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Category: People life

Penfold: moving great people around since 2001.

Connecting with brilliant people rocks my world. And to that end, I have the best job on the planet; I am tasked with finding the best possible people to join our brilliant (and growing) business here at Shazam.

I have taken great delight in helping great businesses find great people (and brilliant people to find brilliant businesses) over the years and now lead a team of fantastic Recruiters in the UK, dedicated to building Shazam the best possible team.

That time when I learnt a little more about the ways that shame can drive us

Every so often a book comes along that really shifts something for me, and I feel compelled to share some of its contents. Having just read Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw, now is one of those times. 

To sensitive people in the world like me, the ones who feel emotion and energy around them, the ones who have likely battled against low self esteem, the ones who have had to work hard on their relationships with themselves; this book is one I highly recommend reading. 

Shame as a word may feel a little triggering, but ultimately it’s the thing that drives people around the world to both overachieve and underachieve. It is the thing that drives the majority of our toxic behaviours.

We are likely, for a time at least, resolute in those behaviours, thinking that if we can just keep working super humanly hard then we won’t be found out, or on the flip side, no thank you, I don’t want to be part of your society because it is easier this way. 

Either way we are working ridiculously hard to make sure we don’t have to experience shame. 

We learn this really early on, often through our experiences of otherwise loving adults. As children we study the eyes of those around us for acceptance and learn to clip ourselves in a way that we feel meets everyone else’s needs. We learn what it means to be bad and what it means to be good. 

Whichever adult we are in contact with as children, our survival is dependent on them, so we have to believe that they are good. That means that if there is even a sniff of disdain sensed, the child will often form the hard view that they are indeed the bad one, and frankly lucky to be tolerated at all. 

This is where a low self esteem creeps in. This is also where the shrinking creeps in, namely that you don’t want to be too big for the folks around you, because you need them to love you and keep you safe, so you cover up who you really are.

It happens at school also and I can see how that was the case for me, when my imagination and ideas were a little too ‘out there’ for the adult I was dealing with. They trigger your shame with their disgust at your work and perhaps you, like me, tried to become something else or create something else in order to meet their needs. 

I also lived out a full scale teenage rebellion at around this time, and looking back I can see how at my core I was simply seeking belonging and acceptance in the eyes of others.

Cool and rebellious was a badge I was happy to wear, no matter what that meant for my future, and I tried to infiltrate many different groups that had their own identity, in the hope that I would feel a sense of belonging. 

To develop strong ego boundaries, children need parents with strong boundaries, so if a parent hasn’t managed to develop their own, the children are unlikely to be able to do so by design. 

When you have damaged boundaries, like I had for much of my adult life, you don’t really have a clear sense of self.

You have existed in the world in a way that means you survive. 

What that means is that you are likely prone to love too hard, too quickly (I’ve definitely done my fair share of that) and become dependent entirely on other beings, and pretty much codependent by design. You’ve also likely learnt to stifle your real feelings to be more palatable for the people around you and cling on for dear life in those doomed relationships, romantic or otherwise. 

You are also extremely likely to attract and seek people who are perhaps a different side of the same coin, perhaps narcissistic or similar. You then may find yourself in a relationship which is shaming on a daily basis and therefore continues to lower your value within yourself. Side note: if we do not grow because of someone else’s ‘love’, it’s generally because it is not legit.

You’ve also probably learnt that kindness is better than honestly, so you have extended and distorted yourself in all kinds of ways to meet the needs of others. You’ve perhaps also been super judgemental of others and perhaps envious, which may show up in a ‘nice’ way in the form of a barbed compliment. Top tip: if you find someone triggers you in that way, it’s worth sitting with that and looking at the emotion that they have brought up in you, there is likely to be a major learning opportunity hidden in there somewhere. 

You’ve also likely been extremely prone to addictions whether big or small. For clarity, in the book he cites Pia Mellody’s definition of addiction as: “any process used to avoid or take away intolerable reality.”

I’ve always been someone who jumps into things, constantly seeking, constantly looking to fill what was missing inside me and make the world love me more. When I managed to overcome one addiction, a new one would creep in. I simply got lucky that my addictions didn’t involve drugs and alcohol, but the energy driving the behaviour is the same.

In my childhood world there was no big thing, no big incident, my parents were just two wonderful humans doing the best with what they had. In a recent conversation with my Mum she shared some of the guilt she felt watching her own children on their healing journeys. 

The way I see it is as simple as this; we can only operate in the world based on our own lived experiences. My parents came into the world and were influenced by their own experiences, they stood on the shoulders of their ancestors and have evolved based on the platform they were standing on. All I am doing is that; standing on my parents shoulders and evolving based on the platform I am standing on. I also benefit from many positive things I have learnt from them, the resourcefulness to find the means to put myself onto a more expansive path being one.

I appreciate that doesn’t even scratch the surface of a parents guilt on this stuff, but I also must point out that much of these things happens due to the nature of who we are as creatures and our drive for survival. Emotion is quite literally there to drive us to get what we need to survive. 

I am sure you are thinking by now, okay Penfold, enough. What do we do about this? 

Well you could read John’s book for a start, as there are a tonne of great practical exercises in there to support you with developing self awareness. The truth is there is no quick path to your own evolution, there is just the long road of life long commitment to keep expanding and evolving. Each persons path is individual to them and completely unique, which I can appreciate makes things even harder. 

What we can do though is be inspired by others, and pay attention to what they have learnt, in the hope that we might learn something too. 

I’ve written many blogs on all of this over the years, but some of the other things that have helped me on my path have been:

  • To start to make decisions for myself that truly served me, whether big or small. 
  • To start to monitor my emotions and pay attention to what they are telling me.
  • To learn how to get still within myself through meditation, and learn that there’s nothing in there I need to run away from.
  • By learning how to meditate, to give myself the space to create a greater awareness of myself and the nuances that drive my behaviour throughout a day.
  • To build a trusted, non shaming team around me that I trusted enough to believe it when they told me I was loveable. 
  • To put in the work to become vulnerable, to allow space for the love of other people to come in.
  • And right now, my new one is to give the negative voice inside myself a voice so that I can love and accept my dark parts as well as my light ones.

I will leave you with some commandments from John:

  • You have the right to judge your own behaviour, thoughts and emotions, and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences. 
  • You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behaviour.
  • You have the right to judge if you are responsible for judging other people’s problems.
  • You have the right to change your mind. 
  • You have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them. 
  • You have the right to say, “I don’t know.” 
  • You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them. You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  • You have the right to say, “I don’t understand.” 
  • You have the right to say, “I don’t care.” 

If any of this piece resonates with you and you are feeling a little flummoxed about where to go from here, reach out to me and let’s have a conversation and hack it together. My own healing journey is supported by sharing both what I have learnt and what I am learning in the support of others.

With special thanks to Josh Connolly for recommending the book and more broadly for his work in creating awareness of this area.

