This week I want to focus on wellbeing.
As we know the last couple of years have been somewhat challenging in lots and lots of different ways. I know through the clients that I've spoken to I know from some of my own personal experience that the last couple of years have maybe added a few COVID curves to us all and that our health may not be at its optimal.
I know that for some of us the last couple of years have given us an opportunity to really think about the work that we want to do, to think about setting new boundaries and to really dig deep and in some ways to ask ourselves is this it?
Is this it is this what I want out of life is this the work that I want to be doing?
And in answering some of those questions, we've really started to think about who am I?
Who do I want to be where do I want to go?
What direction am I heading in?
And I suppose it's quite common, isn't it at the start of every new year for us to think about setting some new resolutions.
Perhaps you want to lose some weight. You want to drop a dress size or two. You want to be healthier. You want to be happier. You want to earn more money. You want to get a promotion. You want to get a new job.
And if you set any of those resolutions firstly good for you and good luck.
I also want to get you thinking about intentions.
And I want to start this New Year by sharing my experience of burnout.
Definitely not the most, upbeat way to start a new year but I think it's relevant in so many ways. Because whenever we come to this time of year and we start setting resolutions sometimes all we do is create a list of things that we want to do.
We're going to do a new diet. We're going to do a new exercise programme. We're going to do more meditation. We're going to do lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff. But in the process of doing I think sometimes we lose a sense of us when it comes to being.
So today as we talk about wellbeing, what I really want you to think about is are you a well being? Are you a well being? Are you a well woman? Are you a well leader? Are you well?
In 2013, when I reached burnout, it took seven months of pain and illness and hospital admissions, that ultimately concluded in two operations in 48 hours at two different hospitals with two different consultants, for me to really recognise the strain and pressure that I'd been putting on my body and the strain and pressure that I'd been putting on my mind.
It wasn't until I went for the follow up appointments with the consultants after these operations that both of them then started to talk to me about my stress levels. And they wanted to encourage me to remove the stress from my life. And even at that point, I didn’t think I’d been stressed. But really, I was kidding myself.
As I lay on the sofa one day, recovering from the operations, bored stiff from daytime TV, my son's came home from school, they sat on the coffee table in front of me and my definition of me being well again, was to say to them, “don't worry, Mum's going to be absolutely fine. And I'm going to be back at work again soon”.
My sons were what not even 13, I think they were 12 at the time and one of them sat on the edge of this coffee table, they were sat next to each other on this coffee table in front of me and one of them said to me, “but we don't want you to go back to work Mum because your job is killing you.”
“We don't want you to go back to work Mumm because your job is killing you.”
And I cannot tell you how painful that comment was. With all of the pain and the operations and the hospital admissions and everything that I had been through over the previous seven months, that comment from my son's hurt me the most. It was the biggest wake up call that I could have ever had. Because I was measuring my wellbeing, I was measuring my health on how quickly I could get back to work how quickly I could go back to commuting for two hours a day to get back to the office. That was my measure in 2013 of Being Well.
And it took my 12-year-old sons to open my eyes to the situation at the time.
If I backtrack way back to when I was at school, I was moved up a year. I was moved up because of the level of my intelligence and my maturity. I missed my last year of primary school to start secondary school a year early. And there's nothing that says “look at me, I’m different” when everyone knows you’ve been moved up a year and everyone knows you’re the youngest in the school.
And the pressure that that puts on you from teachers was unbelievable. I don't know if it was then or if it was something that had occurred before then. But I think that was the kind of marking in the sand in all of the years of people pleasing that followed. The expectations of other people became so high at that point that I didn't want to let anybody else down, remained with me for years. And I still felt that I had to be top of the class and I felt that I had to keep working and I had to keep achieving. And I had to get the stickers and I had to get the A grades and I had to do all of this stuff because of the expectations of other people.
And that continued as I started in my career.
