This isn’t a topic I ever saw myself talking about, to be honest. It risks making me sound a bit mad. Or a lot mad. But I think there’s an important point to be found here, so I’m risking my public-facing sanity for it.
Last year I was going through a really difficult time, personally. During this, I had to go to London for a couple of days to deliver a presentation to a client I was trying to win. I really, really wasn’t in the mindset for it. The day before my presentation was probably one of the worst days of my life, and all I wanted was to go home. I pulled up my emails several times to let the client know I wouldn’t be able to make it, give up, and get away. But I didn’t. The professional in me made me keep going. I still had my presentation to finish, and more than anything, I just wanted to know it was going to be ready. I’ll skip the details about how hard I found that afternoon and evening, but come midnight, I was still sat in my hotel lobby, feeling completely drained, still working on my presentation. All I needed was to get it done. The next day I could deliver it, and go home. It would be over. That was my goal.
Fast forward to the next morning. I’d delivered about a third of my presentation to the company directors and marketing team when we paused for a coffee break. The CEO thanked me for what I’d delivered so far, and said (and I will not forget these words in a hurry), “You’re obviously very knowledgeable and we’d love to work with you…”. I probably did a double take. It suddenly occurred to me that I had been so focussed on getting the job just bloody done, that I’d forgotten the possibility of actually doing it well.
I took the coffee break and went to the toilets – cue first conversation with myself. I took a minute to let what was happening sink in. I was doing a really bloody good job and I was getting the work I was hoping for. Somehow, despite everything that had been occupying my head, I was letting the professional in me shine through. I told myself that if I could get through the day before and get this far, I could probably do anything I set my mind to. I told myself to get back in the office and finish on a high. I felt about two foot taller all of a sudden.
The way home was a blur, and I thought about how mad, but how necessary it felt to have those couple of minutes to talk myself through what I was doing. Back home, some desk tidying revealed that it wasn’t actually my first toilet-chat I’d inflicted on myself. I found this scribble I had documented from 2017, when I was debating how to balance the end of my maternity leave with a return to work one morning in the toilets in Costa. I said:
“I want to work hard, and I want the chance to be able to. I want to work for myself, build something up, do well, and be good at what I do. I want to work again.
I’m not done with baby groups. I love watching M play in dusty church halls with decades-old toys. But I’m ready to not do that every day. I’m not ready to give up the rare cosy moments, cuddled up on the sofa, watching CBeebies, but I’m ready to work hard and earn money and professional satisfaction again.”
The next day I relaunched my freelance services.
I promise those are the only two occasions of toilet pep-talk I can remember, but both represent significant moments in my freelance career. And yes, it’s a bit odd that they took place in public toilets, and yes, it would appear far saner to say they were two-way conversations with a friend, but that’s just not how it happened.
The point is, if we don’t give ourselves time to reflect on how we’re feeling, a situation is likely to force us into it in the end. Perhaps these occasions only happened because I hadn’t given myself that time to think. I’m glad thinking-time is now something I give myself a lot more of. I’m a better business for it. I’m a better mum, partner and person for it too. Because it can’t always be about getting through the day, or a difficult task. Sometimes it’s got to be about you too. And my business is all about me. It represents everything I am. Self-sufficient, driven, determined. Those values haven’t all come out of pretty situations, but they support the reason I run my business the way I do. So yeah, give yourself time to think.
The situation we’ve all found ourselves in recently has given us a bit more thinking space, and forced many of us to realise we weren’t happy with how hectic our lives were before. Many people have vowed not to return to the same pre-pandemic life. Some are promising to drop the after-school clubs and Saturday morning swimming in favour of a slower life. Others are thinking of changing careers entirely, and taking the opportunity to turn their side hustles into the fully-fledged business they’ve always dreamed of. If this is you, drop me a message to see if I can help you on your way.
But the next time your reflection gives you a knowing glance in the mirror, be warned, it could lead to some serious words.