Last month Emma Burdett, Founder of WILD reached out to me to meet up for a coffee. I had read about WILD before; Women In Leadership Deliver, and it’s a platform for all women in Real Estate, Construction and Interiors to come together, network with purpose and collaborate, whilst sharing knowledge and expertise, so I was very interested to meet with her.
You know when you meet someone and you just click, well within 5 minutes of sitting down we were sharing stories and realised that we had quite a bit in common, before we knew it an hour had passed by. Emma asked me if I would like to speak at the first WILD event of 2020 to celebrate International Women’s Day, I immediately said yes….. followed by thoughts of “oh shit, what have I done, I don’t like public speaking!” but I wanted to start challenging myself and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, so this was the perfect opportunity.
The topic was Grit – Determined to succeed, so I brainstormed ideas of what I could talk about and came up with the title “Embracing Change”. Those of you that follow me on Instagram may have seen my post recently with my news …………..
I have been working ever since I was old enough to have a paper round at age 13, so this morning felt very strange to me. It’s not the weekend, yet I am not going to work.
About 6 months ago I found myself a little stuck, despite my success I wasn’t happy in my work anymore. I began to feel undervalued and this led to me questioning my abilities. I wasn’t my usual chirpy self at work or at home, I became quiet, stressy and frustrated all the time and a didn’t recognise that person (nor did I like her very much!) I knew that something had to change.
I have been so privileged in my career to date, working on some incredible projects and I am very proud of my accomplishments and how far I have come. However sometimes you have to take a step back and reflect on what you want for yourself and take a risk to push yourself onto the next chapter.
For as long as I can remember, Ive wanted to have my own business and I just know that the time is right to start that journey now.
So 3 months ago I made the very difficult decision to leave my job and the country I have called home for over 10 years. In the Summer I head back to the U.K. and in the mean time I will be focusing on pursuing my own dreams of starting my own business.
I won’t lie and say that I am not nervous (because god knows I am!) but I am also filled with the excitement of the possibilities for what lies ahead.
So I invite you along as I share the good, the bad and the ugly about my journey relocating back to the U.K. starting my own business and finding my forever home.
I am about to go through one of the biggest changes I have faced in my life to date, so I thought what better topic to talk about.
I started to write my notes, writing from the heart, and I deliberated over how much I should share, everyday deleting sections and then adding them back in. I figured, what is the point in doing something like this if I am just going to filter what I say, it will resonate with more people if I am just myself and be honest.
I kept thinking that my story wasn’t special and why would people want to listen to it? Who am I to be up there, why should they listen to me? I haven’t exactly fully got my shit together! Then I realised that even if only one person related to what I was saying then it was worth sharing.
I opened the talk asking for a show of hands, to see how many of the room had been faced with change and avoided it, about half the room raised their hands. I have to be honest, when I rehearsed this at home most of my imaginary audience raised their hands! but with a little encouragement a few more hands popped up and thats because, as adults, most of us don’t choose change. We get comfortable with our routines and any detour can be a real source of frustration and fear, so we stick with the security of what we know.
There are normally a few ways in which people react to change.
• Being in-active.
These are the type of people who resist the change and choose to remain in denial. They think, It won’t happen to me, so they just continue to go about their day ignoring whats in front of them. Alternatively they choose a Why me? attitude Either way, they don’t move forward and stay stuck.
• Being reactive.
We all know one of these people, they feel the pressure to make a fast decision. They don’t have all the necessary facts but go ahead and make a decision anyway to eliminate their immediate stress and worry. Unsurprisingly this is normally a temporary fix, like placing sticky tape on a crack to stop water coming out, but eventually that will come away and the leak is inevitable. Not dealing with the situation properly in the first instance means it is likely to come back and potentially worse than before.
• Being proactive and positive.
