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 am I?
What do I want?
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.
Who do you want to be?
How do you want to feel?
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.