How to rise from the ashes to light your fire again.

Photo: Imbue Publishing, taken at Giant’s Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa, 2018.

I delivered a showcase at a speakers’ gig in the city of Reading last night. As I walked up on stage, armed with my kettlebell and my strong core of self-belief, I took a deep breath.  For an infinitesimal moment, my mind flashed back 7 years, to when I had last spoken in this city. However, my mindset and content could not have been more different. Last night, as a professional speaker, I did a motivational talk on how kindness, kale & kettlebells can help you nail life and business. In contrast, 7 years ago, as a headteacher, I gave evidence for 7 days at my employment tribunal. When I took the stand and was sworn in, I was broken. The career I had nurtured for over 20 years had collapsed into an undignified heap. The battle with my former employers resulted in suicidal ideation, severe depression, anxiety and PTSD.  I had miscarried, and when I fell pregnant again, I suffered postpartum haemorrhaging. I had lost my confidence. I was afraid to leave the house. Most days I wanted to hide under my bed.

During my motivational talk, I used my kettlebell to demonstrate my comeback story. The one arm swing showed how I veered between life and death; darkness and light; hope and despair; self-belief and self-limiting beliefs. What did it take to stop these swings?

It is about rehearsing resilience. I was driving to the Drakensberg Mountains last year. The African veld was an austere, scorched black. Every winter the grass is burnt. There is a scientific reason for this; it helps the grass to grow more luxuriant and rich in the spring. I realised that no matter what burned me; it is only going to make me grow stronger and better.

Here is an extract from my book, Nail It! 7 Steps to Life & Business Mastery for Entrepreneurial Leaders:

“I was born on the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. These mountains range over 600 miles and the rocks are at least 220 million years old. They have a neck-craning splendour. It gives you an immediate perspective. The mountains are constant. Grounded.

In contrast, our lives are charged with change. Change brings difficulty, the loss of a career, being passed up for a promotion, the stress of raising our children during increasingly complex times. Perversely, while we live in a digital age, our difficulties meet us face to face. They become very personal. In fact, they headbutt us, throw us off course, slap us around. What happens next? It’s difficult to remain grounded. We bend over with the force of these blows. Sometimes we are stripped bare of our dignity, resources and honour.

However, as an entrepreneurial leader, it is what you do after this that defines you. You see my mighty mountains taught me resilience. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Everything that grows on these mountains has been rehearsing this resilience for millions of years. The flowers and trees bend with the force of the howling winds, tolerate the baking African sun and withstand the mighty storms. After all this – they still stand.

Who or what is your Drakensberg – the rock that steadies you? In your times of deepest despair try to be mindful of these rocks. For me, I sense the mountain’s sharp, clean fragrance. The screech of birds of prey. The profusion of dramatic colours against the startlingly blue African sky. I feel a sense of calm pervade me. If this mountain could stand for millions of years, I can withstand my challenges. In my mindfulness exercise, I use the mountains as a metaphor to bear the excruciating pain, feel the loss, be fully in the moment, so that I can gain acceptance, in order to stand strong again. If you haven’t found your place yet, reflect on where it is. Your Drakensberg. Because we have two certainties when we speak of resilience. We will meet with change at every corner. And we will call up our very own Drakensberg. Every single time.

An entrepreneurial leader gets back up after every failure and uses the lessons from this experience to try again. They use their failures as rungs to the next step, this time being mindful of the pitfalls, changing their strategy and upping their game. They use gratitude….

…Resilience is not a character trait that is handed out like a name at birth.

It is a quality that an entrepreneur has to rehearse every single day…The thing about rehearsals is that once you’ve practised so often, your resilience becomes a habit.”

Go on, rise from the ashes and light your fire again.