That time when I realised I had been mistaking numbness for resilience

I used to pride myself on my ability to bounce back. When something significant happened to me, generally I was able to wake up the next day as a fresh start and put it behind me. People would commend me on it, and it made me feel like I was strong and resilient.

What I was actually doing, on a very deep subconscious level, was not allowing myself to feel things, and in doing so, denying myself the opportunity to process them. I developed a tolerance for things that felt bad by simply becoming numb.

I was living a lie, but not deliberately so, my brain was finding a way to stay safe and protect me from pain. I say was, it still does by the way, I am just getting a little better at calling it out.

A better definition of resilience

Recently I have been blessed to spend some time with Josh Connolly, largely as I invited him to come and work with the Launchpad team on this very subject and to be a guest on my podcast, Pancakes and Peacocks. He has a beautiful take on resilience.

“Resilience is about connecting with my authenticity to understand myself well enough to know exactly what I’m feeling, so that I can get the resources in my life to be able to deal with the way that I feel. That doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to struggle, that doesn’t mean that I am not able to find life difficult.” 

He goes further when he talks about honesty with ourselves; when we show up for everyone else around us and what we think they want us to be, we do so at the expense of ourselves. Rather than building relationships based on who we are, we work out who you need and want us to be and give you that person.

In doing so, we deny everyone (us included) the opportunity for authenticity in that moment.

In denying the reality of my emotions to myself, I was also denying the reality of myself to others. When people met the seemingly happy and ‘moving on with things’ me, they weren’t really getting to meet the real me, they were getting the version of me I thought they wanted and needed.

When we deny ourselves the opportunity to feel what is real to us, we deny ourselves access to authenticity. Authenticity starts with our ability to be honest with ourselves first, and continues when we become whole enough within ourselves to be honest with others.

Developing resilience is about developing flexibility 

For me that has meant developing a toolkit that enables me to be able to know how to get back to myself, based on whatever comes my way. I highly recommend starting to consider what you might need in yours.

I can’t tell you what you need, that is something that only you can figure out. My toolkit looks a little like this:

Stillness

Finding the means to connect to my body, for me that means using a gentle breath meditation. I do this every morning for 10-15 minutes. For me, developing a daily practice as been an essential part of enabling my emotional stability, and my ability to cope with the challenges of life.

Structure

I need my days to follow a set structure to thrive, before that I operated in chaos. My bedtimes and my wake up times are set, in the mornings I meditate, move and then take the time to do whatever I need before I start my working day. I eat at the same times every day, and sleep hygiene is super important to me. I always have 2 hours between eating and sleeping, and allow myself some screen free time before I attempt to sleep. My journey with rest has been a critical part of my overall mental flexibility.

Support

Letting go of tolerance to allow space for the support and love of others in a very real way. Coming back to Josh on this one: “Resilience is not about being insular, it is not about doing it on our own, accepting the support of other people is an act of resilience”. 

I have had to work really hard to accept the love and support of others. I have had to work to let my guard down and learn what I need in terms of the support of others. I now have my team assembled that support me in different ways on different things, and I am always adding new members.

Self love

For me that means things like the conversation that I have with myself when no one else is around and the way that I look at myself in the mirror. The way I forgive myself if I get something wrong.

I also love myself by taking care of myself and my environment. I aim to start each day feeling as good as I possibly can be and am always thinking about the future me when it comes to the level of care I take for the things around me.

That’s what works for me my friends, the key is to find what works for you and to play around with it.

Supporting yourself to support others 

A big part of the way we are able to develop our collective resilience will come in the way we are able to support one another.

When someone tells you something that is hard to hear, we don’t like the feeling that they are bringing us, so we often give them false positivity, or try to troubleshoot their challenges. I know I have been so guilty of this, the fixer in me just doesn’t want to quit. In reality we need to develop our own ability to withstand someone else’s truth.

We develop the means to withstand emotions and feelings from another person when we have developed enough within ourselves not to be pulled into them. That doesn’t mean the trigger doesn’t happen, it just means that we have developed the muscle that means that we are okay sitting within it when it does. 

We experienced this as a team at Launchpad in Josh’s workshop, where we divided into pairs and have a few minutes each sharing a moment where we developed resilience. We listened, we loved, we supported and we held space for one another. It was a beautiful thing indeed.

As Josh puts it; “…rather than seeking to make someone else better, we actually need to help them be better at feeling.” We do that by allowing them the space to do so, with honest enquiry, and from a place of gentle, loving discovery.  By listening fully, by caring enough to take the time to understand where they are and by simply just letting them speak. 

This was a huge reflection for me in terms of how I have shown up for others in the past, and one I take forward with me in terms of how I will show up in future.

That time when I created my blueprint for joyful living

A couple of years ago, one sunrise in Hyde Park I captured a picture of two swans with their necks turning into one another, in perfect symmetry, I posted it on Instagram with the caption #RelationshipGoals. Something about the intimacy of their stance made me feel a surge to find the same intimate bond with another human animal, the kind that doesn’t need words, the kind that just is.

#RelationshipGoals

I found myself back in Hyde Park for a sunrise earlier this year and I noticed a lone swan. It was grubby and a little dishevelled, but it was doing a phenomenal job of tidying itself up with its beak, and meeting its own needs. It was a beautiful moment of self partnering.

As I watched this lone swan with darker patches of feathers and shades of beauty magnified by its own lived experience, I understood that that’s what true love is all about. Only once we have learnt to love and cherish ourselves first and foremost, are able to truly let our light radiate out into the world in relationship with others.

Sure, it’s beautiful to form a harmonious balance with another creature, but actually, just like our hero swan, you can only really do that once you have developed the harmonious balance within yourself. Once we realign our relationship goals to ourselves, only then do we open up the potential for that harmonious balance with another.

Lost love

There are many lucky people who grow up already loving themselves, but I was not one of those people. I made a firm assumption early on in my life that I was not loveable and that my own grubby feathers made me an unattractive prospect. I spent the next couple of decades avoiding myself, steeped in low self esteem and finding a million negative ways to prove those things to myself over and over again.

Around 10 years ago I ejected myself from a cycle of abuse; in the form of a relationship with another person, but most importantly, in the form of the relationship I was having with myself.

In the years that have followed I have fought and worked hard to get back to the essence of who I am, why I am and what made me make those very negative choices for myself. I also worked hard to evolve past those experiences, and let go of the expectations, stories and personas I have created for myself along the way.

A blueprint for joyful living

Somewhere in and amongst the past decade, I managed to create a life that feels amazing from the the inside out, one with joy at its very heart.

For me, joy isn’t an effervescent feeling of excitement. It’s the deep, connected feeling of calm that I get when I walk in alignment with myself and when I make decisions that I know truly serve me. Crafting a life where I have daily access to this joyful experience is the very essence of true self care, of self love.

Self love isn’t about something external; it is found in the way that we look at ourselves in the mirror and in the conversation that we have with ourselves when no one else is around. It is kindness. It is forgiveness. It is the love and care that we provide ourselves when we truly self partner; our ability to self soothe and our ability to self celebrate.

