Welcome to the second part of my epic post on bold women! I started the post asking questions about being bold.
My thoughts turned to the bold women I know – clients, friends and guests on my Inspiring Women Interviews podcast.
I started asking my Academy members and Stepping Up members about being bold.
Griselda Togobo is the Managing Director of Forward Ladies, an organisation that supports and connects women in business across the UK. I know Griselda well – I work with her as Forward Ladies’ Regional Director in the North West.
I interviewed Griselda for my podcast recently, and one of the things I wanted to learn from her was her ability to ask.
Before setting up Forward Ladies, Griselda worked for Deloitte Touche as an Accountant (and before that, she qualified as an Engineer!). She enjoyed her job and the long hours, but her husband also enjoyed his. This was an issue, as she was pregnant and she didn’t want to leave their new baby in the nursery for equally long hours, so she started to look at other options. Griselda discovered business blogging and business coaching whilst she was on maternity leave and she thought “I give advice to big companies already – I could do this!”
She started her business by just asking:
“I just put it out there that if anybody wanted a speak at an event, happy for you to invite me and I’ll speak. I got a few invites to speak at events and I got clients off the back of that. That quickly pulled me into starting the company and registering it and taking it seriously so that I had started the business even before my maternity was up.”
When Griselda finished her maternity, she spoke to her boss and said:
“I really want to come back, but I need flexible working because our family lifestyle is just too hectic and I feel guilty leaving a child in nursery all the time”. He said, “Well, the firm is going through a change and we need somebody in the office. You’re good in the teams…”.
So she handed him her resignation!
I love Griselda’s bold and down to earth “just ask” mentality! She puts this ability down to not being embarrassed to reach out to people and connect with people in a very genuine way. She simply says:
“Hey, I like what you’re doing. It looks really good. I’d like to know more”.
Bold women like Griselda have a genuine interest in people, what they might need and how they might be able to help them. This leads to the ability to ask. Bold women know the benefits of collaboration.
Bold women simply reach out and ask.
Billie Piper was interviewed by Chris Evans on his Radio Two breakfast show several weeks ago. He mischievously asked her about an award that she’s up for, as lead role in the play “Yerma”. He asked:
“What will you do when you lose to Glenda Jackson?!”
“I don’t know, I’ll just roll with whatever emotions come up at the time”.
I loved this answer and it got me thinking about the importance of emotional intelligence. Bold women aren’t immune to negative emotions – they feel disappointment, upset, anger and despondency. But they allow their emotions to surface, without feeling ashamed of them, pushing them away or conversely, being defined by them.
Here’s the thing, there’s a lot of pressure from emotionally stunted people (and yes, there are a lot of them out there), to “just be positive” and “get over it” and “don’t feel down”. They are likely to say: “There there, I’m sure it will all work out fine – just put a smile on your face”, when your life has just imploded. Of course, they mean well – they don’t’ know what else to say!
But denying your emotions, trying to pretend you’re not feeling them, is not healthy, and ultimately, it doesn’t make you bold.
To be bold, you must accept and feel your emotions, even when those around you might not get it.
Sarah was very happy with her new life. Recently divorced, she’d met someone and things were going well.
Until one day, completely out of the blue, he dumped her!
She was shocked but, deep in her heart, she knew he was just a sticking plaster at the end of her marriage.
She was upset at the relationship’s sudden end, but she was determined not to let it plunge her into despair.
After allowing herself a couple of days to cry and feel the grief, she picked herself up and decided to focus on her business.
Even though she was still reeling from the impact of the sudden end to her relationship, she took a deep breath and re-negotiated her terms with her freelance clients and found them surprisingly open to the idea.
She knew that the increase was long overdue, and she still felt highly competitive in her work marketplace. She discovered that the bold move drew respect from her clients.
Sarah even stood her ground when one of her clients changed the brief halfway through, and secured full payment for her work upfront.
Sarah didn’t feel confident when she first renegotiated her terms – she was simply being courageous. But courage begets confidence, so, buoyed by her business success, her next positive move was to set about making her home her own – a secure and comfortable space where she could be herself.
A new bath, a bit of decorating and a few spring bulbs later and the sun emerged from behind the winter clouds. As the spring bulbs started to form new green shoots, Sarah emerged too, confident in her new life, secure and happy in her home, and ready to step boldly into new experiences ahead!
