Can you have it all? These boss women share how they prioritise themselves and avoid burnout
Being the boss, whether it is self-employment, a leadership role at a mega-brand or at the helm of your own company, the journey to success, although exhilarating, can be exhausting and sometimes lonely.
In our all-consuming lifestyle of “breaking the glass ceiling” and “climbing the ladder”, self-care is an important yet often overlooked tool in the arsenal to avoid burning out before achieving our goals.
To bring the issue back into focus, nine highly accomplished women share how they prioritise themselves and try to overcome (or manage) their professional challenges.
PANEL OF BOSS LADIES:
• Emily Price, COO, British Franchise Association (EP)
• Denise Hutton-Gosney, founder and managing director, Razzamataz Theatre Schools (DHG)
• Farrah Rose, director of international development, The Franchising Centre (FR)
• Louise Harris, principal, Franchise Projects (LH)
• Angie Coates, founder and CEO, Monkey Music (AC)
• Vicki Mitman, franchise specialist solicitor, NMW Legal (VM)
• Mitali Chopra, managing director, ActionCOACH London (MC)
• Jenine Butroid, CEO and founder, Supporting Minds (JB)
• Lucy Campbell, CEO, Right at Home (LC)
What are your top self-care tips?
EP: Try and live life in the moment. It’s easy to get stuck on autopilot ploughing through work, projects and life moments. This is an easy habit to get into, which can turn into really poor behaviour and before you know it everything is just a big old blur! Life is for living, not just existing! Stop, take stock, check in with yourself, listen to your body and really be present in every moment. I personally find the gym is a great mental retreat for me. I also love to cook – it’s therapeutic and writing is a passion. Do things you enjoy.
DHG: As a former dancer, fitness and exercise is still incredibly important to me. I get to the gym or go for a spin on my Peloton. Self-care for me is getting out in the fresh air and going for a walk to enjoy the views.
AC: I am very fortunate to have five daughters who don’t hold back from telling me if I look dreadful or act a bit grumpy! Stress is the most negative influence on our behaviour and wellbeing, and so I do try to make sure I don’t get overly stressed for too much of the time. I do this by trying to do some of the things that are important to me whenever I can like going to a concert or the theatre, playing the piano, etc. This keeps me mentally stimulated so that I feel mentally alive and creative at work.
VM: Walking for an hour every day; getting seven to eight hours of sleep, actual sleep, not just time in bed; spending time with people you love and people who make you laugh and drinking plenty of water.
MC: • Setting boundaries: Having a start-stop boundary for the workday is essential, more so when most of your work is online.
• Exercise: Starting the day with yoga and daily walks in the park keeps me sane and fresh.
• Switching off: Very often, I end the day by sliding into my massage chair.
• Treating myself: I treat myself to good food every now and then. I never eat alone so all my catch-up meetings are at a nice restaurant. I am a foodie and it’s my stress buster.
JB: Being real, burnout is inevitable. It’s important to be resilient. Re-evaluate your life frequently – making sure you’re following your life’s values and goals. Self-awareness, building a supportive network, recognising your own limitations, and asking for help are the columns for self-care. It is imperative to show kindness and compassion towards yourself –forgive yourself for dropping or forgetting things.
LH: There is no one-size-fits-all for self-care. I spend time alone in my head and things generally work themselves through. What I have learned is that you need to find the things that work for you and never allow yourself to feel bad about what you do. My guilty pleasure is doing jigsaw puzzles – and people mock me for it. My top tip is to do what makes you feel good and let others follow trends or fashion – be happy in your choices provided they are good for you and not harming others. I suffered from chronic depression in my late 20s and was given some brilliant coping strategies around self-care – mainly sleep, self-talk and open discussion.
FR: While I always knew that nothing worth having was ever going to come to me easily, I quickly realised that I had to develop a different mindset if I was going to survive the long journey of seeing my kids grow up. For me, that started with adopting a reasonable fitness regime, especially walking, which I love, and making sure I had a good diet. However, my biggest lesson, and biggest piece of advice, is to always make sure you take the time to enjoy activities that nourish your soul.
Do you suffer from imposter syndrome or feel isolated in your role? How do you overcome it?
EP: I’m not sure we would be human if we didn’t experience at least a little doubt in our personal or professional lives at some stage. I know the little voice in my head can be really nasty to me! We have named that imposter syndrome voice ‘the judge’, and it’s my job to ensure I keep the judge in check. It now talks to me in a much kinder way and is gradually becoming a little champion of its own – it’s baby steps but that definitely helps my self-confidence.