I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to be the best that I could be. I was still looking for some of that recognition and still looking for some of that validation that would say, “you know, Kelly, here’s your gold star.” And yet in the workplace, it wasn't gold stars that I was being awarded, it was promotions and it was pay rises. So, every time I got a promotion every time I got a pay rise, that was that tick of recognition like “Kelly we see you”.
And yet at the same time, I would have colleagues pulling me to one side saying “Kelly, can you just slow down? Can you stop working so hard? Can you stop doing this? Can you stop doing this you're making the rest of us look bad?”
And so rather than carrying on doing what I was doing, some of it with relative ease, I'm not going to say that everything came easy, there were things that I was learning and I was definitely growing. I was maturing into these management positions that I was being given. I was still studying. I still wanted to be better and be better and be better.
And then I found myself with this, this kind of polarised feeling of I want to be doing this because, I want the recognition and I want the validation and on the other side of that it was a want to be liked and wanting to fit in.
This feeling was that if I keep on pushing if I keep on achieving, if I keep on doing all of this great stuff then I'm making other people look and feel bad. And therefore I need to slow it down a bit. But I didn’t know how to slow it down a little bit because in some ways I’m a natural achiever.
I still wanted to keep pushing, I still wanted to keep delivering, I wanted the next promotion I wanted the next rung up the ladder, I wanted the next pay rise. And I was juggling all of these other people's expectations.
And one of the organisations that I went into, I'd gone in, I suppose at one of the lowest levels within the HR team that I was working in at the time. I'd stepped away from the generalist HR that I'd been doing before I'd spent some time delivering and creating leadership and management development programmes, I loved the training side of it. I loved the coaching side of it. And then I found myself back in a generalist HR role and from that point over the next eight years, I had seven different promotions and I had added £100,000 to my salary.
And all of these felt like the masks of recognition that I wanted, and I had always been taught and told that all of these things would make me happy. And I was on this constant quest because the next promotion the next pay rise would make me feel good for a few minutes. But it wasn't really making me feel happy.
And yet, I continued with this wanting to strive, wanting to be recognised and I was doing amazing stuff. I was doing things differently. The last time I did an annual performance review was back in 2008. I was seen to be this HR person, a senior HR person that did things differently. I had a different approach I had a different way of tackling things. I was very intuitive. I was amazing at being able to engage with people and listen to people and talk to people and find out what was happening.
I had this skill and this knack for being able to coach and grow and develop managers and leaders and I could create some of the most innovative development programmes and conversation topics within the organisations I was working in.
And yet there was still this expectation that “we need more from you”.
The more I did, the higher the expectations became and more I needed to deliver the more I needed to be more and more and more and more. At the same time. I still had this group of peers that were saying “stop being more, stop doing more because you're making the rest of us look bad. Slow it down a little bit.”
And then I was headhunted to go into an HRD position, something that I achieved 10 years before I ever thought I would do. I was headhunted for this particular position. And I was headhunted on the basis of all of the amazing stuff that I'd done in my previous roles.
This is what we want, we want your different approach. We want the way that you do things. The reality was that they didn't want the way that I was doing things. They wanted me to fit, they wanted to be able to tick a box they wanted to show that they were doing things but the environment was awful. And really I should have walked out on day one.
On my first day within this role, within this company, nobody was expecting me. I had no IT access. I had no pass, no access pass to get me around the building. I was told here's the staff manual sit and sit give it a read. And for any of you that have followed me throughout my HR career and all of the things that I've set in done in terms of HR, I'm the last person to give a manual to. I'm absolutely all about building and burning handbooks and putting people before policy.
But this was my first couple of weeks within this role. I was told you don't go and speak to the Chief Exec. What kind of company doesn't let the HR Director go and speak to the Chief Exec?
I was then assigned as the People lead on dozens and dozens of projects in addition to also trying to embed my team, understand the business more effectively and build effective relationships. I was also the lead on a project within my own team that was going to save the organisation millions of pounds a year, £14 million within the first year. And I was in meetings from eight o'clock in the morning until six o'clock at night.
