I’m writing this post on the train back from London to Brighton after spending the morning at the second Wildfire Women conference. Outside it’s grey, rainy, and miserable. And yet because of the seriously inspiring women I heard speak this morning, I feel happy and uplifted.
While my brain is still buzzing with this morning’s saturation of empowerment, I thought I would write down the most resonant words of wisdom I took away from the day. I wish I could have stayed until the end, but alas, the curse of the rail replacement bus service back to Brighton meant I had to leave just after lunch…
Suzy Walker: How to Beat Imposter Syndrome
Opening the day was the brilliant Suzy Walker, Editor-in-Chief of Psychologies, coach, and author, talking about Imposter Syndrome. Ah, that old chestnut.
Suzy said that, in her career as a life coach, there’s not a single woman she’s worked with that didn’t experience that kind of negative self-talk that tells you you’re a fake and a fraud. Her advice for safeguarding yourself against future Imposter Syndrome attacks wasn’t to focus on trying to build your confidence, but to work on building evidence of your competence.
Suzy said that she put all her articles from her journalism career on display where she could see them. That way, she could fully believe that it wasn’t a “fluke” that she got commissioned three times by Marie Claire. It was because she’s a good writer, with a whole bunch of evidence to back that up.
What’s more, by doing this, any time you get rejected or feel humiliated along your journey, you’ll have the strength and self-belief to stay determined and keep going. Though of course, if you have a bit of a wobble and cry when it happens, then that’s perfectly OK too.
Since starting my own business, there have been times (and continue to be times) when I feel like I have no idea at all what I’m doing. I can’t tell you how reassuring it felt to hear Suzy confess that for the first year of editing Psychologies magazine she felt like she was completely winging it. But she just kept at it. Her advice for navigating that sort of situation was: “Find a team that are better than you, and seek out the people who are generous enough to support you. You can’t expect to be brilliant at everything straight away, so don’t put pressure on yourself.”
Suzy’s overall takeaway was that the most important thing in life is to be brave, and to remember that the successful women you see are not more talented than you. They’re just brave. And courage is a muscle. The more you work it, the better you get at it.
Mary Fenwick: How I Qualified As An Agony Aunt
Following Suzy was Mary Fenwick: agony aunt, journalist, speaker and coach. She started by asking the audience who thought that being an agony aunt must mean she doesn’t have any problems of her own, right? Wrong, of course.
Mary’s spoke incredibly candidly about coming out of an abusive relationship, dealing all the emotions that come with that, losing her husband, and how she coped when one of her teenage children went through a period of feeling suicidal. You could have heard a pin drop in the room while she was speaking.
Mary offered her three steps for powerfully dealing with situations that are difficult, no matter what that might be:
- Name it — Tell it like it is. This is the most powerful step: simply naming and acknowledging what it is you’re going through to yourself.
- Game it — There is a huge amount of power in finding a way to take what you’re dealing with and making it feel a little bit lighter. For example, Mary’s way of doing this was highlighting the irony of her situation when her career is built on giving advice to other people. Even doing this by the smallest amount can completely change your relationship to the issue.
- Give it away — Share your stories. It doesn’t have to be to a room full of people right away. Start with trusted people, and then share publicly if you want to.
Mary finished by asking us all: what does it help you to remember? For me, which I shared with the room, it’s when I really and truly get a sense of my own insignificance. As Sophie once told me after taking me down to sit on Brighton beach in the middle of a stressful day: “You are as inconsequential as a grain of sand. How big do your problems feel now?” I know it sounds totally counterintuitive, but I find a huge sense of power in realising how small I am in the grand scheme of the universe.
Cate Mackenzie: The Power of Self Love
Finishing up the first half of the conference was Love Coach Cate Mackenzie. She spoke about her own self-love journey, and how despite giving advice to people on relationships, flirting, and sexuality for a living, she’s still very much working on what she calls “Project Me.”
She confessed that she used to be a person who wouldn’t go to any social event more than two miles away because it was inconvenient, who packed her diary with work to the point she never had any free time, who was constantly immersed in her phone and emails, and who was too busy to let anyone in.
Cate shared how going to a festival where she wore flowers in her hair, spoke to everyone, and purposefully had fun made her feel like a totally different person. Now, whenever she feels like she might be lacking a sense of fun, this is what she remembers. I loved her comment: “Put flowers in your hair, make it easy for people to be friendly to you.”
I’ve certainly found it easier to get talking to people since dying my hair bright pink. At networking events it acts like a “come talk to me” beacon – because you can see right away that I’m definitely not shy!