Where did I start?

It all begins with the quality we align to, that we move in and live in. The quality I used to live in was one of harshness. Harshness in terms of how I moved around the world, but also harshness in terms of the relationship I was having with myself.

I needed to learn how to treat myself tenderly and develop my relationship with gentleness. To do that, I needed to start by experiencing what gentleness feels like, because I honestly did not know. I did that under the pupillage of Sara Williams, who I continue to work with to this day.

We started with really basic things in day to day life, like the way you open and close a door, the way you move in the world, the way you cook a meal. By experimenting and trying to do this more and more, I started to become aware of the quality I was living in, and to make better choices.

Find your way back

Sadly for us human animals, we move in separation against the natural flow of things almost all of the time. A big part of my work with Sara has also been in learning to connect to myself via meditation.

By learning what I feel like when I am connected and in alignment, I have begun to be able to feel when I am stepping away from myself. Over the years, I have become a lot better at choosing not to do so. I can’t tell you this stuff is easy. It’s like building muscles in the gym, you have to keep up your regime to see any progress.

By deepening your relationship with you, you become better equipped to read the world around you and in turn, become better at relating to others. You start to realise that other beings are also just made of love, just like you, and that when you are experiencing bad energy from them, it’s not about who they are and therefore absolute, it is instead about the energy they are letting in.

That doesn’t mean you tolerate bad energy, it just enables you to become more peaceful at letting it pass you by when it shows up.

Joyfully ever after…?

The work continues. Like any solid relationship, you have to wake up with a renewed commitment to keep investing in your relationship with yourself each day, to tend to your dishevelled feathers and put your best webbed foot forward.

I allow myself a fresh start with every new day that dawns with one real goal; to be Ruth, at her essence, at her purest, at her realest. I forgive myself quickly and reinforce loving energy as often as possible. I seek not to remove those grubby feathers, but rather to show them proudly to the world, in order that the world gets to see the real me.

I work to become my own biggest champion, to have the courage to live daringly and to step fully into my power. At this point I am about up to my webbed footed ankles, how do you feel about stepping into the pond with me, and see if by the end of the year we can get up to our wrinkly knees…?

That time when we had a chance to rethink the world of work

2020 has become quite a year. A year full of loss yet a year full of opportunity. It is as if the universe has conspired to present us with all the things we needed to focus on, and slowed at least some of us down sufficiently that we had the space to tune in and listen.
I have begun to be asked frequently what kinds of changes and responses we are making and seeing at a workplace level at Launchpad and recently took part in a panel on this subject as part of London Tech Week and as Dan Zell of Decoded quite rightly puts it; ‘We’re all in the same storm, we’re just in completely different boats.’
Whilst many of us in the working world have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity of at least some space over the past six months, many have not been so fortunate. When we look at how the working world has shifted in that time therefore, it really is a tale of two halves.
For those who work outside of offices and in the frontline, there has been either furlough or a relentless slog throughout. My sister who is a pastry chef has experienced this relentlessness, as has my friend in construction. What they’ve also experienced is a total disregard from their industries around their well-being beyond the superficial provision of PPE. By total contrast, amongst my peers in people roles in tech businesses, we’ve doubled down on the provision of wellness related things like coaching, meditation and other tools to help folks sculpt their own resilience toolkit.
For the purposes of the remainder of this piece, I will keep the focus on my immediate vista; that of tech businesses and office environments but as a side note, I would urge those who are able to wield influence across different spheres to do so. The evolution of work can’t and should not only be a thing for half of the working world.
10 years of development in six months
What we have witnessed over the past six months has been unprecedented. We have seen the acceleration of the adoption of remote work by something like 10 years in that space of time. We are looking at many of the big players giving their teams the chance to be permanently remote, potentially saving a trillion dollars collectively in process.
According to the rather brilliant Chris Herd, CEO of Firstbase, someone who is based permanently remotely costs a business on average 10 times less in terms of full loaded costs. We invited him to come and talk to a number of business leaders from across the Launchpad community, to help us all crystallise our thinking when it comes to planning for our future work dynamics.
Aside from the obvious longer term cost savings, having the whole team working from home has had a number of more immediate positive effects, and my hope is them that some of them take root.
1. That we keep building our businesses as communities, with love at the core
Home working has seen a rise in bidirectional empathy. For years, people like me have been working with business leaders to help them find their most authentic voice, and give their teams access to who they really are. Now simply by showing up on screens within the middle of our homes and our lives, we have suddenly become real to one another in a way that you could never manufacture.
Within Launchpad and bp, we have seen and felt a rise in understanding of one another’s circumstances, and colleagues have become real humans with real challenges that we don’t need to be ashamed of. Across the working from home working world parenthood is no longer a dirty word that questions commitment, but instead a brilliant quirk and welcome delight when we get to meet one another’s people.
Suddenly see one another as whole human beings, but it is up to us as leaders to maintain and nurture that. We have to stay open and allow our people to do so.
2. That by doing so, we create the space for people to start to feel able to bring their whole selves to work
When people feel like they don’t have to hide elements of themselves, we get to see them do their best work. Hopefully by now you will have been reading more about the lived experience of Black people in our societies, and the additional cognitive load they often carry in order to try to stay safe. Whilst their experiences are unique to them, there are many other groups across our societies who bear additional cognitive burden trying to exist safely in our societies. Consider then the power that we would unleash if we were able to alleviate that burden from those humans.
The other way that home working as been supportive is that those people who index more towards introversion. It’s been easier to do the deep work we struggled to create space for in office-space-starved startups, or as Chris Herd puts it; ‘distraction factories’. Though I still standby the importance of collaboration in person as an advocate for team togetherness.
On the flip side the extrovert might in part have been satiated by video calls at first, but that quickly turned into video call fatigue for many. It is, however, going to be critical that we keep finding ways to come together in the real world, according to what the world we live in allows and that we find a way to fire up our collective creative energies together. There simply is no substitute for in person interaction, and it remains an essential agreement for how we all grow together, especially in a new business like Launchpad.
3. That we all commit to dismantling the structural oppression of Black people. 
Whilst we are getting busy dismantling how we have worked before in the physical sense, it seems to me to be high time we dismantled the way we’ve worked in the invisible structures that hold some parts of our communities back.
We’re looking to build inclusion into how we help businesses to grow at Launchpad by partnering with new new diversity and inclusion collective The Wake Up Call to make sure that we collectively step into the discomfort it takes for us all to evolve. It’s never lost on me that the word evolve has love embedded in it. Coincidence? I think not.
By having a laser focus on inclusion from the beginning, we stand a real chance of creating businesses that feel good for all who sail in them. We must also commit to creating opportunity every which way we can, by seeking to remove barriers to entry and giving people the chance to step into roles that they perhaps haven’t done before. We do that by being prepared to put our own “necks” on the line by backing others. A well timed advocate can change someone’s life and hopefully, in turn, society as a whole.
4. That we find the balance between online presenteeism and productivity
Now that we’ve all lived the boom and bust of video call fatigue, my next hope is that we will find further balance around presenteeism in the working world in general. At Launchpad we gave people permission early on to find the rhythm of life that worked for them and to say no as and where they needed to.
To make that work, you have to model those behaviours as much as you can at a leadership level. The interruptions of life have become the norm for us, and we are all okay with that.
Will we really see the focus move from time as the metric to how much work is getting done, to what the output is? I’m not sure, but we are keen to test that theory at Launchpad.
5. That we find the means to support all the space folks need to build the life they always dreamed of with us
Those different boats that Dan Zell mentioned really are wide ranging. People have been challenged in different ways by the enforced work from home many of us experienced. My final hope is that the shift will provide the longer term balance that people crave.
For parents and for children, will working just some of the week in an office provide a greater opportunity to participate fully in one another’s lives? If we start to release the shackles of big city-based offices, perhaps we will benefit from being able to hire talent anywhere (tax and administrative burden permitting).
If that happens, the opportunity to get access to opportunity completely shifts and a whole new talent pool is born. There would be huge potential for people to retrain and try something new. The next question remains, what happens to cities if it does…? Whilst office workers only make up a fraction of a city’s total workforce, if they leave, let’s not forget that a lot of industry could be devastated as a direct consequence.
A gloomy but important note to leave you all on. I’m all for progressive, blue sky thinking on how the working world evolves and supports the creation of joy in the lives of the people within it, let’s just make sure that we don’t leave a tonne of our fellow humans behind.

