A little over a year ago I took a huge step outside of my comfort zone and wrote a blog post called Finding simplicity and focus in life and business.
I wanted to share the story of how a significant health scare forced me to re-evaluate the priorities in both my personal and professional life. I was overwhelmed by the response. Within a week, the article had been viewed thousands of times, shared by many and I’d received scores of emails from people who had similar stories to mine.
It turns out that, underneath the surface, many of us are fighting hidden battles and, sometimes, it’s only when we find the strength and courage to open up about these battles that we can take the steps we need to help overcome them.It’s strange because my original intention was actually to gently let people know that, as a business, we were simplifying from offering wider digital marketing services and reverting back to purely focussing on our core offering of email marketing. The team here were prepped and ready to answer questions from concerned clients about the move. Yet, to this day we’ve not had a single question about it.
Undoubtedly, and to my genuine surprise, it was the human element of my story people identified with - not the business decision.
It’s easy, in business and in life, to hide behind a facade. I think my story resonated with so many people because there was no mask in front of it. And the power in the story came from this authenticity.
So what happened next and in the following 12 months? It’s a question that I get asked frequently and to answer simply: it’s been a roller coaster of year.
The whole experience has been somewhat humbling. I’ve had numerous requests from people asking me to follow-up the first blog and to share a little more about how I went about tackling the required changes and to share any experiences that might help them with their own situations. The following is a whistle-stop tour of that journey.
Talking the talk is easy; walking the walk is where the challenge really began. For me, in hindsight, making a statement about change was the easy bit; the difficult part was following it up. Some changes were easy, but others, particularly when faced with ‘the unexpected’, were tough and old habits came back to bite.
When this happened, it was frustrating for me and, at times, disappointing for those close to me. It was difficult to find the courage to accept that I’m not perfect, to take the punches, to dust myself off, to get back up again and do better next time, without beating myself up, but it was the best and only thing I could do. There was no going back. Life is too precious.
What it did though, is help me to discover who my true friends are; the people who will stand by me no matter what. At the same time, I learnt that sometimes it’s the people you think you’re closest to who can let you down the most, while people who enter your life as strangers can be the most caring and concerned. As some doors close, others will always open.
One of the first things I had to do was look after myself by reducing my stress levels, improving my health and bringing more balance to my life.
With a little research, I found some great things that really helped me find perspective. Firstly, switching my phone off at night, leaving it in the lounge before bed, and not switching it back on again until after breakfast was a small, but significant behaviour change.
Before, I used it as my morning alarm. It was the last thing I looked at before I went to sleep, and the first thing I looked at in the morning. Any messages received at either end of the sleep cycle were seen and set my brain racing. There was no respite. So I went ‘old-school’, bought a clock-radio and banished all other tech from the bedroom.
I slept better as a result of the ‘blue light’ being extinguished long before bed (apparently it slows or halts the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals to our brain that it's time for bed). Without melatonin, we stay awake and alert). It also helped give me a calm and steady start to the day without reading potentially stressful emails before even the first cup of tea.
Planning regular exercise; eating healthier by thinking ahead, instead of grabbing unhealthy food-on-the-run; seizing the moment, by stopping to appreciate the sunset; or taking that hour out to have a walk or a couple of beers with a friend, has been amazing at keeping things in perspective and reducing my stress and anxiety to manageable levels.
I started reading more books (analogue, not digital) and planning (and booking) regular holidays. Something I didn’t really do before and when I did, it was last minute and I was staring down the barrel of burn out. Planning them has given me achievable goals and something to look forward to. There’s a lot to be said for taking a break before you need it, not when it’s too late.
Out of all of this, one of the most important things I’ve done is to spend more time with the people that matter, especially family and friends… even the long lost ones. This re-connection has been good for the soul and has opened up many unexpected opportunities.I’m amazed at how being authentic and true, no matter how daunting and uncomfortable at first, breaks down barriers and makes us more accessible. And the conversations I’ve had as a result of doing this myself have been incredible. From meeting new people to learning more about people I already knew, I’ve learnt everyone has their own story and there’s great reward in taking the time to listen to them.
Simplifying the business has been one of the most significant and positive changes in our history. By offering fewer services and instead focussing on our strengths, we’ve lost the distractions that brought us untold pain and stress.
I realised I’d fallen into the common trap of placing too much importance on vanity metrics like turnover, number of staff or swish offices, and not enough importance on things that matter like profit, professional satisfaction and, of course, happiness.
Within a short time frame of sharing the first blog, we set about removing the services, clients, and suppliers who were dragging us down. Something was toxic and it had to change, even if it might make life uncomfortable in the short term.
The lesson I learnt here is firstly recognising, and then removing the toxic energy from my life. My own positivity and mental wellbeing, and that of my team, had to come first. So while it was difficult, and often painful, saying goodbye to colleagues, clients or relationships, it was ultimately the best thing to do.
So what does the future look like?
Well, after 15 years of running Jarrang, I’m taking a step back from the daily running of the business and have empowered my extremely talented team to take more control. It’s been a liberating process for all of us, giving them the opportunity to drive the business forwards with fresh energy, in the knowledge that they have me to support them if needed; and giving me the freedom to explore new opportunities for myself and the business.
By agreeing a common goal, setting clear objectives and creating a management structure, it has also taken a huge amount of the stress and worry away from someone who has traditionally been a self-confessed control-freak - me.
On a personal level, I’m going to be 40 this year, which is another significant milestone, but it’s only recently that I’ve given myself permission to indulge and to relax without feeling guilty about it. I’ve found doing this has given me more focus, energised me, helped me make better decisions and made me feel like I’ve become a better person.
I don’t know what the next chapter holds in my story. But I no longer let it worry me. Instead, I’m trying to do my best to keep learning, to hold that balance and to hopefully enrich my own life and the ones of those closest to me.