How Superwomen Find Balance
Neom Founder Nicola Elliott talks wellbeing, working mums and the importance of weekend walks with Baroness Karren Brady. And comes away with some great tips from someone even busier than her….
Reading Baroness Karren Brady’s CV is enough to raise the blood pressure of the average woman, given the sheer enormity of what she has achieved, and she’s only 45.
Karren was the youngest Managing Director of a PLC in the UK, when she floated her business on the London stock market in 1997. Since then, she’s famously held the post of Vice-Chairman of West Ham FC, been Senior Non-Executive Director of the Syco and Arcadia Boards and Small Business Ambassador for the Conservative Party. In December 2013 she was awarded a CBE for services to women in business and entrepreneurship.
If that wasn’t enough she serves on the Department for Culture Media & Sport's WISAB (Women in Sport Advisory Board) to help increase the status, influence and participation of women in the world of Sport. She's the Chairman of Mentore, (a business whose sole purpose is to use mentoring as a solution for businesses to accelerate the development of female talent, increasing diversity at board and at senior levels in companies across the UK). Karren is Patron of The Stroke Association and an Ambassador for WellChild and Teenage Cancer Trust. She is also a columnist and has written four books, her latest one being a Sunday Times bestseller, and she acts as Sir Alan’s right hand woman on The Apprentice.
Oh, I nearly forgot one small thing, she is married with two teenage children.
And here I am, asking her not about business tips, or motivational speaking, but to find out how she manages something I find even more fascinating, her own wellbeing. Firstly, I need her to define ‘wellbeing’, because something tells me she won't have time for 2 hours of yoga and 3 home cooked meals a day…
KB: Wellbeing. It’s a state of mind. When you feel comfortable and good within yourself, happy and healthy, a sense of prosperity. Rich in life and I don’t mean in a financial sense. It’s about getting a better balance between mind and body.
NE: But it’s one thing to understand the importance of that, it’s quite another to be able to do it. Your life sounds crazily hectic….I thought mine was bad!
KB: Ha! I read Hillary Clinton said she gave up her job as Secretary of State because she was ‘tired of being tired’ I know that feeling.
NE: I know that feeling!
KB: But I think wellbeing is the opposite of that, don’t you? Having a job you love is important. I love my work.
NE: Absolutely. But I also think it’s important to find that holy grail…the balance between that and home life.
KB: Finding your balance is absolutely important – I think of balance like a wheel, sometimes it goes more in the direction of work, sometimes of home, but it keeps spinning all the time…
NE: It’s about not letting those 2 worlds get too mixed up. You said in your biography that it’s difficult juggling them, and added, ‘don’t let one life drain the life out of the other’ which I thought was interesting.
KB: Absolutely. At weekends I don’t do anything. I rest my mind and body, eat well, I do yoga on Sundays, go for long walks. I eat well. If I can't have that mental space, that thinking time, that rejuvenation time every weekend I’m not as productive. I escape from the diary at the weekends.
NE: You think that taking that mental time, creating that space is actually important for being effective at work?
KB: Absolutely. It’s important when running a business that your short terms goals are all working towards achieving your bigger long term strategy and the only way to really understand and reflect on that strategy is when you get time to stand back and reflect and think about it.
NE: That’s interesting, so you are kind of defining 3 spaces here – work space, home space and a reflecting space which allows you to be more proactive when back in the office. Would you ever do a complete digital detox, say over an entire weekend?
KB: No, not even for a day as I have a number of responsibilities and I have no desire to escape work . There’s never no work – businesses overseas will require me to work at night but the big thing is, I’m not a hostage to the diary.
NE: That’s funny, I don’t like it when my diary is too full either, you feel kind of trapped.
KB: I don’t like looking at my week's appointments in the diary, I feel overwhelmed, I tell my PA ‘only one day at a time'!
NE: So, I wanted to ask you about something… the results are in from the Neom National Lifestyle Stress Audit and we’ve found a staggering 9 out of 10 women are stressed. I’m kind of sad. Does that surprise you?
KB: No. More women are working than ever before and we have fuller lives than ever before. I don’t care what anyone says women who have a family and a job do so much more. If I can't have that mental space that thinking time, that rejuvenation time, I'm not as productive. Everyone is more aware now of the mental equilibrium and the stress it can cause when life is off balance. The most valuable commodity is time these days.
NE: What advice would you give these women?
KB: You have to come to terms with the fact that you can only do one thing at a time, you can only do your best. You have to learn to be efficient with that time – remove the least urgent things and that doesn’t mean removing the things that you want to do. Especially working mothers – the last thing on the list and the first thing to go is the thing they want to do for themselves. Squeezing your own time – you end up not enjoying anything.
NE: You ever find the balance tipping? Got it wrong?
KB: There are many times when I have lost the balance before, I’m 45 and my children are older now so I’m through the worst of it, but when they were little and I was building my businesses I was stressed! When I reflect back, there wasn’t such a saying as ‘work life balance ‘ then, you just had to carry on with it or you would loose your job. If someone had told me that a career would last a lifetime and you can take your foot off the pedal at times... That wasn’t something I thought.
NE: My kids are 7 and 4, that’s interesting advice...
KB: I know that feeling of guilt. I just wasn’t there to pick my kids up every night and take to school every morning – but now they have turned into well balanced, educated, polite people with their own wellbeing and I’m happy because I made the quality time I spent with them count.
NE: that’s so reassuring to hear! You’ve made my day!
And with that, Joan, Karren’s PA calls her for her next meeting. She’s back to back (even if Joan hasn’t showed her the diary) But she’s taught me something great, it’s fine if the pendulum swings a little too far one way at times, because you can’t keep balance balanced for ever, it moves, like pendulums do. The greatest challenge is trying to keep it in the centre.
Do you have any wellbeing tips? Share them using #NeomWellbeing or leave a comment!