That time when I decided to fill in the blanks

I was thinking back to when I lived in the suburbs for a beat, and remembering the funny relationship that you have with the folks that get on the same train as you, each and every day. Even if you might have felt a little oppositional at first, you gradually become a little like extended family, and you grow to find their presence reassuring. In some cases, you might even become real friends.

I’ve been noodling around cyberspace for the past 10 years and in the wonderful way that people do, I’m aware that people have joined my pixelated ‘train’ along the way, and I have joined theirs right back. We’ve developed that feeling of extended family with each other, celebrated one another’s growth and in some cases, taken that pixelated train friendship to the real world. There are still so many co-passengers that I know so little about, perhaps joined the same train a little later and missed one another’s back stories. That means that we can assume knowledge on the part of the reader that they simply don’t have, given we have recently alighted onto one another’s ‘trains’, and that can make posts feel a little cryptic.

So to my pixelated train friends, I don’t want to be cryptic, I just want to be Ruth Penfold; sold as seen.

This is me, giving you a new chance to get to know some of my backstory, in the hope that I get a new chance to get to know you a little better in return.

  1. I was born in Carlisle and lived in Northumberland until I was 7, then moved to Bristol until I was 19 and settled in London for University where I have been ever since. I have never lost the essence of my northern roots; the open heart and the conversations with strangers (often on trains haha), but have complimented that with a little southern sass for good measure.
  2. I was an effervescent, loud, creative and independent child, who fed herself as soon as she was able and was intensely focused on things that she found interesting, but struggled to focus on things that she didn’t. Very soon I learnt to judge my own merits in the eyes of others, which meant I quickly shed my innate operating model to become what I thought the world needed me to be.
  3. I rebelled for a lot of my teens, determined to grow up super fast and experience as much as I could of what life had to offer. I was driven to be independent and make my mark in the world, and got a job as soon as I was able to. Seeking validation in the eyes of others meant I was constantly striving and seeking admiration, rebellion was the tool I used at the time that allowed me to find it.
  4. I studied Business Law and Marketing at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan). Whilst I didn’t pursue a career in the Law, the course was an essential ingredient for me as it taught me that I was smart enough to achieve around 70% in all my Legal papers. Up until that time I had identified as an entertainer and someone who had bucketloads of common sense, but found a lot of traditional education hard.
  5. At around the time of my move to London, I got embroiled in a codependent abusive relationship which didn’t serve me, and spent 12 years applying the majority of my energy on trying to make that doomed relationship successful. I felt like if I worked a bit harder or gave a bit more, things would be better. I was wrong. I landed my approval-seeking squarely at the door and in the eyes of my ex husband, and fought for years to try to find it. Honestly that was a big part of why I stayed, constantly striving, constantly seeking admiration, seeking love.
  6. After University I fell into recruitment, and spent the next 13 years working in smaller boutique recruitment businesses. I was with the first company for eight years, and was a Director of that business. At the time my self esteem was so low, that I felt silly calling myself what I perceived to be such a lofty title, so I often downplayed it on my CV. In actual fact I was running the team and bringing in a healthy revenue; I was indeed a Director.
  7. At the age of 27 my life started to shift when I started to be inspired to choose something different by the people around me, first with my dear friend Emily Robertson, who shone a light on many of the areas of self neglect in my world. The awakening was a slow process, but at the age of 30, when the pain of remaining became bigger than the pain of leaving, I set myself free and started my life over again.
  8. At this time I moved to Notting Hill, an epicentre of eccentricity and life. It was across the backdrop of this neighbourhood that I allowed my healing journey to really unfold, a journey that continues to this day, each week shining a little brighter and feeling a little wiser than the last. I now understand who I am and what my triggers are, I take full responsibility for my environment, the integrity with which I operate and how I ‘show up’ in the world. Every day is a school day.
  9. As part of this journey of self discovery, I started to meet people who looked interesting and that I admired in some way. I’d invite people for coffee and see where it took me. The whole world had suddenly opened up for me, and whilst it was a little overwhelming at times, I chomped down the new experiences and learnt a tonne about lots of different people and ways of working, largely across the creative spaces as I felt like the energy of those people matched my own my closely.
  10. That intense drive saw me spend a couple of years working across the art world in my spare time, curating a couple of shows and working with artists to help them network with galleries. I fell in love with art and became determined to learn everything I could about it. I quickly became part of a brilliant art community. If you speak to me on a Zoom call, you will see that my walls are full of artwork as a result of this time. Whilst I was still seeking validation in this community, they simply seemed to accept me just as I was. I kept this work secret from the ‘professional’ sphere at the time as I thought it would be seen as a bad thing. Silly Penfold.
  11. Then I got a call from someone in my new network about a job with Shazam. At this point, I really wasn’t enjoying working in recruitment, it felt like a means to an end, but Shazam changed all that and suddenly I fell in love with my day job in a way I never had before, so the art stuff fell away. Shazam is an app loved by many, and I was at last able to see all the ways that I could truly add value to a business when my heart was engaged. It was at Shazam that I was able to develop a true sense of self respect for my work ethic and what I was able to deliver. It was at Shazam where I gave myself the permission to show up as my whole self, warts and all.
  12. By finding my authentic voice and using that voice to connect to others, I had quite unconsciously also started to build my own personal brand, blogging and being someone who often spoke on panels and at conferences. Saying yes to those opportunities awakened a side of myself that I had allowed to become dormant; the entertainer. I found my voice and through my passion and love for my work, had quite a lot to say about the People space and the growth of the working world in general.
  13. Outside of work, the journey to self continued with a segway into the yoga world. As I began to find the means to connect to my body, I fell in love with the practice of yoga and decided to learn how to teach. I have been teaching now in my spare time for almost four years. This moment was complemented by learning more about meditation, and somewhere between those two things, I found the ability to be still and find my breath. I stopped striving for a moment, and learnt that the person that was inside me wasn’t someone I needed to keep running away from.
  14. I was at Shazam for almost 5 years, and during that time many companies tried to hire me to do what I had done for Shazam, but I didn’t want to live Groundhog Day. Through the network I had created, I was given the opportunity to step into a broader People role at Onfido, my first role at Executive level. It was like a grown up grad scheme, and I was laden with imposter syndrome, but I kept leaning in and I learnt a tonne. I am truly proud of what we achieved as a team during my time there. This time I showed up as my whole self from the get go and in doing so, gave other people the permission to do the same.
  15. The Launchpad role appeared and it was too good an opportunity to turn down; to build an organisation that supported and accelerated the growth of new technology companies in the energy space. Our role is to bring the very best of bp to the companies we support, whilst maintaining their agility and ability to scale rapidly. I am learning each and every day, and as Launchpad we are trying to build something a little different. We approach the People stuff with very much a product mindset, and are really just getting started. I can’t wait to see what we can build together.
  16. I have spent the last 10 years studying humans; who we are, how we are and why we are. I know what it has taken for me to put myself in an environment where I can truly thrive; mind, body, soul. I am hugely compelled to take this knowledge and apply it to the wider world, supporting people to grow on an individual level, but also supporting organisations to operate in a way that allows the human being to find their authentic voice and thrive. This is a subject that I never tire of.
  17. This year I also launched my podcast; Pancakes and Peacocks. It is a podcast which focuses on joyful living. When I talk about joy, I don’t mean something giddy and temporary, I mean the deep feeling of calm when you are truly walking in alignment with who you are, what you really want and making choices that serve you. As so much of the positive momentum in my life has been created through the inspiration of others, this pod is a chance for me to share some of those people with you all, in the hope that you might feel a little inspired also. Oh and my love of pancakes is real. It’s not just a podcast title. I eat a version of some kind of pancake most days and I am always hacking and creating new ones.
  18. Since lockdown in London in March, I haven’t been teaching yoga, so I have been applying that energy into things like mentoring, whilst working on my own practice. Daily exercise is one of the cornerstones of my existence. By learning to honour what my body really wants and needs in the past decade, that has influenced how I rest, how I move, what I consume. The work here is continuous and I am constantly iterating on my operating model to created the best possible lived experience for myself. Hacking things and optimising life is one of my very best things to do.
  19. When I stripped it all away, it turns out I am still that loud and effervescent child who is fiercely independent, but I have at last learnt to stop looking for validation and love in the eyes of others, or at least, I have learnt how to catch myself when I am and instead learning to look inwards. I have learnt the the only love and admiration that truly counts is that which you fine within yourself. It is that steady, committed, consistent love that forms the foundation of my world and I fall in love with myself a little more each day. I work hard to stay committed to my truth and to live from that place as often as possible.
  20. I ground my day to day life and interactions in a place of love. I meet new people like old friends. I talk unashamedly about love often in a business context and see no divide between who we are professionally and personally. Now showing up as my whole self is instinctive, I no longer have to think about it in the way that I used to. I am delighted to share all of me with all of you, in the hope that I inspire you to feel able to do the same in your own world.

