What I wish I knew… was to do more things that made me smile.
Hi, I’m Tabitha. I’m ‘that’ girl – the one who was Head Girl, an A grade student, got a first class honours degree, has lots of friends and hobbies and landed one in 10 spots on the highly coveted John Lewis Graduate training programme. ‘That’ girl who seemingly, ‘had it all’.
My career progressed in a similar trajectory, moving up the ladder in Retail, Financial Services and FMCG, picking up big brand names such as Goldman Sachs and PepsiCo. I took on bigger and more challenging roles until I managed a team of 10 to deliver the people processes across PepsiCo Europe.
Looking back, I’m not sure at what point I realised that my external and internal reality weren’t aligned.
My first experience of counselling was in my late 20s when working in the City. Although the catalyst was a relationship break up, it was hugely helpful to start exploring my emotional make-up; understanding what influence my close family relationships have had on my core beliefs and behaviours and starting to unravel what felt true for me.
At the time it was difficult plunging into things I found painful but with hindsight, you sometimes have to be prepared to strip things back so that you can build stronger foundations. Given my obvious ‘achievement driver’ I probably thought, ‘I’ve had counselling, I’ve nailed this’. It was the first of many such explorations…
At the time the mental health stigma was alive and kicking so it was hard to admit I was struggling in case it was perceived as ‘weakness’ or not coping – totally not in line with the ‘A grade, Head Girl’ image right?! So I developed a ‘work persona’ that oozed success. I focussed on ‘getting stuff done’ which I now realise was my way of not stopping to feel the chasm on the inside.
I chose to ignore my emotions but when they got too much I’d try to talk to friends but got the impression they didn’t really believe me. From an outsider’s perspective, how could someone who has a successful career, active social life, foot firmly on the housing ladder and ‘everything going for her’ feel anything but satisfied? I’ve since read articles on ‘High Functioning Depression’ and can totally relate.
My most recent reality check was having chest pains every time I drove to work. I’d ignored it for 6 months so was more a slow realisation that something had to change – I had to start making better choices! I ended up taking a two-month sabbatical and booking a ‘Life Change Programme’ in Thailand. The biggest revelation was seeing so many of my past decisions had been driven by what I thought other people wanted for me. By this point, I’d let myself get so disconnected that I didn’t know what I wanted.
My simple mission to reconnect was ‘do more things that made me smile’. I’ve taken a much more curious and playful approach to life which has taken my career in a totally different direction. I now run a choir for people who can’t sing and deliver corporate wellbeing solutions to help people NOT get to the point of burn out that I experienced.
What I wish I knew when leaving university:
- “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” (unknown) – commit to a lifelong adventure with yourself – spend time getting to know and understand what makes you tick, what makes you smile, what terrifies you and what fills you up. You’re going to grow and change so stay curious about what it means for your direction.
- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker) – when you know who you are, you’re in a much better position to make an informed choice about the kind of company culture that will help you feel supported to thrive.
- ‘Emotions are like vomit. You can only hold it in for so long before it all just comes out…and by that time it’s pretty messy.’ (Simon Sinek) – keep talking, remember that whatever the voice in your head says, it’s totally human, we all beat up on ourselves. Surround yourself with people you trust and regularly share your hopes, dreams and fears.
- ‘Keep doing the things that make you smile’ (Tabitha Beaven) – I used to believe my work was more important than how I felt. I now believe that unless we choose to fill ourselves up first, then we won’t have anything to give to others. It’s not only OK to prioritise self-care – it makes good business sense. Taking time out away from workplace pressure stimulates our creativity and gives us energy and motivation. So choose to run, sing, paint, jump, climb trees – whatever makes your heart sing and your eyes smile 🙂