Is that annoying positive friend you have that always sees the bright side and rants on about a positive mental attitude! Sometimes you just want to punch them in the face! Its someone who accepts the situation, assesses the best way to move forward and they put their focus on what they could do, focused on the positive outcomes and taking positive action. Don’t get me wrong this is absolutely the right approach and we all need those people in our lives to motivate us through difficult times.
I wanted to share my personal career story with the room, which is by no means a Hollywood blockbuster, but change and most importantly unplanned change plays a big part. I have worked my way through each of the above reactions to change my way of thinking to learn to accept and embrace the opportunities that change can bring.
You see I’m a Sagittarius, and while that means I am mostly sociable and fun, it also make me a little bit of a control freak! I have lists for lists, and my days are planned to the minute! So it wasn’t easy for me to accept when something came along and rerouted my perfectly laid out plans…….or what I thought were perfectly laid out plans at the time.
Let me take you back to 2009, I was working for a university in a local quiet town in North Wales as an architectural technician. I was very lucky to be able to have a job in my industry near my home town and not have to move to a big city for work. I worked in a dingy, dusky room, full of old men, who had been there so long that they were practically part of the furniture. They spoke Welsh to each other all day and while I am Welsh I am by no means fluent in the language. I couldn’t understand the majority of the conversation and this lead me to keeping myself to myself. I arrived on time every day, breezed through my work and spent my lunch hours planning our wedding.
My plan at the time was to stay in my secure easy job, get married, go on my honeymoon, buy a house, settle down (whatever that means but society keeps telling me that it’s what I need to do!), work my way up in my career, and eventually have my own business.
The wedding came and went, I guess the chaos of all the planning (because of course I wanted to be in control of everything!) must have masked the sheer boredom of my job, because once the wedding was over, I found myself sat looking around thinking, is this really it? I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to be enough for me, I was bored and didn’t feel challenged.
At the time it wasn’t really the done thing to change job, never mind to also change country, especially when you had a secure job, people tended to stay in the same job their whole career. So when I resigned my boss told me that he thought that I would be in his position in 30 years and that really did scare the shit out of me! The thought of being in that job, in that office watching all those old men not only retire but probably die around me was not a very nice thought, I would have gone out my mind with boredom. Being in the design industry 6 years already, I knew this move was the right thing to do if I wanted to progress my career.
I changed my plan and started applying for new roles, well I think I must have got a little over excited with the new plan because I applied for a position in Dubai and while I was on my honeymoon, I got offered the job! ……………. and life plan version 3.0 was born!
So we decided to move to Dubai in 2010 for “a couple of years” (I say this in commas because this is everyones plan when they move here, and ultimately they end up staying for 5-10 years!) I began working with a large retail company as a design manager and trend analyst. I would travel the world advising the buying team on what collections they should be looking to bring into our home furnishing stores and then advise the merchandising team on how they should be displayed across all the region stores.
A couple of years turned into 5 years and the company suddenly, without any notice decided to close its premium retail brand. Well, shit that wasn’t in my plans! I remember that day so well, I received a phone call to tell me to come back to the head office and I arrived to find all the staff congregated in the warehouse. I missed the announcement and all I could see around me were worried faces, I asked what was going on, to be told “they are shutting us down”. I uprooted and moved away from my family for this, it cant end now, not like this. The coming weeks were really stressful, we knew that not everyone could be taken in by the other retail brands, so that meant that many of us would loose our jobs. Needless to say it was tense, not having a job in Dubai = no visa = no medical cover = hello back to the wet and windy UK! Each day, one by one, people were called to the boardroom to find out their fate, I was one of the lucky few who was moved to another brand within the network……. Phew!
I stayed for a year at the new brand, then decided that I wanted to move on into residential design, after a few months of looking I was offered a job as a lead designer for a boutique firm, working on high end bespoke residential projects. I quickly became the Studio manager and decided to stay another 2 years!
