This year has been pretty different to any of the previous 28. For the first time in my adult life I spent a whole year without a ‘proper’ job and focused on getting my own business off the ground.
It’s been daunting. A lack of money, at times a lack of direction and constant wondering if I’m doing the right thing. But this has been mirrored with a deep sense of well being from being self directed. I treasure the freedom to set my own schedule, to choose what I focus on and where I do it from. Not only because it means I’m living my life, not one I think I’m expected to lead, but also because it gives me the opportunity to choose to spend time with loved ones. This year my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and I wouldn’t have been able to spend so much time with her, taking her to appointments and spending down time together too, if I had a full time job.
The prognosis is good, it’s only stage 2 so they’ve caught it fairly early, but there’s still more treatment to go. I’m really proud of my mum. The last few years have been rough, going through a divorce, then getting cancer and going through treatment all while buying a house and managing a renovation project - plus having ME for the last 30 odd years, what a woman!
For some years now I have known that I wanted to live differently to one with the conventional career ladder, but I feel my mum has spurred me on in 2015 and I’m super excited about the potential that 2016 brings. But before I steam ahead I wanted to share my year with you here.
January kicked off in the best way possible, what could be more motivating, supportive and simply fun than spending three months with an awesome bunch of like-minded people equally striving to figure out their own new start up venture. Escape the City’s Start Up tribe was a great introduction to lean start up and the power of tribes.
Rob Fitzpatrick’s insight into start up, his stories of other founders, tips and experiences (based on, and I quote, “driving perfectly good companies out of business since 2007”) were great food for thought. And his book, The Mom Test, is a step-by-step read if you’re struggling to figure out how best to research your customers. I highly recommend it.
The social side of being in a tribe like Escape’s is just as valuable as the start up education side of things. Finding support from people to who don’t think you’re crazy is pretty uplifting. When they’re as open as you are to the idea that anything - be that a way of doing business or a way of living your life - is possible, it’s very liberating. Not to mention all the connections, skill swaps and wine drinking that’s also made possible.
I realised that it’s equally as important to say ‘no’ as it is ‘yes’ during February. I decided to ditch an idea for a delivery company using bicycles having explored the concept, spoke to a couple of guys making it really work in other parts of the country, but ultimately decided that it just wasn’t the right business for me.
At the same time I said yes to taking over a community project concept and developing it into a social enterprise. I underwent a Dragon’s Den-style pitch to get a resounding YES! and spent the next 2 months developing the concept ready to launch in April.
Striking out on your own can be tough for a number of reasons and a lack of accountability to anyone other than yourself is often a struggle. The weekly check-ins at the Escape tribe were invaluable in pushing me forward over the 3 months. When you tell someone other than yourself that you’re going to do something, and then don’t, it doesn’t feel great. Social pressure is a brilliant thing!
I love to dance and haven’t let loose in such a long time. It was so much fun to end the Start Up Tribe in March with a fantastic pitch day and late night drinking. I hear partying in the Escape school has since been curbed to midnight after our 5am finish - sorry Matt!
The Escape Tribe wasn’t the only thing to end for me in March. For the past year or so I had been Chair of a local environmental group, Transition Town Kingston (TTK). Since starting my first business back in 2010 I’ve been learning how to build websites and it was great to develop a new site for TTK at the start of 2015, enabling much easier management of the website for the team going forward.
I was keen to step down though so I could focus on new projects and I’m glad I gave myself the room to do this. It enabled me to refocus and concentrate more on the new business.
This was it, launch month. I developed a brand new e-commerce website for From the Ground Up (FGU), my new veg box scheme, in just two weeks. Over the coming months I looked at reorganising logistics and operations to streamline the process and enable us to deliver lovely seasonal produce to more local people. It’s been a learning curve, as with any new business, but I’ve really enjoyed it. The community in Kingston and Surbiton in particular is so friendly and passionate about food, it’s been a pleasure to work with our wonderful volunteers, suppliers and supporters throughout the year.
Jenny, Chantell and Ting, some of our chirpy volunteers
I kicked off May with a cooking demo for the WI at the local Food Festival. I have to say the multi-coloured beetroot carpaccio with rocket went down pretty well. It’s so easy to make and the maple syrup and apple cider vinegar dressing is pretty tasty.
Here’s one I made later in the year without the multi-coloured beetroot. Definitely looks more impressive if you can get some Chioggia and Golden Globe beets in there too.
Having been inspired by Alastair Humphreys last year to go out and sleep in a field I was excited to finally gather a couple of friends from Escape and head out into the unknown. I will admit I was a bit apprehensive about being in just a sleeping bag and bivy. I thought I’d feel exposed and vulnerable with no tent, but I didn’t at all. Once you’ve pulled your sleeping bag around you all you have is a little peep hole to the sky. Then when you dozily wake up midway through the night (which is inevitable, it’s not the best night’s sleep you’ll ever get) all you see is an ocean of stars. It’s lovely.
Lisa and Zita as we headed off to the fields of Eynesford
Although, if you don’t want to look like you’re in a body bag avoid an orange emergency bivy!
June was a down month for me. A time to stop and rest a bit while figuring out the process to develop operations with FGU. I also started a side project around microadventures. Would be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on the concept.
After enjoying my first microadventure in May I decided it was time for another. Rather than being a typical 5pm–9am it turned out to be more like a 3–12 as I decided to head down to Devon for the night to see my friends Rowan and Amanda. We slept out overlooking the moor and once Rowan eventually got the fire going with the very last match, we enjoyed fresh pasta and sausages for dinner.
This was definitely a step up in terms of sleeping outdoors. We’d chosen a field with the best views for the morning, however it also happened to be occupied by horses. I have to say, it is a little disconcerting to be circled by horses in the night and when I woke around 2am to see one staring at me I had to keep one eye open until morning.