You can expect to see me dialling up on even more honesty in the coming weeks and months, as I endeavour to find new ways to share what I have learnt with you all, in the hope that you will feel inspired to do the same with me right back.

This is my stop. Same time tomorrow…?

That time when I learnt how to manage expectations

Some of the biggest moments of disappointment we can feel in life happen when our expectation of the world and the people around us fails to match our actual lived experience. We expect something from another person, they fail to deliver and we spiral into a whole host of emotional reactions.

Our misery and our suffering in those scenarios is basically entirely of our own making. The action doesn’t change, we aren’t in charge of that part. But our reaction…? That’s all us.

We start this process as children, albeit involuntarily. Our little brains map the world around us and set their expectations. They fail to enlist the rest of the world in their expectation mapping, so of course, the world and the people in it, do whatever it is they are going to do. Our little brains then spiral as they struggle to pick up the pieces.

As adults, our relationships continue to suffer as a result of the expectations we have of others. They form the bedrock for many of the disagreements and emotional disturbances within relationships, whether personal or professional. The idea of having a dividing line between these different kinds of people groupings really is silly, if you have at least two people attempting to communicate, you are in relationship.

Our expectations are also something we use to clip and restrict the people around us.

When we share our disappointment that people have failed to meet our expectations, we then pass the emotional reaction on, and the other person may then start to clip themselves to try to meet our ‘needs’, and make themselves behave in a way that means they aren’t really being who they are.

That isn’t to say that constructive feedback isn’t important, or that sharing your truth isn’t important, but it is important you become tangibly aware of the emotional loading you present to other people, and try to operate from your most rational state of being as often as possible.

Just imagine how powerful it would be for our emotional wellbeing if we were able to simple let things go without reaction, meet our own needs and let people just be who they are. If we are able to dismiss others of the ‘roles’ we expect them to assume in our lives, whether because they are titled to do so (brother, sister, mother, father…) or simply because we have landed them with our emotional responsibility and let them just be people.

When we allow others to be just who they are and develop a relationship with their truth, the whole world benefits. That’s the place where the magic happens.

This is something that I have been quietly working on; letting go of my own expectations and working on my ability to self soothe when I feel triggered. To create more solid ground within myself and find the means meet my own emotional needs and reduce my emotional loading on others.

I’m lucky enough to call my parents two of my best friends.  This is possible because we have worked (and are working) to remove the shackles of the roles we were assigned in one another’s lives, to create a platform for friendship and honesty together, to develop a relationship with one another’s truths.

When I first really buckled down on the journey back to myself, one of the things I found essential was to deep dive into my childhood and look at what led to me ending up making the choices I’d chosen. A bit like safe breaking in human form. We have to crack our own codes to crack ourselves open.

This deeper understanding of self is essential but the next step is even more so. Once you’ve figured this stuff out; Let. It. Go. Whatever experiences may have formed my blueprint of self, once I acknowledge them, I let them peacefully go.

Now we allow ourselves to just be Ruth, John and Tricia. I see them as the beautiful beings that they are. I don’t need anything from them, but instead choose to keep building and investing in the friendship that I have with each of them, and they choose to do the same in return. I am getting to know them on a deeper level; who they are, why they are the way they are and we continue to grow together.

There is no miracle pill here, there is only awareness.