DHG: I left school and went straight into dancing professionally, so initially, I believed that not having a business degree made me less able to do my job. But the great thing about having a franchise network is that I’m constantly attending training sessions with my franchisees and have been doing this for more than 20 years. I know it is not about having degrees or qualifications, experience and being a learner for life are so much more important. Starting a business can feel very isolating and I would say to others, surround yourself with other people in a similar position to you.
VM: I spent time developing my personal confidence and resilience. I worked with a coach who helped me to challenge unhelpful thinking and reframe my thoughts.
LC: Over the years my confidence in my ability has grown and I’ve been fortunate enough to have that reinforced by recognition and support from the fantastic team and network I have around me. One important lesson I have learnt is to surround yourself with the best people, who share your values – their positive energy is infectious and is really important to maintain a healthy outlook!
MC: I am my biggest critic and while it helps in pushing myself to achieve goals, sometimes this constant higher expectation of myself is exhausting. I try to convert my inner critic to be my inner cheerleader to overcome this feeling. Also, I keep a “win log” and refer to it to overcome self-doubt and gain confidence.
JB: By connecting with like-minded people, you can find your tribe and that will awaken your healing. If you’re having strong feelings and feel alone with them, remember we all experience these emotions at some point and there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by.
LH: There have been occasions when imposter syndrome has taken over my world. I travelled a lot internationally in my early business life and often felt very isolated – both physically and emotionally. There was no internet then and picking up the hotel phone was the way to financial ruin! I just had to get on with my life, hoping that I was doing the right thing by the company and those around me. It reflected in my relationships, and I made some poor choices. I realise now how damaging it was and am glad to have put things in place, as I got more confident to say no, that have stopped this. Whilst reading about inspirational people is great, I do what I do in my small part of business and am the best I can be. I will never be all things to all people and once I remember that, and the success I have had and am having, I feel OK again.
FR: What I have learnt from experience is never to think about being better than someone else, but rather focus on being better than who you were yesterday. The moment we sit on our laurels and stop trying to be better is the moment we should hang up our boots and quit.
How do you avoid burnout?
EP: Take a break! It’s taken me years to realise that a holiday is not just about sun, sea, sand and scenic walks. I really do struggle to switch off sometimes and I find when I’m overdue a break, I don’t just suffer at work but relationships across my life suffer too. We are no good to anyone if we are operating on empty!
DHG: Running a business can be all-consuming, especially in the early years. The truth is that although you must dedicate time to your business, you can’t keep going without looking after yourself too. Sometimes you must make tough decisions about how to prioritise your time; I don’t try and go to everything myself; I will often send a team member. Having a role with purpose is the best thing you can do to avoid burnout and if I’m ever feeling overwhelmed, I simply remember how much Razzamataz means to the thousands of children that come to our classes across the UK every week.
LC: I make sure I always have protected time in the calendar to spend with family and friends. Having little things to look forward to – even if they are weeks ahead – and having a team I can trust implicitly when I’m not there, helps me to switch off and regenerate my energy levels.
JB: Burnout is inevitable, but it isn’t always crippling. Creating a self-care plan will lessen burnout; this, in turn, encourages and builds resilience to stress, forming strong pathways for future stress inducers. Listen to your body.
LH: I need variety in my world, and burnout for me comes when I just do the same thing every day. So, I plan for variety and my business gives me that. I’m also a big advocate for the early night. I would urge people who have time management issues to find a course and really focus on this. I’m not talking about pressure and deadlines – most of us work better under pressure. It’s important to work within your capacity, diarising activities (including time out in a day) and, for me, writing lists!
FR: Burnout is not in my vocabulary! When you love what you do based on your purpose, as much as me, work is never a chore. However, I do, of course, have to be mindful of my age, and my physical and mental health, so I tend to switch off after 7.00 pm if I can. I set myself goals every day, and while I may not always achieve them every time, I forgive myself for my mistakes and failures and move on.
How do you achieve (try to achieve) a better work-life balance?
EP: I am blessed that I work with a fantastic team. One of the things important to me is that I provide space for them to grow and therefore, enabling me to operate more strategically as opposed to being tangled in every detail of the business. This transition from manager to executive was probably the hardest in my career and I’ll be honest, there was no balance at all for a few years! I am an early bird, so I like to log on and start the day right.