I do love a good challenge, and cake. Cake’s pretty cool. So I decided to combine the two and take on a Bake Off Challenge - to bake something new from the Great British Bake Off each week that I’d not made before. Here’s how it went:
GBBO Week 1: Lemon and Orange Madeira Cake
GBBO Week 2: Fruity Biscotti
GBBO Week 3: Rosemary Flat Breads
GBBO Week 4: Baked Blueberry Cheese Cake
GBBO Week 5: Blueberry and Lime Dairy-free Arctic Role (ice cream needs dairy - fact! This was a disaster)
GBBO Week 6: Christmas Frangipane Tart. De-lish!
GBBO Week 7: Tennis Cake. First time making marzipan and fondant icing from scratch.
GBBO Week 8: Coffee Eclairs with a creme pat filling
GBBO Week 9: Chocolate Souffles
When it came to week 10 and no pressure to get it down within a week, I’ve slightly let it drift. I would like to make a show stopper as it’s the last one, so if anyone has a big occasion coming up (or is just a bit peckish) and would like a big cake, do let me know!
To counter all this cake, August was also a month of healthy organic fruit. At FGU we launched our first organic fruit boxes for offices and were delighted to have co-working space Maple Works in Surbiton as our first office to sign up. It’s safe to say they’re all getting stuck in and enjoying the fruity delights of the season each week.
Mum’s chemo had now finished and I wanted to do something to show my support for her so I decided to take on a London to Brighton bike ride. A bit longer than the main British Heart Foundation one, the Breast Cancer Now charity ride was an extra 10 miles coming in at 75 it total. It was great to have customers, volunteers and old friends reach out and share their stories with breast cancer and support me on my ride. I raised over £300 in total and I hope to do a lot more to raise money for Charity next year. Watch this space.
It was also around this time that I started exploring opportunities to develop my skills as a career coach. As more of us shift away from the traditional career route which provides structure and direction, it can be harder for us to know which way to go with so many options. I’ve found it really useful myself to have people who act as a coach or mentor to help me find my way to where I want to be and I’m keen to support others.
I undertook training with the Coaches Training Institute and at the same time knew that I wanted my coaching to focus more on the possibility of the future and actions than on purely soul searching. As such I set up Become a Potentialist, a group of like-minded people looking to realise their potential in whatever way resonates with them. Whether that means fitting in more adventure, completely changing your career or learning some new skills.
I also started to blog and it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I was initially hesitant but I’ve actually found it to be of great value to me, and if others get something from it too that’s a great bonus. Just the process of reflecting on what I’ve achieved and clarifying my aims going forward is really helpful. I would encourage you to give it ago if you’ve been considering it and haven’t yet started.
September was pretty busy on the whole. I also joined Rebel Book Club - what more could you want with your book than an enthusiastic crowd and a signature cocktail! In all I’ve managed to fit in 10 books this year, and I’m aiming for well over 12 next year.
Here’s my reading run down of 2015:
- The Escape Manifesto: Quit Your Job. Do Something Different by Rob Symington
- The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
- The Prosperous Coach by Rich Litvin and Steve Chandler
- Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
- Doing Good Better by William MacAskill
- Wild Courage by Elle Harrison
- Zero to One by Blake Masters and Peter Thiel
- An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
- The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters
- Date by Dave Cornthwaite
This month saw the launch of new side project within FGU. A lot customers and volunteers enjoy swapping cooking tips and are keen to learn more. So we launched the FGU Food School with the aim of bringing local foodies such as bakers or nutritionists and a health focused business to provide the venue like a cycle store together with FGU to build community and share knowledge.
The launch was great. We had standing room only and the Museum of Futures in Surbiton proved to be a brilliant venue. As with anything new though it’s a lot of trial and error and after the success of the launch we found there simply wasn’t the demand for a financially sustainable model going forward. I’m keen to see if we can rework this somehow in the future. If you have any ideas, I’d love you to get in touch.
November couldn’t have been more awesome! The lovely Danny Bent set up Project Awesome a little while back. It’s a group of lovely people doing free fitness across the country. I’d wanted to go for ages but due to the 6am start that meant a 14mile bike ride before I’d even started an hour of exercise, so I kept putting it off. But when I heard they were launching in Edinburgh I couldn’t say no. I’d never been to Scotland so decided to combine the two firsts into one super fun trip with a great bunch of people.
Photo credit: the lovely Tanya Rabb
If you’re ever in central London, Edinburgh or Bristol and wondering what to do with yourself at 6am - look out for some brightly coloured people group hugging!
Photo credit: the lovely Tanya Rabb
I was also lucky enough to learn a new skill in November. I like the idea of learning survival skills, you know just in case a plane I’m on crashes and I have to survive on my own until I can make my way back to civilisation. My friend Simon, who I met on the Start Up Tribe in January, is a keen fisherman and had his own impressive adventure in Canada last year, spending 3 months fishing with the locals in a pretty extreme environment in comparison to South West London.
Having caught a couple of trout one Friday morning in November Simon enthusiastically taught me to fillet them. Surprisingly easy, although apparently making the fish talk is frowned upon. I have to confess I have a secret love of Robson Green’s Extreme Finishing and hope to go on my own extreme-ish fishing adventure at some point in 2016.
Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to fit in one last adventure before the end of the year I decided to cycle home for Christmas. This was an 85 mile ride through London up to Newmarket on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately storm Eva had other ideas and I ended up in a lovely little pub the size of someone's living room with my best friend from school and all her family, around 3/4 of the way there. Best Christmas Eve ever!
Plus I made my first video beforehand. Improving my filming/production skills is definitely on the cards for next year.
I hope you had a brilliant 2015 and look forward to hearing about your adventures in the year ahead.