When I feel that creeping ache of disappointment, or the angry flare of an expectation not being met, I do the following:

  1. Stop. I sometimes say out loud to myself and the thoughts in my brain; stop that nonsense Penfold! Talking into a mirror can work really well here. If you find that silly, I would ask you to consider how silly it is to allow yourself to suffer by playing things over and over in your brain. Smile at yourself, pull a face; honestly whatever it takes to break the reaction.
  2. Breathe. I take a moment to connect into myself at a deeper level. Find a way to access the calm, steady rational human that lives deep within. Meditation works well for me here.
  3. Rationalise. I allow myself a conversation with rational side of myself and realise that I am the master of my own disappointment here. A really good trick I have learnt is to allow your irrational self to write out their feelings on the subject, then have your rational self dissect it, bit by bit.
  4. Let it go. I sometimes physically shake it off. Mainly I allow my rational self to simply sooth the irrational side of myself, almost like singing myself a lullaby.
  5. Repeat as often as needed.

When you are able to better rationalise your expectations, you clear the space for true friendship to flourish and for love to blossom. It doesn’t mean the emotions stop coming, it just means that we become better equipped at letting them pass when they do.

It is completely possible to take total responsibility for our own joyfulness, by simply taking the wheel ourselves and releasing others from the shackles of our expectation drama.

That time when I realised that it was a no brainer

I read a great quote recently by a human called Glennon Doyle; “I will not stay, not ever again – in a room, or conversation, or relationship, or institution, that requires me to abandon myself.”

This caused me to reflect again on this notion of abandonment, because that’s exactly the right word for what so many of us do to ourselves. We live a life of separateness, living from the mental energy in our minds but not from our bodies, living for other people but not for ourselves. Why do we do that? My theory is that it is our misplaced survival instinct that kicks in when we are children, our overwhelming drive to stay ‘safe’ that clips and rearranges our perspective of the world and our sense of self within it.

If we get lucky as an adult, perhaps we get inspired to start the journey back to who we really are. The funny thing with this kind of journey though, is there is no beginning and there is definitely no end, but instead a delicious dance of discovery, learning and unlearning the things that we have picked up along the way; the good, the bad, the ugly.

When do we leave?

When I look back over my life, I can see that this survival instinct kicked in for me super early on, when little Penfold decided that to be ‘safe’, it was better not to be with herself and instead, look for the clues of who she should be in the eyes of others. To shrink rather than to expand.

She burst into the world in 1980, full of sass and independence. She insisted on feeding herself as soon as she could hold a spoon. She was giddy, playful and inquisitive. She was free. She loved fearlessly. Then she noticed the world around her and the adults within it. She watched how they worked and how they did things, and made a firm calculation on who she thought she needed to be to thrive.

Sometimes there can be big traumatic things we experience as children that shape us, but for a lot of us, it isn’t really about one big event; it is the insidious impact of the societal conditions we have all collectively created.

The notion of safety

A big part of the work that we all need to do to be better humans (read here: the deep aching need for anti racism work), comes down to our ability to unlearn the way we have been conditioned to react to the world around us and the people within it.

When you are a little person, your brain starts to look around you and create blueprints for the world and what you need to do to stay ‘safe’ in situations. That might mean not being so loud, so bold and so vibrant. This process is what clips us into the people we are today.

However much I may have clipped and trimmed little Penfold to keep her ‘safe’, my experience doesn’t even slightly compare to a Black person’s lived experience and the way that you may have clipped yourselves to live and stay ‘safe’ in and amongst whiteness.

How do we evolve?

The process of unlearning and the ability to call out the old patterns and methods we have used to stay ‘safe’ is therefore key for all of us to support our collective evolution. This stuff is insidious, so to really make headway with it you have to become hyper-alert to the reactions in the body that tell you that you feel under threat in some way. Anxiety provides a whole spectrum of signs for you to feel but you have to learn how to connect into feeling them.

We often live from those reactions, and think that layer of mental energy is who we really are. When in reality, that is just a thin layer. If you are able to learn how, you can develop the tools to drop more deeply into connection with who you really are, which is something far grander (thank you Sara Williams).

When reactions come up in the body, if you have become able to feel them you create the opportunity to make a choice. You can choose to stay small and safe in that moment, or you can choose to make an expansive choice of evolution. When faced with those moments, it is important to come back to you: Where am I right now? What am I bringing to the situation? What is my most expansive step forward?

If it isn’t enough for you to want to set yourself free and get back to your essence, then do it for the human beings you walk alongside, whether proximate or not. This work doesn’t just make you a better person in terms of your ability to call out your own biases and protect the experience of others, it also means that you ultimately get to walk closer to your truest self; the deeply calm fabulous being that sits at the very seat of your consciousness.

Appetite for distraction

Distraction is the thing that keeps us in the suspended animation on this stuff, this is how we can spend years and years, almost as if asleep and certainly not evolving. The brain is a master at creating new distractions and finding new things to obsess over. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that the brain doesn’t add serious value overall, but we have to weaponise it in a peaceful way to truly evolve.

When I look back over my 40 years, I can track a myriad of different distraction techniques that kept me in suspended animation and living a kind of half life where I sometimes wasn’t evolving. I have lived vicariously via the television in my 20s, I have lived in a blur of alcohol in my teens, I have lived a life of screen obsession in my 30s. Those are just the headlines, there are a million tiny distractions packed into each of those decades. Even a tool for connection like meditation can be pounced upon by the brain to do the reverse and give you a platform to check out, as I have recently learnt the hard way.

Get connected

The key to my continued awakening is connection. By learning how to meditate (and stay connected) and getting comfortable with just being me in my stillness, and learning what that feels like. In connection, you can live in your essence and from a place of truth, you can call out the nonsense from your brain and choose a better path, a path that supports you and the world around you to flourish.

The struggle is real, but I guess the questions you have to ask yourselves are: Do you want to stay living in separation or do you want to evolve? Do you want to stay small or do you want to grow into every inch of the magnificent being you can be? Do you want to support the evolution of yourself so that you can support the evolution of our societies?

For me, that’s a no brainer.

That time when I had real hope that love might finally win

It feels like this year we have reached a critical moment in our development as a species. We are being called to dig deep and rethink how we are living and most importantly, how we treat one another and how we love.

We are being called upon to rise up and fight against two deadly virus strains, COVID-19 and racism. Whilst the former seemed like an unimaginable thing to overcome a few short weeks ago, my sense is that it will wind up being a lot more straightforward than the latter.

For the former, we have seen different responses, but overwhelmingly have been seeing organisations leading with love where they can, and adopting a family first mentality. We have seen folks moving heaven and earth to care for one another. In a fairly stark state of affairs I am happy to say that we’ve seen a lot of love.

The latter though involves something much deeper than a lot of people feel comfortable stepping into. It calls for calls for a whole new spectrum of love. It calls for people to step into a space of deep personal inquiry and exposure to things that cause discomfort. Humans have an inbuilt protection system that seeks to escape pain, which sometimes can be useful. This time, however, we have to override that system, we have to love enough to put aside our personal discomfort and dive in anyway.

Getting comfortable with discomfort

What I would say to people feeling any degree of discomfort right now at the idea of diving into this level of inquiry, is to compare that discomfort to the lifetime of abuse that black people have experienced, over and over again. When you think about it in those terms, it becomes a little easier to reconcile any moderate discomfort of your own.

