First of all, I want to reassure you that things are infinitely better where I stand today, than where you are now. At the moment it feels like nothing is going right – be that your job, boyfriend, family, or friends. You feel unloveable and out of control. This will pass. An unstable and, frankly, crappy upbringing has at times taken its toll on you.
Your first job was in the film industry as a runner in 1998. While you’re not afraid of hard work, the relentlessly long hours and low pay took its toll and after 18 months working in London, you were £15,000 in debt. This was quite the wake up call. You’d wanted to work in the film industry your whole life and then it wasn’t what you thought it would be at all.
Onto a B2B publishing house as a PA. It was here that you met Mundy Ellis, who took a chance on you and trained you as a journalist – she will teach you to fight for what you believe in, and that your natural cynicism is healthy. She will challenge and support you in equal measure and will be a positive female role model in your life. In time, you’ll go on to be that role model for others too.
Over the years, there will be more career changes – from journalism back to television and post-production, then to PR – but none of these moves will be wasted. You’re gaining so much great experience, making contacts for life, and paving your way to a job that loves you and vice versa.
Throughout this time, you’ve always been more than a little uncomfortable. You can’t stand still. You’ve struggled to fit into normal office environments – the sight of rows of bowed heads at rows of desks fills you with deep depression – and you’ve always questioned those in authority. You have a heightened sense of “what’s fair” and that’s not always paid off for you. But none of your struggles will be wasted. Those attributes that you think make you “unemployable” are what enable you to take the leap and become an entrepreneur.
You’re able to deal with huge amounts of stress. You’re willing to take chances. You can cope with whatever is thrown at you. You have great planning and crisis-management skills.
In 2011, you will move back to Bristol and leave the depressing daily two-and-a-half-hour London commute behind you. You will start your own PR business Conversation Creation from your kitchen table and – after years of being ashamed by your surname, because of the connotations with your childhood – you will launch Espensen Spirit, a range of flavoured gins, vodkas and whiskies.
As I look around now, I’m surrounded by chaos – we’re about to open a cafe and event space on the ground floor of our office. But I’ve never been happier. It’s warm, relaxing and comfortable. I walk my dog to work every morning. I’ve found the balance between work and a personal life that you just couldn’t find in London. We often hear “I wish I loved my job”, but I think the desire should be to say “My job loves me”.
You will champion this at Espensen Spirit, by encouraging your team to set objectives that help them achieve the home life they want, as well as career goals. I’m not saying we’re relentlessly happy or never stressed, but we spend a great deal of time making sure every person we add to the team is right. We know we have the right ingredients to think our way out of a problem collectively, and support and care for each other. It is so important to surround yourself with the right people, and nurture a healthy culture around you. People are either radiators and keep you warm, or drains who are only interested in what you can do for them. I have a no drain policy now.
Mental health will always have a place in your life as part of your ongoing recovery from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), but it’s made you an ardent champion of putting staff welfare first. Those of us who have psychiatric injuries should not be afraid to search for the job that suits us. And you have found coping mechanisms that help, such as getting up at 5am and going to bed at about 8pm to deal with your insomnia. Self-care is the most fundamental part of your recovery.
No matter how stressful running my own business has been, it has never been as stressful as worrying about holding down a job working for someone else. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Without your fighting spirit, I wouldn’t be here to write this to you. So keep fighting. I’m very proud of you. That’s not something I would have been able to say to myself when I was your age, I know, but it’s true.