I was working on the train on the way home and I was still working when I got home and I was working at weekends. And the culture of the organisation was that home working was not something that was granted, unless you were the Sales Director. He could work from home any days that he wanted, but for anybody else it was like frowned upon, because there wasn't the trust within the organisation.
In addition to this, I was being stabbed in the back by lot of the Exec team who refused to do anything other than work within their own silos.
I still wanted to prove myself I wanted to prove that I could do this job. I think this is where I started to experience imposter syndrome whether you believe it exists or not. I think that's probably the best description that I've got for how I was feeling at the time.
I didn't want to let anybody down, I still felt that I had this point that I was trying to prove. I didn't want to be the only woman at this level within the organisation to not be able to cope with everything that was being thrown at me. I didn't want to be the youngest member of that team that couldn't cope with all of this stuff being landed on me. And I didn't want to be like the only working Mum at this level that couldn't handle all of the stuff that was being thrown at me. So I kept going and I kept pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, I was convinced I could handle it all.
And I kept pushing harder by meeting all of these goals by meeting all of these objectives by not showing how tired I was or how exhausted I was. I just kept going.
I used to get the train at 6:50 or 7:10 every morning. Before I'd get on that train I would wake up in the morning. I would do a 20-minute yoga practice. I would get showered I would get dressed I would make sure that my hair and makeup was perfect. I'd be one of the first in the office. I'd make sure that everybody knew I was one of the first in the office. Because on top of being the only woman, being the youngest and being the only working Mum, I lived further away than every other member of that leadership team. I also didn't want the location of where I lived to be an issue.
When I eventually did get to the point of saying “I'm working from home on Fridays because all of this stuff that I'm having to do Monday to Thursday, all of these meetings I'm getting no time to get any of the stuff done. So I need Fridays to work from home.” And yet on Fridays I was starting even earlier than I would have done beforehand because I didn’t want anybody thinking that I was skiving. I wasn't taking a lunch break because if anybody rang me or sent me an email, I wanted to show that I was readily available for everybody and I was working way, way into the evening.
I stopped going out with a lot of my friends. I changed a lot of the stuff that I was doing. I stopped doing a lot of my exercise I stopped doing all of the things that were making me feel better and then at weekends I then wanted to be SuperMum, dedicating all of my time and energy and attention to my son's.
And then in 2013 I crashed and I then had seven months of being in and out of hospital. I don't if any of you are fans of Friends, but there's an episode where it's things that could have looked different for all of the characters and in this episode Phoebe portrayed as a megabitch (why powerful working women are portrayed in this way I’ll still never know, we can be kind and successful). Phoebe is on the phone and emailing constantly and she's in the power suit. And even when she's taken into hospital as a result of a heart attack, she's still on the phone and she's still on her laptop working away.
That was me every single time I was admitted to hospital. I was there on my phone and my laptop because I still wanted to prove to everybody that I could work and perform at the level that I was at. I didn't want anybody to think that I wasn’t earning my salary, I didn't want anybody to think that as a woman I couldn't succeed and I didn’t want anybody to think that as a working Mum I couldn't succeed.
I wanted to keep proving that I was good enough.
And after seven months of pain and difficulty it was my son sat opposite me telling me Mum your job is killing you that made me stop in my tracks.
And it was at that point that I really started to think what am I doing?
Surely no job is worth this?
I still didn't give myself enough time to stop and reflect and relax at that point. I then was even more committed to be more values driven than ever within my role. I wanted to show that my values were important. And then when I made the decision that I was going to step away from the corporate world because I believed I could make a bigger difference with my own company.
But, I still kept pushing and I wanted to be able to help my clients even more. So my coaching qualification wasn't enough. All of a sudden my coaching qualification was no longer enough. I studied hypnotherapy I studied psychotherapy. I studied neuroscience. I was asked to write the book on overcoming stress, which I did. I was giving talks on overcoming stress. I was talking about all of this stuff from a wellbeing perspective.