Cate shared her three, wonderfully simple tips for having a fun life:
- Fun – have fun with what you do
- Release – be free from fear
- Commitment – be accountable to yourself
Now, Cate is living life in a way that really works for her. She’s escaped the “London race” and moved to Brighton. She’s stopped “being a busy person” who constantly compares herself to others. And she’s finding herself, instead of doing what everyone else is doing.
Her advice is to “spend a good two hours a day on Project Me”. That might look like dancing, writing, going for a walk, having free chakra balancing in the local park (Preston Park in Brighton, if you’re interested), or going to a 7:30am sober rave by the Peace Statue on Hove beach. Simply, it’s about committing to doing something for yourself every day.
Her tip was to sign a contract with yourself if you need to, whatever it takes to REALLY commit to doing things for you.
Sally Bunkham: How PND Shaped My Business
Kicking off the second part of the day was Sally Bunkham, fellow Brighton-based business owner and all round wonderful person. I’ve heard Sally share her story a few times now, and every time I’m blown away by her openness and authenticity.
Sally shared her experience of post-natal depression, after her daughter experienced an illness which not only meant she didn’t sleep, but cried almost 24/7. She spoke about her sleep-deprivation, losing her sense of self, how she found herself self-harming without realising what it was she was doing, and eventually getting a PND diagnosis. It was this that made her realise she wasn’t alone, and she wasn’t going mad.
Out of her experience, Sally founded her business Mum’s Back, which allows you to send a hamper to new mums containing loads of lovely things for them, like luxuries they’ll have missed during pregnancy. Sally also donates £1 to PANDAS, a perinatal mental health charity, from every hamper sold.
My biggest takeaway from Sally’s talk was that you can own your story, even when it’s painful, and turn it into something that can be a source of strength and inspiration to others. PND is something that isn’t talked about enough, and I know that Sally’s trailblazing honesty and generosity in her sharing has helped so many people.
Roz Try-Hane: I’ll have what she’s having
Film critic Roz Try-Hane spoke about establishing herself as a film critic via her blog, Liquid Marmalade, alongside working full time as a lawyer.
She spoke about being fearless in your networking, being open to opportunities, and saying yes to opportunities. Like how she just went up to a guy and said: “I hear you’re the producer of a film programme, how do I get on there?” – and a few months later she was!
Roz had a LOT of brilliant tips for anyone who might be looking at her and asking: “How does she do it?”
The list was huge, but these were my favourites:
- Get clear about what “balance” means to you (because it’s different for everyone) and do whatever you can to make sure you get it.
- Know what your long term goal is, but always have short term goals – you don’t have to go straight to world domination, because that’s going to be overwhelming.
- Say “yes” to opportunities but know when to say no too – don’t stress yourself out doing stuff that isn’t interesting to you.
- Say “yes” even when you don’t know how to do it, because it will probably be fine.
- Be careful about who you hang out with, don’t surround yourself with negativity and have a great support network of friends that champion you.
- You are your business, and sleep is your friend. Always make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep.
- Slow and steady is the key, go at your own pace and don’t worry about what other people are doing.
- Have a duvet day at least once a month. Be religious about it, and make sure you give yourself time to totally switch off and relax.
- Failure is good, embrace it!
Thea Anderson: Visibility. How to get comfortable with it (from a person who wasn’t!)
The final talk I saw was from Thea Anderson, Wildfire Women co-founder and life coach. She spoke about how when she was younger, she felt like like her only options were to hide or be perfect. That way, she wouldn’t risk judgement, criticism, humiliation, or harassment.
She shared how she built her confidence up by doing improvised comedy. As women, we’re led to believe that we need to “look sexy” all the time by the media, but doing improv allowed Thea to embrace her silly side and also prove to herself that “you don’t die if something goes wrong”.
Thea also shared some wisdom from Playing Big author Tara Mohr, who suggests that there might be an evolutionary reason why most women have a fear of being visible. Her theory is that women’s power has, historically, come about very recently. Before that point, we needed “relational harmony” to survive.
So, when we step out alone and put ourselves out there, our survival instinct kicks in. There’s a primal part of us that says: “Don’t! You might die”. Except it doesn’t literally say that. It says it to us in feelings: like wanting to downplay ourselves, not taking compliments, and being self-critical.
Thea reminded us that when this happens, it isn’t real. We’re safe. That feeling is just a feeling. I loved her advice on this: “If you do something scary that makes you feel like you might die, keep breathing. That definitely keeps away death.”
She made the great point that nobody really cares what you do anyway, because everyone is too focused on themselves all the time. And that’s not a negative thing, it’s an empowering one!
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