The call right now is for deep analysis of the structure of the world we are living in and positive change across every level. To have any hope at doing that, we have to understand the complexity of the challenge in a real way. And by we, I really mean white people. This is a time for awakening and awareness.

Lead with love

As business leaders and as human beings I would like to see more of us being honest about not having the answers just yet, of being prepared to listen, to learn and to gradually iterate our organisations and society in a way that gives rise to positive momentum for our black communities.

Here are some of the things I am choosing right now to support that mission:

1. Seeking education

There are so many phenomenal talks online happening right now, there are so many documentaries and talks already available, there are so many books to read and people to listen to. The only thing you really need to do is to step into the unknowing and be prepared to listen, be prepared to unlearn the things you think you know about yourself and the world around you. Here is a great resource as a starter for ten, and I will keep sharing more as I find them.

My loving audit of my current internal and external environments is only just getting started. As someone who has always taken an active interest in other peoples lived experience, I have been shocked by just how much more I have learnt (and unlearnt) in the past week and my learning will continue. I am tangibly and increasingly aware of my privilege.

2. Sharing ideas, even if they feel a little clumsy

Change often starts with the sharing of ideas, before taking a specific action. Who are the people you might be able to reach out to discuss some of what you are already thinking? If you want to reach out to me to have a conversation about this, clumsy or otherwise, I would love to hear from you. I am committed to sharing ideas as often as possible with as many people as possible, this week alone I have six calls set up with people to discuss this very topic.

3. Taking the time to connect with people and really listen

I am thrilled to hear the phrase ’employee activism’ more and more. That for me is a positive sign that we are getting something right, even in a small way, for it means that we have so far been successful in creating an environment where people feel sufficiently empowered to step up and have their voice heard.

My ask to you all as employees is that you keep speaking up. Keep showing businesses where the blind spots are. In technology we hire people quite deliberately who will challenge, who will help us see what we are missing. This will be essential for us to move towards an anti racist environment for all.

4. Creating a safe space for the education of others

We need to call out what we see and hold one another to account on what those things are, but we have to keep loving each other in the process. We have to be prepared to forgive one another when we get things wrong, and in doing so, love harder than we ever have before to really make progress here.

As business leaders and as human beings, this is where we have to lead from the front on our openness to challenge. We have to normalise difficult conversations and help everyone step into the discomfort by creating an environment where it is safe to do so.

5. Being collaborative

Human beings are born whole and with everything we ever really need to thrive within us. If we are in a difficult moment in time and aren’t thriving, we simply haven’t configured ourselves in quite the right way to be able to access the parts of ourselves that we need to overcome those things. Once we learn how to access our toolkit, we can learn to configure ourselves in the right way to thrive. All with our own natural resources.

My hopeful heart would like to apply that analogy to current state of our society. I believe that we have all we need to put ourselves back together the right way this time, with our collective natural resources. But it will take all of us, and I mean all of us, to really make that change happen and to work together to find the right configuration to enable us all to truly thrive.

Start small to create big changes

Whilst we are a long way from a solution here and I sure don’t have the answers yet, what I do know how to do, is to change things, having done so much of it in my own world.

When faced with change in my own tiny plot of earth, at first the magnitude of the change needed has often felt overwhelming. The only way I have been successful in creating radical change in my life, is by breaking everything down into tiny choices. Rather than attempting to swallow the watermelon whole, by cutting it into slices.

When we break the big things down into the thousand tiny choices that they really are, things become way more manageable. It’s almost like you trick yourself into believing the simplicity, in order that you can grow into the space needed to make the big change. Those tiny thousand choices soon add up to the big change that seemed too big to fathom.

We won’t suddenly build an anti-racist society by simply doing one big thing. It will be those thousands of tiny choices that we all make in our own lives that add up to creating the kind of radical change we all need to see.

Let’s commit to taking those baby steps day to day and keep asking ourselves; in this moment, in this day, in this scenario, is there something I can choose here that will support this transformation? Or to use the words of Abadesi Osunsade; “Is this going to help to build an anti racist society or is this going to hurt it?”

That time when I became purposeful

To have a sense of purpose is one of the things we crave most in our lives as humans. We want to feel like we are working towards something we believe in and that the things that we are doing create some form of impact. In the past few years this concept has gone from being an idealism to a must have for many of the humans in our workforce.

Honesty who could blame them? When we ignite that elusive sense of purpose, that is truly where the magic happens. Who wouldn’t want to feel like that?

In realising this drive towards purposeful living, employers around the globe have worked hard to define what theirs is in the hope that by being clear about it, talented people will take on their purpose as their own. For some businesses it is easy to define a clear purpose that people can get behind (renewable energy I am looking at you haha), for others it can be a little harder.

Whilst hard, it is super important that companies establish the clarity needed so that people can understand their collective purpose, that part I am fully on board with. Though rather than hoping that talented people will take theirs on as their own, what they should be hoping for is that those talented people find a way to align their own purpose to the collective one. Sounds like a small difference I know, but the output is night and day in terms of performance.

You see my friends, like a lot of things, a REAL sense of purpose can only come from within.

The thing that drives humans to do the unimaginable and to innovate beyond any of our wildest dreams, is the fire in our bellies because we truly believe in the value of something. It connects into something deep within us that resonates and causes us to act.

Deep down within us all we instinctively feel how we might be able to do good things in the world, what we aren’t so great at is being connected enough to ourselves to know what that is. If a business has done a good job of defining their purpose, there’s a chance the right sparks of inspiration can ignite those dormant notions within us and cause us to light up, ready to bring our very best to the thing we are doing.

For many years now I have managed to feel a sense of connection to the businesses I have worked with. I have fallen in love with the people, the mission and the values. If you’ve read my blogs over the years, you will have no doubt seen me enthuse about what I am up to in some way shape or form most of the time. When I am invested in something, I tend to go all in. It’s actually harder for me to not to fall in love with something that it is for me to fall truly madly deeply.

When I first decided to join the Launchpad, I have to be honest and say I had some trepidation around the idea of joining BP; big company, new sector and so on. As the interviews progressed and as I kept meeting more BP folks, a common thread started to weave amongst them all, that thread was one of goodness. At the time, I wasn’t even really aware of it, I just came away from every meeting thinking to myself; I don’t know what it is about this thing but I want to be a part of it.

As a double agent in the business world who also holds space in the yoga community, I also experienced quite a few raised eyebrows when I announced I was joining a BP business, and frankly a bit of judgement. I chose instead to trust the steady voice inside myself saying; this is a great move for you Penfold, lean in.

Now just like me in my own life, this is not a company that hasn’t made mistakes. But just like me in my own life, this is a company that has always given its best based on what it knows and what it has. And just like me in my own life, this is a company that makes love the foundation of everything, placing the human experience at the heart.