And every day and I would do my yoga I would do my journaling. I would do my gratitude, I would do my meditation. I would get out for a walk with a dog every morning. But all of these things became nothing more than a tick box exercise I was doing and doing and doing and doing to prove that I knew the consequences of burnout.
I went on to create the world's first mental wellbeing workshop for HR professionals. I wanted to grow my business, I wanted to grow my team I was out networking, I'd be at networking breakfasts I'd be at networking dinners, I'd be at networking evenings, I would be working harder and harder and harder and harder and harder. Because I still wanted to prove that I was the best person for this job. I was still looking for that recognition. I was still looking for that validation.
And then in 2015 I hit burnout again. And I couldn't understand it because I thought I knew all of this stuff. I thought I knew how to stop It happening again.
I was helping my clients. I was doing my daily yoga. I was walking daily. I was drinking water. I stopped eating meat. I started a vegetarian diet. I then started a vegan diet. I was prioritising my sleep I was doing all of this stuff.
And I realised that my values looked really great on paper. But I wasn't living or breathing any of them. I was still pushing too hard. I still didn't feel that I was enough. I knew everything on paper, in books, in research papers. I could tell you absolutely everything that you needed to do to avoid burnout. And the one thing I wasn't doing was actually slowing down taking the break and putting any of this learning into practice.
Integrity for me, is doing the right thing even when nobody else is looking. I wasn't doing that. I was telling everybody else to do the right thing. I wasn't doing the right thing for myself, because I was still crippled by fear and judgement and other people's opinions and wanting to prove that as a result of my burnout, I wasn't a failure.
So all of these checkboxes just became things that I was doing. I wasn't getting anything from my meditation, because I was doing it as a checkbox. If I could say I've meditated for 10 minutes that was a tick off the box. If I could say I’d journalled for 10 minutes that was a tick off the box but I wasn't actually present in the moment of doing any of those things. It was a tick box exercise.
So as we go into this new year, as you start to think about your intentions and your resolutions, I really invite you to consider whether you're putting all of these things on a list because they're going to be of benefit to you, or whether all of these things on your list are because you're worried about being judged by others?
I would invite you this year to consider starting this year with really, really getting to grips with what your values are and asking yourself “Who am I?”
Who are you? What do you want? Who are your values? Who do you want to be? How do you want to be seen? How can you this year be the best version of you? For you and not for anybody else.
If you were to be living and leading from your values, what difference would that make to your life? If I were to be living in living and leading from your values how could that positively impact your wellbeing? If you are living and leading from your values, how could this help your career? How could this help your relationships? How could this help your view of the world?
When I started living from this Core-Led approach, I came up with what I call the Four Core-Ners corners. The four corners are Self, Relationships, Work and World.
When I’m being Core-Led, how can I be Core-Led for myself? How can this being Core-Led help with my relationships? How can being Core-Led help me with my work? And how can being Core-Led help me with my view of the world or my impact on the world? So, Four Core-ners; Self, Relationships, Work and World and I invite you to start this year from here.
Who are you? Who do you want to be? What are your values?
Start from here before you start creating a list of things to do. I want you to really consider taking it back a step because when you're clear on your values, a promotion in the same company might not be right for you it might be doing something else somewhere else.
When you're aligned with your values, it may not be all about the money it might be about adding more value or giving more value or getting more value from a role.
When you're clear on your values, it might be about spending more time with loved ones, it might be doing more things for yourself and maybe spending more time on yourself, having more time out, having more breaks doing more for your self care might mean that actually this year the promotion is off the table.
I'm still driven, I'm still very ambitious.
But I will no longer sacrifice my wellbeing for anything. And if a goal has to get pushed back a little bit then a goal has to get pushed back a little bit. If I have to say no to a piece of work that might then mean I don't earn as much this month for the sake of my wellbeing that's what I'm going to do.
Because my values are now completely non-negotiable.
My values are the things that drive me and ground me every single day.
As we start this new year I would love for us all to be happier and healthier and wealthier. Of course.
But are you just putting things on a list to tick them off?
It’s time to consider how being Core-Led can help you to be a well being.