I was recently invited to speak at TechUP Women. TechUP Women is an initiative that sets out to retrain 100 women from under represented groups from the North of England and the Midlands with tech skills. Women who take part in the programme come from a huge variety of backgrounds, experiences and sectors to start, or pick up, careers in technology.
It was such a humbling experience to be included in the lineup to speak. The women in the room were astounding and were already achieving so much. The course itself is phenomenal, and unlike traditional training courses, focusses on developing the individual as much as learning tangible new skills.
As such, I was asked to speak about self care in the tech space.
How can we design and build a work life balance? How do we understand what we need to do as individuals to look after ourselves?
You can find my slides here and this is a quick snapshot of my thoughts on how to look after ourselves in a world where everything is expected from us all of the time.
I’m having an existential crisis
Existential crises are a common occurrence in my life. More so when I get asked to do public speaking. So, when it came to TechUP Women, I had a mini panic attack. I felt overwhelmed by the task at hand, because quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I had enough authority to do the talk.
Yes, I’m a big believer in looking after yourself so that you can deliver your best work. Yes, I work in technology and try to give myself a fair work/life balance.
But, do I really look after myself that well? Debatable.
However, I put on my big girl pants and said I’d do it. Because I do have a lot of things to say on the matter. I am passionate about building inclusive work environments and I think it’s important to show others what the tech sector looks and feels like.
I wanted to use this opportunity to shift the needle ever so slightly, so that more people could feel empowered to use their voice.
Why am I here?
Having an existential crisis made me think about why I’m here. Not just doing public speaking, but why am I here?
I took the time to reflect on all the things that have happened to me (and before me) to shape the life I lead now. I looked back on my parents journey to the UK, the decisions they’ve had to make along the way and everything that they’ve accomplished.
It grounded me in understanding that my journey didn’t start with the day I graduated from university, and it didn’t even start with the day I was born but it started with my parents (and their parents, and their parents’ parents — you get the point). Reflecting on the past and history that has made me (physically and mentally) gave me the confidence I needed to take the stage and humbled me enough to talk through my career journey too.
9 jobs since graduating
I graduated 6 years ago. In those 6 years, I’ve had 9 jobs.
I’m not kidding myself — that doesn’t always look great on my CV. But, changing jobs has always been my decision and no one else's. Moving jobs frequently goes against the grain of what we’re told at university or by career advisors. It is the polar opposite of the 1 year rule (stay in a job for at least a year, even if it’s killing you). And, switching jobs that often won’t work for everyone, but my philosophy is:
I’m going to be working for the next 60 years, why would I spend it doing something that doesn’t make me happy?
Switching jobs and roles takes courage.
I had to have the courage to gain some self insight to know when something isn’t working for me. I needed to have the confidence that I could aim higher and do better. I am driven by doing things that I love and I have consistently found opportunities for myself, to keep honing in and understanding what drives me and what I’m passionate about.
2 community groups
Speaking of passion, along the way I’ve run many community groups (DrinkaboutMCR, MCRSocEnt to name a few). But, I’ve co-founded SheSaysMCR and I am the founder of Northern Collective: Women in Public Spaces (NC).
Both SheSaysMCR and NC have special places in my heart. SheSaysMCR has been running for almost 6 years now and stands as one of the first networking groups in the city to have all female speakers. NC sets out as a support group and network for women who work in the public space or actively put themselves out in the public realm.
This is a huge part of who I am. Not only because I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion, but I am a big believer in giving back to the community that supports you. Whether we recognise it or not, there are people fighting for us, who have our backs and I want to make sure that I give other people the same opportunities that I’ve had.
At 21, in my first year out of university, I set up a consulting business with my best friend Mahnaz Yusaf (and co-founder of SheSaysMCR). Together, we’ve delivered work to a CCG in Manchester and to numerous events and startups — focussing predominantly in the healthcare industry.
