughter].
I’ve said it. I’ve heard many women say it. I have never heard a man say it.
Are we not yet sat comfortably in such an equal society where we can confidently say “I deserve your compliments because I am doing exactly what I set out to do and I’m achieving exactly what I wanted to achieve”?
Absolutely not. I don’t believe British society has even begun to heal from the millennia of gender inequality. Women still have the instinct to feel like we are not where we are supposed to be. Imposter syndrome is rife.
I do believe my struggles with mental health can help drive a new direction on how I can offer my expertise to small business owners, with a focus on supporting women who are self-employed or those who run a small business.
Our mental health experiences can shape a positive future
I have suffered from depression and anxiety from a very young age, all tied together with an obsessive personality. I have self-harmed, burnt myself out and recklessly put myself in dangerous positions on many occasions in my life.
I’ve had nervous breakdowns, anger issues, ridiculous phobias and superstitions to boot.
I truly believe that my anxieties and deep-rooted imposter syndrome comes from consistently believing life would have been easier if I was a man.
I was brought up and taught to believe that fame and social status is the only measure of a successful life for a woman – and this was the only route to love. I went to an all-girls school which at the time measured success on grades. “You can’t grow up to be a successful woman if you don’t get ten A-stars and a degree at Oxbridge.” (I’m pleased to say the school has changed a lot since I was there). I was bullied for being eccentric, and I was eccentric to mask to my anxieties.
Throughout my teens and early twenties, this concoction of false standards made me a bit of a narcissist with an angry streak. When I was at university in London, I had real anxiety about social status – I obsessed over who I wanted to be seen with and how people perceived me. It’s painful to look back on this part of my life because I know I shunned so many wonderful, caring people to make room for abusive people – and my career.
After university I worked at a local radio station. I was told that I didn’t have experience, so I wouldn’t be paid “but oh what a wonderful opportunity this is for you as a young woman on the brink of an exciting career!” So, I set off for work at 5.00am and did the early morning shift for free before heading to my dad’s factory to work straight through to 5pm.
This first career experience was only 12 years ago. Not to mention I was the only female voice on air. I was surrounded by male egos – one of which bullied me to the point of tears on many occasions.
This is when I started self-harming. It was my inner demon reminding me I was useless, a failure, narcissistic and ungrateful – and I needed to work much harder to get to where I wanted to be.
When I reached 26, my mind and body was burnt out. I was a shell of a person who would take on huge challenges at work, set myself up for failure, then mentally and physically beat myself up for not succeeding.
It didn’t help that I learned one successor was offered a substantially higher salary than I was paid for the same role – a man. I actually don’t know how true that rumour was, but the sad fact is that it didn’t surprise me in the slightest.
We need to consciously heal ourselves to help society heal
I think as individuals, to influence further change it simply boils down to offering a supportive environment. As women in business we can lead the way by helping each other, being kind and providing sanctuary away from the plate spinning to help us gain perspective and confidence in ourselves.
In the coming weeks I will be launching a new marketing program for women. This will be part training, part consultancy – and aimed at ensuring women in business have a better understanding of how absolutely fantastic they are.
After all, that is the root of good marketing – simply having confidence in what you’re selling.