Ben Horowitz talks about this idea of War Time CEO vs Peace Time CEO in his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” (fun and informative read if you haven’t read it), and what our leaders are being called to lead through right now is definitely something closer to war. It’s brutal out there and I am thrilled to see people leading with love.

This past week we have seen the emergence of some phenomenal leadership from Brian Chesky at Airbnb as he schooled the world on lead through adversity, make tough decisions and remaining people centric and true to the lifeblood that is driving your business. In his open letter to colleagues about the significant workforce reduction, he mapped out a completely human letter and process for the way that people would be informed. In a true act of kindness in the face of adversity, he minimised opportunity for unnecessary worry in those who weren’t directly impacted. He led with love.

For anyone who follows me on LinkedIn, you will no doubt have seen me fan-girling our new CEO at BP, Bernard Looney. He, with the support of the entire organisation, has also placed people very firmly at the heart of BP’s response to the crisis we are living through. His first message to everyone was “family first” and he has since done everything he can to offer support and provide the transparency he is able to at a time where peoples’ worries cross a myriad of different levels. He leads with love.

In watching this unfold, I realised that what connected me to BP in those early in interview stages was this very strong sense of deep care for people, and one that very much echoed my own. Now I am not going to say that I am not excited about the incredible potential for innovation we have at the Launchpad, to build new energy businesses and shape shift the way we energise the world, but for me that’s not the thing.

For me the thing is people. It is having the chance to try to craft a great human experience both within the Launchpad and that of the businesses we are supporting to grow, and to do that with a feeling of total alignment with the business that enables us to what we are doing. We lead with love.

I have spent a lot of time over the years searching for purpose, only to find that my experiences were crafting one for me that I did’t really need to search for. I found my purpose when I found my way back to myself. I found my purpose when I realised I could take the learnings I have made in my own life and use my own experience of growth to help facilitate that experience in the lives of others. I found my purpose in love.

I truly believe it is possible for every human to find their own perfect storm of purpose, and boy am I fired up to see how many humans I can support to get there.

That time when I felt our collective heartbeat

Pre lockdown, I was lucky enough to hear some words of wisdom on leadership from Owase Jeelani, Paediatric Neurosurgeon at Great Ormond Street (special thanks to businessfourzero for making that happen). He’s a remarkable human who has become famous for the work he has done on separating conjoined twins.

As you can imagine, this isn’t a one person job by any stretch. There is a whole surgical team that needs to come together to create a successful surgical outcome. That team may need to assemble quickly and though some may have experience of each other, many won’t. This team then has to find a way to work together in the right way on this incredible task. Fast.

He spoke of finding the right flows of working together quickly, and having the right people in the right roles. The interesting thing with those in the medical profession as opposed to the startup space I am working in, is that we get to cherry pick the people we invite into the business, and they often don’t. They have to find a way to make it work with the team they are presented with, united by a common purpose.

At Launchpad we are building businesses and therefore assembling teams quickly, so I’ve become super fascinated (even more than I was before) on how we support teams to find their rhythm together as fast as they can, and to come together united by this elusive yet essential common purpose.

Our challenges are seldom life or death in the tech space happily, yet there is almost always a beating heart in the middle of it, driving things forward. Often that heart may come in the form of our Founders. The first team we have to support them build is that of the Founding team itself. Happily I don’t need to embark on a study of team dynamics to get this nailed down, Google did a pretty good job of that already with Project Aristotle. For the uninitiated, those things are:

Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? That takes love, respect and honesty. 

Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time? That takes consistency and commitment. We have to keep showing up for each other and ourselves. 

Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear? This comes from the top, and has to be felt by the entire team. 

Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us? It’s easy to find meaning in saving lives but how do we find the meaning in the business we are working in so that the team can translate it into their own lives. 

Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? A follow on from the above, how do we plug in what we need to feel as human beings, that what we do has value. 

[Taken from re:Work – The five keys to a successful Google team with some Penfold edits at the end]

I would completely back all of the above when it comes to building teams, but there is a little bit of new data I want to share with you that I learnt from Owase. You see friends, our bodies have physical responses to one another that we aren’t aware of consciously. Some of us find a way to tune into our own bodies and our reactions, and I am happy to say I am now one of those people. I can feel things like stress and anxiety when I am in a new situation but what I hadn’t thought about was the impact that even nuanced reactions may have on other people.

The fact is, we can all instinctively hear, see and feel those nuanced reactions in others; our bodies, without our brains being aware, are constantly listening and responding to the data they are being given from the body in front of them. Our bodies are always in tune with each other and can literally hear the beat of one another’s hearts.

We can feel the none verbal clues that someone is in stress response and their heart is beating faster, but we can also sense when someone feels super comfortable and their heart is in a happy rhythm. What happens when the people around us are super comfortable? We get more comfortable too. Without realising it, we enter into a chemical reaction with the people around us, where our own systems react to what we are presented with. In a difficult interaction, this often exhibits in stress responses and can cause us to reflect the same. By total reverse, when we are truly aligned with others and working in a state of flow, our heartbeats can also align.

YES. Our heartbeats can ACTUALLY align.

We can become so in sync with one another that our hearts can beat together in a perfect rhythm. Incredible right?

So when you have a team in balance, like that of Owase’s, who have managed to establish the right dynamics that allowed them to really love and support each another through something huge, they fell into rhythm with each others hearts. When a team gets to that place, that’s where the magic happens.

We often hear stories of the magic of the early days in startup, where the team finds this incredible symbiosis. People within that team will describe those moments of time as some of the best of their lives. Of course the challenge is that, even if we get to this magical place, nothing is fixed and things are constantly moving and evolving. Which means to keep creating and being part of that kind of collective team experience, we have have to keep moving and evolving with it.

To do that, and to find these moments more frequently and allow them to happen quickly within teams, I honestly believe this starts with your connection and commitment to yourself.

Every day offers a new opportunity to show up for yourself and those around you. To show up in love, to show up in commitment, to show up with purpose and intention, to show up being clear and managing expectations of those around you well, which ultimately builds trust. Your steadiness will support the steadiness of the team around you.

At Launchpad we were a team of individuals who were thrown together quickly, and had to find a way to come together fast to unite towards a common purpose. We were all bought in to the mission around energy transformation when we joined, but have definitely had to put in a little work to create the kind of team dynamics I speak of above.

Yet in this moment in time we are living in, I have recently felt a shift within my very own team. The new world order dynamics have meant that we have become closer together and more in tune. We have had to pivot quickly into a new way of working, support one another and make fast decisions. For us, we are fortunate that unlike Owase, those have not had the weight of life or death, but they have still been significant for those within the team and within the lives of our people.

Whilst we can’t be together as a team at the moment, if I take a breath in the middle of a video call, there are moments where I can feel our collective heartbeat. I can feel this rising sense of common purpose, I can feel the energy of supportive forgiveness and I can’t wait to feel into the rhythm of the team when we come back together again. And for the teams that we are supporting, building and nurturing in our resident community, we can’t wait to beat alongside you until your hearts beat in a collective rhythm of their own.