Seven years ago this month I attended a party and met a man whose presence in my life altered it in ways I never imagined.
I remember it for many reasons but when the X-Factor final or I’m a Celebrity.. rolls around I have an easy reminder of our first conversation at a Christmas party, his eyes rolling at my guilty pleasures. We shared the highs and lows of 3 amazingly intensive years, which are still some of the happiest experiences I have to date. I felt sure we would marry and be together until our old age.
He died unexpectedly in January 2013 and I was devastated. The happy future I dreamed of and the home we shared evaporated with him and I was left feeling lost, and if I’m honest, left behind. Choices I’d made based on the assumption of a life with him suddenly left me with more questions than answers.
The connection between us was immediate and that kind of instant understanding with someone is very hard to replace. Today, nearly four years on, I am able to look back on our time together with incredible love, gratitude and happiness. Random moments can feel painful for the oddest reasons but the pain is fleeting and generally there’s a lightness to my thoughts. I know that whilst he may no longer hold my hand, he is forever in my heart and my memories of him are very much alive.
Living through his death and mourning his loss has changed me immeasurably but I now believe it is for the better.
Nick chose a career in finance and was very successful. Outwardly he was an ‘alpha male’, brilliant and creative but it was his sensitive soul (and gorgeous eyes) that I fell in love with. He envied the passion I felt for my work, he was driven by more practical reasons but completely supported me in following my professional dreams. I credit him with so much of my current direction and business evolution.
At the time of his death he was not working, having recently left a company run by a man who had an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion but was testament to the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness”. We enjoyed a lavish lifestyle (I miss our bathtub looking out to St. Paul’s, closely followed by our rooftop hot tub and sauna which was incredible!) Nick loved the results of his hard work perhaps more than the work itself. Having to sit lights off, to listen to ‘Tubular Bells’ on our crazily extravagant sound system before hearing the joy in his voice after we were allowed the lights on to discuss how impressive it was, is something I will never forget! Neither though are the stories of the aggressive, abusive and derogatory behaviour his ultimate boss displayed and it was a painful realisation for us to accept that one didn’t come without the other. It was a time of transition and expansion for me and my business. As I felt increasingly happy, loved and secure, I fell more in love with my work and grew in confidence, taking on bigger and bolder projects.
Finding myself suddenly alone, it felt almost impossible to continue with my plans and my work. I’ve heard it said before that the amount of grief you feel is equal to the depth of love you experienced. The pain I felt was almost indescribable, and at times, all consuming. I don’t think it was a fully conscious decision to take as much time out as I needed when Nick died but it was the best gift my business and, more importantly, I could have received. Letting go of the pressure to return within a set time frame allowed me to adjust to the changes gradually. My return back was gentle and mirrors the phased-return I now advocate for my clients. My brain function was completely scrambled and trying to focus was impossible. I was in a semi-conscious state for months but it was where I needed to be. Sometimes the body shuts down for you in the event of trauma, and this is certainly how my grief worked.
I let go of the need to “do” anything or worry about work, achievements, and goals; I just let myself be present. It made me feel instantly calmer. Just “being” is often considered a feminine behavior; certainly a new mother at home alone with her baby has no time to worry about much else than the right here, right now. But it is an important and valuable skill that can actually benefit us all. From bringing stress levels down in the work place, to being present to the ideas in the room during a meeting instead of barreling ahead with a pre-planned motive for a project.
It might be easy to reconnect with our feminine energies at times of birth and death but when we truly understand, respect and value our feminine qualities, like empathy, collaboration and an ability to connect to ourselves, not only do we expand personally but the businesses we work for can grow too.
Before I became a maternity coach I practiced aromatherapy and a number of complementary therapies. During my studies I learnt that the left-brain is often described as our “masculine” energy. It is responsible for linear thinking, goal setting, drive, competition and analytical thinking – traits we associate with men. It is also responsible for our recall of the past as well as future possibilities. Jill Bolte Taylor describes it in her phenomenal TED talk “My Stroke of Insight” as being the voice in your head that reminds us to think “I am”, feel as a separate being and keep track of our emotional baggage and experiences to learn from to move us forward. The right-brain hemisphere is responsible for right-here, right-now information and is often described as being our “feminine” side. It is more abstract and accepting, with the focus on nourishment, connection, flow, receptivity and peace. In this state we feel “as one” with others and often happier, with life feeling simpler.
When I needed to heal I had to let go of the desire to achieve or care about what anyone else was up to. I had to go inwards and listen to my heart and my instincts. I see this behaviour consistently in new mothers and many talk about disconnecting from the “real world” during their maternity leave as they live in the moment. This year I have connected with many companies who have made sizeable shifts and are open to change, focusing on how to create a more balanced culture and working environment and looking inward at their own employee experiences to boost productivity as well as outward.
These are the companies we want to be looking to as leaders, not the laggards who refuse to believe there is no need to change. The future of work is a diverse and flexible place where sometimes some of us are functioning at our highest capacity and others are just getting by but this is the ebb and flow of life we need to be able to accommodate.
Smart companies support the pipeline of female talent and men who want to show their children what love is rather than just provide for them financially. They create frameworks that allow for a new mother and father to be present to the need of their new infant at an important time in their lives and don’t shut the door to their female talent’s career trajectory just because they are experiencing a life shift. Embracing the change parenthood and other life experiences can bring into the workplace can be hugely beneficial to everyone.
This is the first year since Nick’s death where I have felt more in balance and really myself. I committed to writing a book about the leadership potential of ‘baby-brain’ and up-scaling my business. I expanded the number of clients I coach and work with and it feels as natural as breathing to uncover the real issues that are causing them discomfort and transform them into positives. I’m taking on more support for areas of work I am not an expert in and no longer shy away from asking those senior to me for help to climb the ladder. I devoted time to yoga and have run faster and further than ever before. I’m in a new relationship – albeit fairly light and early days – but it feels soooo good to flirt and play! Taking time out to adjust to the huge shift in my life and embrace the changes caused by it, has allowed me to attack my business goals with new vigour and experience. Meeting, loving and losing Nick have all bought me to where I am today; more open, more present and more aware that the only certainty is the moment we are in.
In many ways Nick’s predominantly alpha behaviour allowed me to be supremely feminine. It was great for us as a couple but my business started to lack structure and shape and I deferred decisions to him rather than standing in my own power.
Over the last 4 years since I lost him, I’ve had to step up, shift some limiting beliefs around my own capabilities and find the balance of being vulnerable and open, soft yet strong.
My inner resilience and sense of self worth is ten times greater than it was but I recognise I’m a sensitive soul and sometimes need to withdraw. Writing allows a space to reflect, recharge and re-balance from coaching and my big-picture visioning and plans for my business.
I see many similarities in the shifts and lessons of my grief and my clients adapting to the shifts and lessons of pregnancy and motherhood, and it’s deepened the connection and passion for the work I do. Being personally fulfilled can only be good for business and I am committed to helping men, women and business find this balance and manage maternity differently so real growth can happen. I am excited for the future but recognise we live in a world that is incredibly uncertain. Learning to thrive regardless is a challenge, but one which once you’ve mastered it is so much more fun. That’s my goal for 2017, what’s yours?
If you want to learn how I can help you or your business embrace change and understand how the maternity journey can be an asset for all please see here or get in touch.