I always expected to “be somebody”. I was the child who always looked for more… “Where are we going today? What shall we do? Why are you doing that? Can I have a go?”
I wanted to be a West End star – an actress and singer. But as a straight A student, my parents encouraged a choice between being a doctor and a lawyer. There’s no money in the arts, they said. We were a working class family in north Wales, so going to University and onwards into a profession was a “dream come true.” I chose law because I hated the sight of blood (read more here) … I figured I’d qualify as a lawyer, to make my parents happy, and then be discovered and run off to Hollywood…
A different kind of star…
But moving to Hollywood never happened. During my law degree study, both my parents tragically died within six months of each other, and as a result I became responsible for my little brother. Suddenly, being a lawyer made a lot more practical sense. I had to grow up fast, earn money, build a home and stability for my brother. I had to deal with my grief on the side, as I was thrust suddenly into a responsible role and – of course – putting my own dreams on the back-burner.
So my 20s were focussed on working up the ladder of a legal career. I earned great money to pay the mortgage as I launched into my career as commercial lawyer at an international law firm. I worked long, long hours on big projects, collected my bonuses and outwardly began to tick the ‘successful’ boxes. I won awards, got promoted and headhunted and sat in countless boardrooms as a woman in a man’s world. I sought to be a star lawyer, but it wasn’t the stage I’d wanted. I lived my parents’ dream and they weren’t even there to see it. My own dreams were buried way-deep-down as I plastered a smile on my face and adopted A-type over-achieving tendencies to everything I did.
I applied an actress approach to work – wearing bright red suits, standing out in a sea of grey (although here on my blog I’ll tell you about how I was asked not to wear red in the office anymore)
I was a square peg in a very round corporate lawyer hole. I conformed.
I tried my best to fit into the box.
The wrong role
I could tell you so many stories about my life in the law, where sexism and discrimination remain alive and well. I have lost count of the number of bright, intelligent legal brains who were pushed out of their careers because they were female. Especially once trying to raise a young family. As a result, I had precious few role models around me for what I dreamed of for my own life.
I sought out opportunities for change. When the chance arose, I moved sideways into a legal consultancy role, which gave me freedom to work on more exciting projects, to get closer to the clients, to be more commercial and away from the pure legal work which stifled my creative side. Life looked much better (still not the West End stage but at least I wasn’t stuck in a backstage audition anymore). But then the rollercoaster of Life dipped again, as my younger brother was killed in a car crash.
The bottom of the ride
Losing loved ones is the ultimate challenge in life. It’s very hard to find a way out when we’re at the bottom of a swamp. Overcoming grief takes grit, determination and above all the desire to cling to hope and a faith in a brighter day. That the sunshine will come again. To be willing to fight depression, anxiety, fear and grief with love, joy, happiness and hope is no mean feat.
The most important thing I’ve learnt is to take every new day as a gift and use it to make a difference in the world. Here you can watch a video I recorded with the film-maker David Taylor which talks about this. The Gift.
I was lucky enough to find a wonderful strong man, got married, started my business, kept putting one foot in front of the next each day. We’ve had two beautiful daughters who have given me a reason to inspire and aspire for the best life we can have. In 2017 my youngest daughter completed 3 years of leukaemia treatment, and the privilege of supporting her through this dark time showed me that we each have deep resources of strength. It also reinforced my belief that “a mother’s love makes the world go around”.
During that difficult time, I made a promise to myself that I would dedicate my energy to empowering other leaders to step up and speak out on the issues they care about, so that we can collectively create positive change for the complex problems that face us in the world. I want to inspire you to live each day on purpose, with courage and compassion. As with anyone living life on purpose, it’s not to hard to understand my motivation for my business aims when you know some of my personal story.
Living MY life
Now when I started my own consultancy (Serenwood – ‘seren” is Welsh for “star”) in 2009 I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was giving birth to both, you might say.
My aim was to create for myself the perfect work/life balance…and then create job opportunities for people who wanted to continue having rewarding legal careers but have time to ‘live life’ and contribute how they chose too. I built Serenwood steadily, increasing revenues 20% year on year and following my intuition to challenge the market, build relationships and create disruptive offerings.
Importantly I’ve stayed true to my desire to work flexibly around my young family and not be drawn into the noise of the “hustle” or the “get rich quick” ethos which pervades much of the business building advice out there today – especially online (bleurgh).
Of course along the way I’ve acquired huge stocks of resilience, and so I know that my ability to inspire and coach others stems from the fact that I have been knocked down and got myself back up so many times. Building a business is never easy, but when we’re emblazoned and connected to our “Why” it makes the rocky roads more fun to navigate.
I get it
I understand how it feels to be stuck in a dark place AND how to feels to climb back up again and see the world emerge in technicolor after giving up hope.
Life can be difficult but you can choose whether to opt-out, or go all in and seek happiness in the face of adversity.
You know which I chose. And I want you to see what I see.
Above all, I love to support people to lead with compassion and courage, to use your own unique talents as a force for good.
And the one thought I always return to, and that always drives me to share with others:
Don’t wait. Let’s live life now so that it matters.
Are you in? I’m ready when you are.