Everything was going great in my new job and right on track with my new plan, the company started to win awards and get more work, but as the firm grew so did my workload and very soon everything became my job. The project manager that was running my 3 projects at site quit and of course that responsibility also became mine. There is only so much one person can do in a day, I was constantly working. It wasn’t unusual for clients to whats app at 11pm and my boss would expect that I responded, every car journey was a loudspeaker call to arrange things at site and forget lunch, a break, what was that? you rest when you sleep! Ultimately it became too much, despite everything I had done for them over the 2 years, instead of supporting me and giving me the help I needed I was fired because in their opinion “I couldn’t cope”.
Well, hello uncharted territory!
It knocked me for 6, this change not only completely derailed my plan but it also massively affected my confidence. I had always had such great relationships with past employers and just didn’t know how to process this rejection. Initially I felt quite embarrassed and ashamed that I was fired, even to this day not many people know that was what happened, I guess that’s changed now! I told a room of 150 people and now its out there floating around on the internet!
The more people I speak to and share my story, the more I realise how common it is and like I said my story is by no means a special story, but even if there is only one person that connects with what I’m saying and realises that they are not alone and its normal to feel like this then it was worth sharing. The longer I was out of work the more insecure I became of my capabilities and it stopped me applying for jobs that were well within my abilities.
6 months went by of being out of work and frankly just feeling sorry for myself, throwing myself daily pity parties, being so anxious because I didn’t know what was next and I didn’t have the answers.
I accepted a position at a large award-winning firm as a senior designer. The position was a lot less senior from my past roles, but I was happy because imposter syndrome had well and truly set in and at that time I didn’t think I was good enough for anything more senior so I didn’t challenge myself.
Hopefully most of you wont have experienced it before, but what is imposter syndrome? Well its……
“the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills”
That’s exactly how I felt; like a fraud, worrying every day that I was going to get found out, soon they would realise that I wasn’t good enough to be here and they would fire me just like what happened before.
It’s not a great feeling to have, and it’s not a great place to find yourself in over a decade into your career.
I took a short vacation to Thailand to hit the reset button on my mind, while I was there I read a book called “Like she owns the place” Ive never really been one for self-help books, but this book really did change my outlook. The tag line is; Can you imagine what life would be like if you could accept failure, cellulite, wrinkles, imperfection, screw-ups, and vulnerability? Well, 4 out of the 6 isn’t bad I am still working on accepting the wrinkles and cellulite!
I returned to work and I was starting to get my confidence back, it was then that I came across this quote
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”
I realised that I was doing exactly that, I was fighting what had happened. I kept analysing the events leading up to that day, what if I did that, why did I say that, why didn’t I say that, I shouldn’t have done that…on and on. I had quit on myself and my abilities, opting for the easy solution, just ticking by without making a fuss because I didn’t want to be noticed, just come in get my head down, do my work, don’t get fired and go home.
I realised that while I might not be able to change what happened in the past I could certainly take control of what happened next. Rejection is simply redirection in disguise!
So I pulled myself together, put the book into practice and I wrote a new plan which went a little along the lines of this……
Within 4 months I found myself shortlisted for the CID interior designer of the year award.
The plan was finally working.
Fast forward to May 2019, when I started this little blog, as a place that I can just have a bit of fun, be creative again, be less serious, swear if I want to; be me without my professional hat on and within 3 months it was shortlisted for an award in the U.K. for the AMARA best international written blog! Didn’t win, but wow, I was so happy about being nominated, let alone shortlisted. The event was a hoot and hope to be attending next year, fingers crossed!
I had a great few months, but recently I found myself in a situation where I began to feel that my work ethic was being taken advantage of and this went on for several more months.
I felt under-valued and not taken seriously, and that imposter came knocking again. I opened the door just a little to say hello, and despite my success, I started questioning myself again; maybe I’m not as good as I think I am, maybe I don’t deserve this promotion. It started to affect my mood and I wasn’t my usual chirpy self at work or at home, I became quiet, stress and frustrated and generally not very nice to be around, I didn’t recognise this person, nor did I like her very much!