A few weeks before the European Referendum in the UK, in May 2016, I had already cast my vote for “Remain”, as I have a postal ballot.
I’ll resist the urge to digress and list my many objections to Brexit; suffice to say, I believe that the chances of global peace, wealth and wellbeing increase the more we are connected, and decrease when we are separated.
I was so worried about the outcome of the UK referendum, that I realised that simply casting my vote was not enough – I felt that it was my duty to do more. I couldn’t get upset about the outcome if I hadn’t at least done my bit to influence a positive result.
So I sought out “Remain” campaigners in my area and one day my friend Claire and I joined members from a local branch of the Labour party – the only party in my area that I could find who were canvassing for the “Remain” vote.
When we arrived at the town we were campaigning in, we found ourselves, as Remain campaigners, in a very small minority: We were vastly outnumbered by UKIP members, who were armed with stickers, badges, loudspeakers and banners. We tried to find a spot on the high street with our A5 leaflets, but wherever we went, we found ourselves surrounded by UKIP Brexit campaigners.
We behaved in the only way we knew how – with a smile and accosting passers-by as politely as we could. The response wasn’t, as you can probably guess, always polite or smiley back!
It was an eye-opener for me: At best, we felt as if most of the people we tried to speak to thought that we were sadly deluded. At worst, people were rude and ignorant. Again, I’ll resist the urge to digress into the kind of responses we got. The point is this:
It was the first time in my adult life where I have ever felt like a real outsider. People thought we were wrong, stupid and not like them. There is a natural urge for human beings to conform, to fit in with our ‘tribe’ and not to stand out. It was a very uncomfortable experience.
However, I’m proud that I did my tiny little bit for the Remain camp – I just wish I could have done more.
Since then, I have co-organised a demonstration outside my youngest son’s school to campaign for Fair Funding for Schools. To a lesser extent, it was still an experience in discomfort – in standing out in a way that might invite criticism. But it was much easier – and next time I decide to be a minority campaigner going against the popular local tide, it will be a bit easier. Because, once we’ve stretched outside our comfort zone, we create a new comfort zone that is bigger – and bolder!
Bold women don’t live their lives as passengers, keeping the things they care deeply about secret, just because people may not agree with them, or dislike them for having different beliefs or values.
Bold women might be fearful of standing up for what they believe in, but they will push themselves through that fear when it’s important to them – even when it means they stand out. In doing this, they become a bit stronger, a bit more courageous and a bit bolder. Each and every time.
In 2015 Holly Ashford made the bold, some have even said stupid, decision to walk away from a highly successful 20-year corporate career to start her own business.
She’d had an idea, a dream, for many, many years of taking the skills she had in coaching and mentoring people together with her experience of interviewing hundreds of people for roles and designing and running her own assessment centres, and teaching them to university graduates so they too could be successful.
What started as an “itch” a few years ago, became something she couldn’t ignore, and coupled with a job she wasn’t enjoying and a feeling of being “stuck”, she decided it was the right time to leave. She knew if she didn’t do it then, then she never would. Holly said:
“if I never did then I’d never know if I could succeed at being my own boss and having more time and energy to devote to my 2 young boys.”
It’s easy to mistakenly believe that women who make bold decisions like Holly’s – quitting your career of 20 years to set up your own business from scratch – have some kind of special confidence that sets them apart. When you read it on the page, it sounds easy: “I made the decision to quit”.
Of course, there is always far more to any story like this than the headlines. Holly said:
“It sounds easy but it wasn’t. 2 years prior to that day we down-sized our house so that financial pressures wouldn’t become an issue, and I stuck the job out for 2 years in order to pay off a large chunk of our mortgage”.
Fast forward a year and a bit from the day she resigned, and Holly has her own company. She’s learnt new skills, such as building a website from scratch and creating online training courses. Holly says the bold move has been worth the learning curve:
“My brain feels alive for the first time in years. I’ve got comfortable with feeling uncomfortable – no mean feat for a complete control freak like me. I have no certainly over where the next £1 is coming from but it’s exciting figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Our family life has benefited tin so many ways – my husband is able to pursue his dream job which wasn’t an option previously, I have a balance that I’ve never known before and the ability to attend all the school events for both my boys alongside building a business. We even have a family dog – something we could never have considered before!”
Bold women make courageous decisions that are certainly not easy, or even instant. But once they have made the leap into the discomfort zone, they discover that they are living their lives truly on purpose.