DHG: I have two boys and my youngest was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, so he has additional medical needs. This has really made me evaluate my work-life balance. Running your own business means that some days you must work incredibly long hours. During the pandemic, it was constant to keep us all afloat. So, I accept that this is the case but when there are no pressing issues, I make sure to switch off and spend time with the family.
AC: Working and having a large family means that you have to be very clear about what you are hoping to achieve in the time available at work. If you have your own business, it’s not possible to never be at work but the thing to do is to accept that it’s fine not to always be “doing the work” but that you are always going to be “thinking it”.
MC: • By setting clear boundaries.
• Being super productive and minimising time wasters. I am tied to my calendar and plan a week and a day in advance.
• Believing in choices versus constraints. For example, being at home when my child comes back from school is my choice and not a constraint. Therefore, I adjust my work timings so that I am there to see him when he is back, have a conversation with him and serve him food. It’s our bonding time!
JB: You can manage your work-life balance by being realistic. For example, more hours at work one week can mean you get more hours at home the next week. The balance can become uneven but this always subsides as life ebbs and flows. If in doubt, re-evaluate and plan moving forward. Change doesn’t have to be negative.
LH: I moved away from employment and into self-employment. I work as hard but in the time frame and manner that I want to. I think that the concept of work-life balance has become slightly corrupt. I often speak to people seeking to buy a franchise so that they can have a “better work-life balance”. When I push them on what that means, sadly for many, it simply means they want to reduce their hours and spend more time with their family/friends/pets. This is unrealistic when you start out on your own. You won’t necessarily have more time – you’ll just be able to be more flexible. I think it should be called work-life flexibility. Something important to me is doing things for others and I do this through small acts of kindness, volunteering where I can, supporting charity events and looking after anyone I know who is in trouble. That brings me balance.
FR: Since the pandemic, my lifestyle has changed significantly. Having been to 71 countries, I used to jump on a plane at the drop of a hat but now I only travel when it is absolutely essential. I block time to spend with my kids in London and we have a lot of fun. I also take time for charity work, arrange weekends away on my own to reconnect with nature or visit friends to remind myself what it is like to laugh and just be present.
What do you want others to know (about overcoming or managing struggles)?
EP: Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. Build a tribe that is not only there for the good times but can help lift you during the bad. It’s absolutely okay, not to be okay. There are many supportive organisations, programmes and coaches available, depending on the challenge you may be facing but I find the first port of call may be to simply talk it out to get to the root of why something may be feeling difficult. The root cause is not always what you expect.
DHG: If you are feeling overwhelmed or need support, then you must reach out and ask for help because most people have been in this situation at one time or another. People that appear to be successful will have gone through difficult times, so it is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide.
AC: Stay true to yourself. Trust your own judgement. Get help and pay for expert advice when important decisions need to be made.
VM: There isn’t a right or wrong way to do something – but you need to consider what is important to you and how you can live your life and career in a way that suits you. Also, I would recommend celebrating every win – no matter how small it may seem, each step along the way deserves a celebration!
LC: Leading a business will always bring challenges and nobody gets it right 100 per cent of the time. My top tips would be 1) to understand what you can / can’t control, 2) to prepare for at least one challenge per quarter 3) to continuously invest in your own development, and 4) to make sure you go about things the right way, and for the right reasons. That way, there may be tough decisions to take but you will always go to sleep at night knowing that you’ve done your best and treated people fairly.
MC: Choose joy! Don’t wait for things to get easier, simpler, better. Life will always be complicated, so learn to be happy right now, otherwise, you will run out of time.
LH: I was told as a young person to “get around good people” and didn’t really get it until I wasn’t around good people! Sometimes just having a chat with someone will set you straight. It’s not necessary to be the person who is always on their game. I find that just raising an issue is invaluable.
FR: Remind yourself that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Failure is an opportunity to do something differently and learn from the experience. Nothing lasts forever, so don’t reprimand yourself or berate yourself too much. Find the real purpose in your life and set yourself realistic goals. Learn to say NO to those who attempt to cross your clear boundaries and learn to say YES to opportunities that come your way. Embrace your unique skills as a woman, and do not try to disown them to be like a male colleague. Never be afraid to reach out to those you trust. If all else fails, have a small glass of wine, or a tub of ice cream, watch a light movie and remember, tomorrow is another day, full of new opportunities and you are now one day wiser.