I knew I had to take control, I had to embrace a change, I knew that if I wasn’t going to be valued that I had to value myself, I pushed the imposter out the door, slammed it shut, found my self-worth and I resigned. Needless to say, it was then that I was offered the promotion. A case of ‘too little too late’.
Looking back now, seeing how different my plan ended up, all those events, as frustrating and stressful as they were, were opportunities to grow and develop new skills and have led me to my latest adventure; after over 10 years in Dubai, I will be moving back to the UK in the Summer to start a business.
Through The Curious Designer I have already launched an online interior design business, but what I am most excited to share is my latest venture, my passion project, an online platform specialised in coaching for the interior design industry, offering coaching and mentoring across so many aspects of the industry including, presentation skills, productivity, leadership, project delivery, right through to commercial and business coaching to name a few; watch this space, hoping to go live by the end of next month!
I won’t lie and say that I am not nervous, but it’s funny because I find myself face to face again with the very thing that at one point on my journey stopped me in my tracks; the unknown, only now I feel more prepared to take it on and feel excited about the possibilities of what lies ahead.
There are 4 things I have learnt along my journey to help me embrace change;
• Acknowledge that change is part of life. Now this sounds so simple doesn’t it, but when you accept that change is inevitable, that nothing would exist without it, it makes it easier to process. This might require a major shift in mindset, it definitely did for me. When things didn’t work out the way I wanted, I use to hit melt down and catastrophe mode set in. There is no way that you will wake up one morning and just be able to change the way you think, this was definitely a process for me. Even though I don’t go to that place of melt down anymore I most certainly still feel fear, but fear is still a good thing to feel, it’s an emotion that we shouldn’t suppress, just rethink how we approach it; fear should be seen as driver not a break pedal. When change comes around now I face my fears and actually visualise what would happen if my worst fears about the change came true, would it actually be that bad if they did? Whats the worst that can happen, right! Start by listing what makes you happy, what are your values? and if the worst case scenario doesn’t affect those things then its just a bump in the road on your journey.
• Accept your emotions. This is something I struggled with because I have never really been one to show my emotions, you could ask my friends and doubt they would be able to recall more than one occasion that they saw me cry. Now thats not because I am a heartless bitch, or at least I don’t think I am, god I hope I’m not! I have just never been great at being truthful to myself and allowing all my feelings to just be, plus I am a really ugly cryer so I try to avoid it at all costs! Too often we skip over this step, we shove our emotions down and that ends up slowing us down or rearing its ugly head later on. Trust me these emotions will come back and it wont be pretty! There is sometimes something strange that happens to us as women in business, we don’t want to seem vulnerable and we show a hard face, because god forbid we are seen as emotional! But that isn’t a bad thing, and we need to rethink that label, emotional intelligence is what makes women such good leaders and it’s something we should be embracing not shying away from.
• Reframe the situation to see the positive. After processing the emotions start to dream about the possibilities ahead. In step one you image the worst possible outcome, well now its time to see all the positives. Dream about the possibilities that the change could bring. One way I love to do this is by creating a vision board; I use Pinterest and have secret boards that I refer to when I’m having a day were doubt sets in……. and there will definitely be a few of those. The vision board helps me get excited about the possibilities of whats to come and that makes the change so much easier to face head on with a positive attitude.
• Action because decisions, not conditions, determine your path, I am going to say that one again because I feel it is so important to remember decisions, not conditions, determine your path, by deciding to trust the process, let go of fears and move forward believing that everything will work out for the best. There is a lot to be said about a positive metal attitude.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still days that the imposter comes knocking; only now I don’t answer!
The event was a great success, on the day I met some amazing ladies who had their own stories to share. The last few days following the event I have received such lovely messages from some of the ladies, reaching out to thank me for sharing my story and the love and positivity I have felt and received since has just been so empowering, and on that note HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY EVERYONE!