Going out, finding work and understanding what delivery means to you is tough, but something I am so incredibly proud of. Unlike other entrepreneurs, I’ve never had the courage to go at it full time; that one’s for the future.
And what have I learnt on from my lifetime of adventures?
1. Reflecting is more important than output
I spend a lot of time thinking. I’m a deep thinker and often find myself staring into the abyss trying to figure things out (and it’s why I have so many bloody existential crises).
Reflecting to me, is such a crucial part of self care and consequently self development. I take the time to understand myself better and to dig deep into my emotions and assess why I feel the way I do, when I do.
Reflecting is why I have had the courage and confidence to follow my gut to leave and start new jobs. Reflecting is understanding where I come from and who I am. Reflecting is how I am able to justify my decisions, define my values and morals and ultimately, reflecting has enabled me to deliver better outputs.
Make the time and space to reflect, so that you can understand yourself better and be the best you.
2. If you don’t look after yourself, no one will
If you take the time to reflect and understand what makes you tick, what helps you thrive and what zaps your energy; you can then put things in place to make sure you look after yourself.
For example, I know when I need to rest. And that means I occasionally need to cancel plans. I never used to do it. I’d always put the other person first, placing my commitment to them over myself and my needs. It was a huge component in leading towards burnout. And when I thought about, if my friends are feeling pants, of course I’d want them to look after themselves and wouldn’t think twice about it. I wouldn’t see it as a let down at all — so why was I being so hard on myself?
Honestly, if you’re not willing to put yourself first, why would you expect anyone else to?
Everyone has bad days
No one is happy all the time. No one lives a picture perfect life everyday. Every single one of us has off days, where things aren’t quite right or when you don’t feel yourself. It’s normal.
Once you can accept that, you can start dealing with expectations. You can stop worrying that everyone thinks you’re being moody or whatever, and start letting people know that today, something isn’t quite right.
Once you know yourself well enough, you’ll know when you’re having a bad day and you’ll be able to properly look after yourself as a result. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be a delight everyday — don’t fake it. Just be honest with yourself and the people around you.
Be confident, happy and honest with yourself and the people around you.
You can’t give 100% all of the time
Generally speaking, women over deliver. I often find myself putting myself down, underestimating my value and comparing my outputs to what other people are doing.
What I realised was, no one else gives a damn. I spent so much time putting pressure on myself to fit as much into my days as possible that I burnt out. Well and truly and no one even noticed when I slowed down and started looking after myself.
It’s physically impossible to give 100% all of the time. You just can’t do it. But, you can put stuff in place to help you manage yourself better and to really make the most out of whatever it is that you’re doing.
If that means hitting the gym at lunch time or trying to go out for a walk everyday — you do you.
Put the little things in place that mean you can look after yourself, so you can be yourself. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Life is fragile
Last year my mum was diagnosed with Cancer. It sent my into a bit of a spiral. I questioned all of my priorities — what am I doing with my life, who I am and who doI want to be?
Life is fragile, there’s no two ways about it. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so let’s use that to help us make the most out of everyday. When you’re hit in the face with the fragility of life, it helps you understand how to bring a little bit of extra happiness into everyday. It’s important to do. It’s important to remember. It’s the basis of self care — look after yourself; please.
Remember, we won’t be here forever.
Why does this matter?
Fundamentally, we’re pushed to focus our lives on work. We’re defined by what we do. We’re told, that as women, we need to do more. Achieve more. Be more.
But the reality is:
You work your best, when you feel your best.
So, don’t skim over the things that aren’t on your job description. Your role won’t tell you to take care of yourself. It’s up to you to start understanding what you need to help you thrive — your work will thank you for it when they see you being a happier, healthier you.
It’s time for us to own our stories. It’s time for us to break free from introducing ourselves by what we do; rather than who we are.
It’s time that we shout about who we are and where we come from.
And finally, it’s time to look after ourselves. Properly.