One of the biggest choices I’ve made, and one I’m happy to report that I love, is becoming self-employed in 2007. My fork in the road came much earlier than planned when I made the move from my corporate life. I had joined the HR team at B&Q as the Talent Manager. This was my first ever role in HR as I’d previously qualified as an auditor (studying at a military school – but that’s a story for later) – and I’m eternally grateful to Mike my boss for taking the chance on me.
The organisation was paying for me to re-qualify in numerous areas of psychology and personal
development when I signed up for a 6 month programme in London. One of the 4-day modules was looking at the human behaviours that drive decision making, and as the style of the trainer was highly experiential we were testing the theories by creating our own visions for the future.
As I began to consider the life that I wanted to create, what I wanted to look back on when I was 60, I realised that it wasn’t having headed up some large corporate business or having built a reputation as the go-to person in the corporate world for thought leadership on HR and Learning and Development. Managing large teams was something I could do but as I reflected it wasn’t something I took joy from. I was much more about helping individuals be the best they could be, and trusting that for the organisation if this was happening then the commercial benefits would come as the by-product not the driver. I loved the cultural work and the aspects of the role that impacted on people being able to be their best selves. The image I had in my mind was of a huge
skip outside of the office building and as people arrived for work in the morning they would leave 70% of themselves in the skip… They’d come in and do a good job and then as they went home they’d collect themselves from the skip and become a whole person again. It became my mission to help people in the organisation to take their whole selves to work. Once I had clarity on this being my purpose and outcome, it came time to begin to plan how I could best go about working in that way. With clarity I also noticed that the skip full of 70%’s wasn’t alone in my picture, it wasn’t just one office building, it was all over the city, all over the globe. So this could only mean one thing – that I needed to be freelance to be in a position to influence as many people in as many organisations as possible.
The jump from Talent Manager in a large corporate in Southampton to a freelancer working for many organisations felt huge, but having it as a goal meant that when I hit my first fork in the road less than a year later, I could make my choice with more ease and certainty. The actual fork for me came in the form of a job offer in London of a role to head up Leadership Development in an organisation that – let’s just say – was more in need of a turnaround than growing.
I knew it would be a massive life-change for me and my husband – most people we knew were leaving London in their early 30s, not moving there. One fork was paved with comfort, our home by the water, certainty, long service, people that knew me and trusted in my skills, and the other
was paved with uncertainty, excitement, the chance to work with a board that faced some real challenges, a move to one of the greatest cities in the world and an experience that would add to my dream of going freelance one day. It was a no-brainer. Emotional to say goodbye, but it just felt right. With the support of my personal career coach I was able to have the difficult conversation with my CEO to resign from the major project we had embarked on.
The next big fork in the road came a couple of years into my role in London – an opportunity to be able to engineer a redundancy. My plan to go self-employed wasn’t meant to happen until 2010 and this was 2006… way too soon. But I had my eyes wide open and I noticed the chance to bring things to life sooner. Again, the logic was easy because I had the clarity of my future that I was creating, so the fork to leave was the way to go. This time my emotions were all over the place as it felt too soon. Again my wonderful coach asked me some brilliant questions that made my heart align with my head. He asked me to imagine what it would feel like walking into work on Monday morning having not requested redundancy; and then to imagine what it would feel like walking into work on Monday having made the request. The first question left me feeling heavy and sad and the latter one light, a little queasy but motivated. So with that sense of knowing, the logic of it being aligned to my longer term dreams and with the support of friends and family, I took the leap. Having been telling people of my plan for a few years, it felt really good to be able to call them and let them know I’d been true to my word and had the gumption to do it. Self-employment beckoned.
Now I realise as I tell my story that at the points where I hit the fork in the road I had my own version of the Cheshire Cat asking me the awkward and the helpful questions.
Having a coach made all the difference – having a friend who was ‘for me’ and yet challenging speeded up my decision making and action taking.