So I spent yesterday in a room full of female entrepreneurs and businesswomen – some well established and others just starting out or still incubating their dreams. It was an inspiring day, and also an exhausting one. I love the fact that women love to talk and share, which is what this website is all about. I came away with so much information that I don’t know where to start and, as usual, I’m struggling to find the balance between developing this site, which I’m passionate about, and doing work that pays the bills. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to ask for guidance yesterday from women who’ve gone before me – from politicians to millionaire property developers. And that’s also what this site is all about – mentoring, inspiring, sharing and helping each other along.
I know women who are stuck, stuck in a job they dislike and fearful about pursuing their dreams or, like me, they’re just starting to develop their passions but they’re held back by fear – of success and failure – or by financial insecurity and a difficulty saying No to work that comes in. And then there are lots of other women out there who’ve made the breakthrough, who’ve overcome a stack of obstacles to live out their dreams and who are working in something they’re passionate about, feeling fulfilled and helping others at the same time. So what if we could connect these various women and learn from each other? That’s what this space is all about. Of course, there are many women’s networks out there – I discovered a few more yesterday and I’ll attempt to share them all on this site – but I’d hope ‘From Forty With Love’, as it develops, would somehow go deeper and provide a platform to discuss and work through some of the psychological blocks that get in our way.
In the meantime, I’ll introduce you to some of the women I met yesterday and share some of the snippets of wisdom I heard. But before I do, a word of gratitude. I’m so blessed to have a flow of work that pays the bills (more or less!), to have discovered something I’m passionate about and to have the opportunity to spend a day like yesterday networking, listening and learning from others. It’s easy for me to gripe that I don’t have enough time to write on this site or that I haven’t found a way of making a decent living off my passion but we all have to start somewhere and it’s worth me noting that I’m doing fine and if I keep on keeping on, working hard and being courageous while practising balance, I’ll get there in the end. But balance is the key and is a tough one to crack – as I’ve discovered today, trying to do too much!
So, yesterday, I was at the Women in Business Conference & Expo at London’s Metropolitan University, hosted by Innovate London and organised by the National Black Women’s Network and its social networking site SistaTalk. All of the panelists were pretty inspiring, as were many members of the audience who’d come to listen and network, but I’ve only time and space today to write up some highlights.
Meeting Sonia Brown MBE was one of those highlights. Sonia is the founder and director of the National Black Women’s Network and she also created SistaTalk. She was firing on all cylinders yesterday – exuding energy and inspiring us all to set bigger, better and bolder goals for ourselves. I asked Sonia for some of her secrets of success to include on this site. I’ll write up the full interview when I’ve got more time but here are some of Sonia’s words of wisdom.
“Understand who you are – it really means something when they say know thyself – know what makes you happy and what makes you sad and do more of the things that make you happy and less of the things that make you sad, because you’re only conforming and life is far too short to be that unhappy … Trust your instincts and live life passionately.”
“If you’ve got that fire burning in you, remember you’re going to be the odd one out – no one gets you, you’re going to be weird, too emotional – that’s because that fire in you cannot lay dormant. Once you know yourself and what makes you happy, find other people who are doing what you love to do … and then once you find that support network it’s easier to expand and flourish. What would I do differently? I’d make sure I had a hobby I stuck to so I could have some balance. It’s very easy to get consumed in what you do so look after yourself, pamper yourself. If you’re a woman, have your massages, have your facials, have your spa weekends, learn to swim or to skydive, go walking, ride your bike, get in touch with Nature.”
“And be firm. It’s ok to say No, we’re always saying No to ourselves but not to other people. Learn to say No and do what you want to do … By living life on passion, by being authentically you, you’ll be a role model.”
I also asked Sonia to say a few words to camera that might inspire others to follow their dreams. You can listen to her here (please excuse the sound and edit – I’m still honing my video skills but I decided to be less of a perfectionist and post what I had):
Another highlight for me was meeting Caroline Marsh, a Zambia-born property investment entrepreneur who took part in Channel 4′s The Secret Millionaire programme in 2008. On the show, millionaire benefactors go undercover in deprived areas of the UK to find ways they can help. Caroline ended up in Toxteth, in Liverpool. I grew up in Liverpool and my senior school was in Toxteth, although I’d won a scholarship to a fee-paying school so my experience of Toxteth was very different to Caroline’s. As schoolgirls, we didn’t get out much to have a look at the deprivation around us but I do remember the riots of 1981. You can see Caroline’s Secret Millionaire experience by clicking on this YouTube link and read an interview she did for the show here.
Caroline followed her dreams – starting by defying her Mum and becoming an air hostess instead of going to university, until the company she worked for went into liquidation. After moving to the UK with her husband, she decided she wanted more for herself and her family so she set about learning about the property business, with extraordinary success. She told yesterday’s conference: “I’m a wealthy woman because of the opportunity of entrepreneurship. I’m a wealthy woman because of my God-given gifts and talents. And I’m a wealthy woman because of my heritage and culture.” Caroline is now using her own business experience and entrepreneurial spirit to inspire, motivate and help others, while at the same time fulfilling her dreams. “Every day I’m grateful for what I have and for the person I’ve become,” she said.
Sandy Plange of Enterprising Women – a network of 8,000 female entrepreneurs – also gave some great tips for aspiring businesswomen, not least signing up to the Enterprising Women network, but I particularly took note of two phrases: “Never be afraid to try anything new” and “the Titanic was built by professionals, Noah’s Ark was built by an amateur“.
I haven’t time to list all the great things I heard or all the great women I met but I’ll just mention one final speaker: Claire Habel of Inspiring Futures, which aims to help women achieve their dreams through coaching and mentoring. Claire said: “If you can dream it, it can happen” and reminded us to “think big but plan realistically“. However, to my surprise, I was particularly moved by an exercise we did with Claire called the ‘Circle of Success’. We were asked to close our eyes and imagine ourselves sitting at the centre of a circle surrounded by our friends, family members, colleagues and peers. We were asked to imagine we’d achieved our goals or fulfilled our passion and were asked to think what those people around us would be saying.
I have to admit, this exercise brought tears to my eyes and really inspired me to pursue my dreams. What if this website or another venture I come up with is successful? What if it inspires or benefits others? What if I find a way to turn my passion into a career that affords me a comfortable life? What if I don’t have to struggle, watch the pennies or worry about the overdraft? This exercise has also prompted me to want to write down my dreams so I can look back, in a year or two, and see if I’ve fulfilled some or all of them. So I’d love, in the future, to be stood at the front of a room full of women – rather than in the audience – telling my own inspiring story of success or breakthrough. I’d love to be inspiring and mentoring others through my writing and/or speaking. I’d love to be leading a balanced life, in which I work hard at my passion but in which there’s also plenty of time for fun, friends, family, travel, exercise and Nature. And I’d love to be a wife and a mother.
As I heard yesterday, if you can dream it, it can happen.