Juliet Thomas, a previous coaching client of mine and all round inspiring woman and coach, shares her personal account of how she finally made the decision to leave her high-flying corporate job as Global Head of Customer Service for a leading financial data company and start her own business.
It was 7.35am on a rainy Friday morning. I’d just coaxed a very sleepy little boy out of the car and make the 100-yard dash across the empty car park of his nursery in rural Essex. I was late. My meticulously blow-dried hair was starting to frizz. I bundled my almost 2-year-old son inside and settled him at the breakfast table. The smell of freshly made toast wafted through the room. I longed to pull up one of the little chairs beside him, even just for 10 minutes, but I had to catch my train. I was really late. I gave him a quick kiss, dashed back across the car park, jumped in the car to drive to the station, twitched impatiently as I waited at the traffic lights, parked, ran to catch the train, only just made it, frantically responded to emails on the journey, arrived at Liverpool Street, pushed through the throng of city workers, sprinted to the office and into the bathroom to attempt to rescue my hair before rushing to a meeting.
It was an entirely average morning; much like every other morning that week. But on that particular day, the person I was meeting was running late. I sat there waiting at my desk, thinking about what my son would be doing at that very moment… and something clicked. Later, I found myself fighting back tears over dinner with my husband. “I can’t do this anymore”, I said. “If I really have to leave my baby with someone else every day, it’s got to be for a bloody good reason. This isn’t it. Something has to change.”
I’d worked at a leading financial data, news and analytics company for seven years, spending the majority of that time as Global Head of Customer Service. I’d been in the role for 4 years, having been promoted at the tender age of twenty four. I led a fantastic global team made up of passionate, talented people. I got to travel to New York, Singapore and Tokyo. It was a critical team and I was on-call a lot of the time. I felt needed and rewarded. I had a great manager who gave me a lot of trust and some incredible opportunities.
Of course, it was a lot tougher when I returned as a Mum. Although I was technically working full-time, the normal 8am-6pm day in the office was near impossible for me, so I was given some flexibility to allow my husband and I to share the childcare pick-ups and drop-offs. Travelling was harder now – I relished a few good nights’ sleep in a hotel, but the childcare logistics necessary to accommodate my trips were akin to a military operation. And then there was the time I flew to Tokyo for two weeks just as my son was recovering from chicken pox…and landed to a text from my husband saying he’d caught it too. I’d never realised it could be possible to feel guilty constantly – all the time, about everything.
About six months after returning, I was offered a new position in HR, setting up a new front-line service team for employees. I’d loved my previous role, but I was ready for a change and saw the new job as a great opportunity to add some strings to my bow. But somewhere in the back of my mind a quiet little voice was asking, is this really what you want? Is it worth the sacrifices you’re making at home? What about your idea of setting up your own business? Wouldn’t it be a good time to do that now? And what about your dream of spending more time with your son?
There wasn’t much time to listen to the voice, what with all my frantic rushing about. And, of course, there was another, much stronger voice in my head that insisted it was impossible to leave. There was no way we could afford it. Why would I give up everything I had at this company? What about job security? And what would people think if I gave it all up? According to many, we were already “living the dream” by juggling two high-flying corporate careers and a child. The corporate world was (and, of course, still is) making a big push to support and retain female talent. I felt passionately about women in leadership and liked the fact that I was a part of that community.
I took the new role, but for a number of reasons things were taking a while to get going, and I started to feel uncomfortable about where my career was headed. I felt like I was being swept along on a giant wave, with no chance to consider my options. The quiet little voice started to gain confidence… Maybe, if we tightened our belts, we could afford for me to do the Executive Coaching course I’d been thinking about? Maybe I could make a good living doing my own thing? And maybe we could all be much happier if I took the brave leap into the unknown NOW? My “what will people think” gremlin was harder to silence. I was proud of what I’d achieved in my career and knew that those closest to me were happy to see me doing well. But I couldn’t ignore my growing ambition to start my own business and be the Mum I wanted to be – wouldn’t that be something to be proud of, too?
When I look back now, it was like I was on fast-forward the entire time – days passing by in a blur, with barely any time to think, breathe or pause for thought. The day that I made the decision to hand in my notice and enroll in the Coaching course was just another whirlwind day. There was no final straw, so to speak – but as work slowed down a little, I gained some much-needed time to reflect, which is what it took for me to realise that the current reality was not what I wanted. That in itself has been a huge learning experience for me – I now know how important it is to take a step back every so often and reflect on where I am and where I’m headed.
Eight months on and, having spent the first few months training, it’s still early days for my business, but I’m happy to say I’m further ahead than I thought I would be at this stage. There have been ups and downs and we’ve had to cut back a bit, but I can see the potential in what I’m doing and have had a couple of early wins, which have reinforced the feeling that I made absolutely the right decision. I’ve learnt to schedule time every couple of weeks to reflect on where I am – I find that spending a couple of hours writing my blog is the best way to do this, as my mind is in its most creative mode and is free to wander. The best part is, even though I’m still putting in a lot of hours, the working mum guilt has diminished dramatically, and our work-life balance has been restored. My son’s nursery days have been cut down to 3 per week, and he loves it. This morning I dropped off a very happy boy at a more reasonable time of 8.30am before heading to a café to write this blog post and put together a new business proposal. Sitting here, thinking about everything that I’ve gained – an exciting new career, time with my son, time for me, time for us as a family – I’m struggling to remember exactly what I was worried about giving up.
Juliet is an Executive Coach and Image Consultant specialising in boosting personal impact, confidence and presence to help people Make an Impact at work. With a background in operations management and global leadership, Juliet has a knack for spotting untapped potential and a passion for developing people. Visit Juliet’s website here
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