The Lonely Legends

Having the guts to strike out on your own makes you a legend in many people’s eyes but it’s lonely at the top! So, here is my advice on how to be more legend and less lonely.

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I recently started a private group on facebook called the Lonely Legends. I set it up because several of my friends have taken the leap in to trying to create a job for themselves, and a service or product to sell, at around the same time. Just as I went around all my friends when I started up, trying to glean as much knowledge from them as I could about their area of expertise, my friends have come to me for advice and solidarity.

As well as offering nuggets of wisdom I’ve gathered along the way and trying to be positive and encourage them, I thought it was important to acknowledge that I have found it quite a lonely process and to give them, and myself, some support by creating a forum where we can all ask silly questions and share knowledge, achievements and failures.  What I didn’t realize is that even with a safe forum it’s still hard to share the difficult, lonely moments of entrepreneurship and much easier to be encouraging and inspirational to others even if your struggling. I wonder why.

I have always struggled with the praise that gets heaped on me by friends, family and supporters for starting my own business. I know they are just saying well done for taking the risk and being brave, not expecting that I’m already sitting back on my deckchair with a cocktail watching the 0s roll in to my bank account. But risk taking is just in my nature, this is just one in a long line of decisions I’ve made to do the unexpected and take risks other people see as too great. So I’ve just done what I always do, which surely doesn’t deserve praise in and of itself.

So then, how can I accept praise when I’m still struggling to figure out how on earth to do this and to make it work. I’m not ready for praise yet. But, when people say “Wow, you’re doing so well, I’m so impressed, well done!” I just end up smiling and talking about what is going well and where I want to go with it, rather than just being honest and saying, “Well thanks but actually, at the moment, it’s hell but I’m hoping in a few months I will have sorted some things out.”

I never truly understood the phrase ‘It’s lonely at the top’ until I started my own business and took on employees.  My management style has always been about being myself, being humble, accommodating and, for want of a better word, nice. Turns out that when I’m not within the framework of a large company or organisation and a wider management structure, that isn’t so effective on it’s own. A business needs structures and discipline and there is no one to enforce those things except me. For someone who likes to be liked, that’s tough to do.

I have had to reflect a lot on myself over the last two years and how my behaviours have led to certain cultures and patterns of behaviour in the rest of my team that I didn’t expect. I have an incredible team around me and some of the most committed, passionate people I’ve ever worked with, working for me. But they need me to be a manager, not just an entrepreneur. It’s an important journey to go on, and I have a long way still to go, but it can be a lonely one. There is no getting around that.

The truth is that in the last two weeks I have posted in our group, The Lonely Legends, about winning the award we won (HUGE POSITIVE) and have not posted about the rest of the time which has been spent rubbing my eyes in exhaustion, crying a bit, having chest pains I can only attribute to moments of extreme stress, and thinking about selling the business to the nearest bidder over £100 or curling up in bed for a week and eating a lot of chocolate (HUGE NEGATIVES!).

So, now I’ve finally realised what I think will be important about The Lonely Legends as a group and that is that loneliness is not alleviated by only talking about good stuff but actually it is lessened by sharing the hardest stuff.

So here are my …

Top five tips for being less lonely and more legend:

  • Risk taking is a necessary ingredient of success but it has side effects. Short-term feelings of failure are a side effect that you can’t avoid. Don’t let them distract you from feeling proud of your overall progress.
  • Seek out the people in your life who can be honest with you and insightful about you. They are the people you should go to when you need to figure out where you’re going wrong, not the people who are only able to tell you you’re doing great.
  • Be the most honest person at the business networking event. You may find that other people will open up about struggles they are having and you will feel better than if you all only concentrate on inspiring success stories.
  • Give yourself a break! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the treadmill-like non-stop nature of running a start-up. Sometimes you just have to turn your phone off and do something fun with the people you love. You’ll come back fresh and raring to go.
  • Lower your expectations. That sounds very counter-intuitive and of course I don’t mean lower your expectations of where you can take your business; I just mean that you can’t expect to be stress free and cruising for a long time yet (if ever) – allow yourself a pat on the back for small milestones, whilst staying focused on the big future.
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Two flights up and two to go

There I am, standing at the front of an excited crowd, amongst the women I’ve spent the last six weeks with refining our brand vision as part of a programme called Brand Amplifier. I’ve just delivered the pitch of my life, during which my hands shook and I suffered involuntary breath gulps. I have heartily clapped and whooped my fellow Brand Amplifiees for third and second place and have accepted that, with that, my chances are done. I wait with baited breath to see who has nabbed top spot. And then, they call my name! In shock I bound on to the stage and deliver the most unprepared acceptance speech including the phrases “I’m a really creative person” and “I’m so proud of myself!”.

It’s at this moment that the question “How did I end up here?” floated in to my head. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always like this. There are also moments when I’m pausing for breath two flights up, with two to go, for the fortieth time that day with a giant box in my arms, or delivering hugely expensive artworks to eccentrically extravagant mansions in the country, which encourage the same question.

I did my fair share of marching up and down stairs carrying heavy weights in the Fire Brigade and it is here that the idea for my company, Van Girls, was born. I reached a point in my fire brigade career when I didn’t want to progress any further up the ranks and I was happy and comfortable at my station and on my watch, so my mind started to search for the next challenge. What could I do with my days off during the week that would earn me a bit of extra pocket money and occupy my mind. Not having a trade to speak of and full of the warmth I received from the general public when they realised a female firefighter had turned up, I slowly came to the realization that a woman and van service could be really popular. I was strong, I liked pushing myself to my limits physically and firefighting had given me great practical problem solving skills – it was perfect.

So, here I am, two years later, an ex-firefighter, CEO and Founding Director of the now ‘award-winning’ Van Girls, employer of two full time staff and fifteen casual staff and with a ‘fleet’ of two beautiful vans, soon to be three. I’m going to use this blog to tell you the story of how I got here, where I‘m heading and some of the moments I feel are worth sharing along the way. I’m only two flights up, with at least two to go until I will really feel like I’ve made it somewhere, but I have a feeling when I get up the next two, I’ll turn the corner and two more will appear.

Brand Amplifier Platinum Award Winner 2014

Brand Amplifier Platinum Award Winner 2014