Home » Uncategorized

Category: Uncategorized

That time when I realised the true value of social health

Loneliness is a silent assassin for some of us. 

Some people feel the absence of humans more keenly and quickly, but there are many of us who quietly noodle along, contentedly solo, seemingly all gravy but living with the absence of human connection.

During lockdown in London, this was very much me. I felt very comfortable in my own company, and became super insular, feeding my soul by simply walking up and down Portobello Road and getting to see and interact with humans from afar. I managed to still maintain my close friendships virtually but the people I saw IRL were usually Amazon people or staff at the local grocery store.

I was lonely. I missed humans, but I didn’t consciously realise it for a while. Then sadness came my way and I finally let myself feel and acknowledge my loneliness.

After I acknowledged it, I then did everything I could to change it, and made sure I saw my people more.

Our social well-being is up there with all of the other key things we need to thrive. The World Health Organisation states: ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

Our social circle matters. Our connection to our community matters. It is a very important component of what we need to thrive.

Now I am adapting to a different life, one that means that I have a partner, and therefore human contact in abundance, but I am also in a new place, trying to find my tribe and create a new community.

Moving country is a trip for sure, full of magical new things, but also full of sadness for the people and places you have left behind. I am both delighted to be experiencing new things, and also missing my community and my people. I feel a longing for connection and at times, loneliness.

I’m determined to prioritise my social well-being, now knowing just how much it matters, and make sure that I make new friends here IRL.

Here are some of the things I am planning to do:

  • Try out the local co working space; look out for the person who has her eyes darting up and down from the laptop, and keeps getting coffee haha.
  • Go to a few local classes; look out for the person getting there early and staying late, starting conversation as we grab our yoga mats.

I’ve written before about a more positive definition of resilience. Which is really to know ourselves and our emotions well enough to know what we need, and then take the steps we need to take to get ourselves to more stable footing. What I have just described to you above my friends, is resilience in action.

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.

Structure: I need my days to follow a set structure to thrive, before that I operated in chaos.

Support: I have my team assembled that support me in different ways on different things, and I am always adding new members (see above haha).

Self love:  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.

My invitation to you all is to take a moment think about your social well-being. Do you get to spend time with a variety of people who light you up? Do you need to add a few more in, and create the space to meet new humans?

How can you feed and water your community this week?

That time when I realised that leadership is the energy you operate in

Leadership isn’t about what role you currently hold, leadership is the energy you operate in. 

Difficult relationships can provide us with some of our biggest stressors. At one time I had a particularly difficult relationship with a boss. Looking back I can see that my enthusiasm for working on things that I was passionate about could easily have been annoying, but at the time, it was a different story. 

I would lean on the counsel of friends regularly, really just looking to offload and have them soothe my heart and give me sympathy for this terrible person I had in my life. 

Then one day something clicked. I read a book called “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander, something about that book and the idea of assuming the best in others, made my look carefully at the relationships I was participating in. In the case of my boss, I wasn’t assuming the best when I interacted with them, I was assuming the worst. 

I was holding my breath each time we interacted, which meant that I wasn’t allowing the space for anything to flow. I was leading the situation, but leading it to a negative outcome. 

I decided to do the conversational version of breathing out. I relaxed, I started to sit in open body postures in our meetings, I smiled, I opened my heart and I stopped assuming the worst. 

And it worked. Gradually that person began to exhale also, and over time, their energy matched my own. 

What I had done was become the positive leader in that situation. By taking responsibility, I had lead us to embrace a different dynamic together. I realised then how much power I truly held in the way I allowed myself to experience others. 

Leadership as an energy 

In a recent coaching conversation, we got into the weeds of dissecting what it means to step into positive leadership energy. 

We ended up landing on the idea that it is when you have managed to step into being vs performing. 

What do we mean by that? 

Most of us have spent and or spend a lot of our lives performing. Our early blueprint of life sets the foundation for the personalities we curate. 

For a while I used to think my personality was me being truly authentic, it isn’t. It’s a series of ways of being I have concocted to stay safe in the world. If I can make you smile, I’m safe. If I can show you I see you and care, I’m safe. 

Our personality is a performance. 

But look, that performance is so etched in who we have become, I’m not suggesting that we are ever going to lose it.

What we can do though is dial up on our being-ness.

  • Being is when we are on the journey to love ourselves. 
  • Being is when we start to appease less, and ask ourselves who we are seeking to serve in each moment. 
  • Being is when we know how to connect with the stiller parts of ourselves and do so. 
  • Being is when we start to celebrate our abilities. 
  • Being is when we start to live in alignment with our values. 
  • Being is when live our boundaries. 

Being is when we take responsibility for our role in our lives and breathe out all the things we are holding onto. 

Dialling up our being-ness takes work, and a commitment to do so. There may still be some ways that we find ourselves performing along the way to get there, and that’s okay too. 

When I was learning to have boundaries, I felt I had to hold them very firm and rigid. I was performing my boundaries, because I hadn’t had them before so had to hold them very rigid. When I finally started to let go, and let myself be, my boundaries became softer, and more fluid again, but landed in a way where they still serve me first. 

If you can just start with one tiny thing, to BE a little more this week, boundaries might be a great place to start. There might be small things that you can hold a little firmer on, until they find their natural way of being. 

For each of the ways I talked about us being, they are the definition of leadership energy. If we can step into it and claim it, it’s the single best thing that we can do for the people around us, because by doing so, we invite them to do the same for themselves. 

That time when I learnt the value of values 

I know I’ve been speaking a lot lately about the importance of becoming aligned with our own values, but trust me folks, this stuff is dynamite. I’ve started to work with a few of my coaching clients on this very topic and it’s enabling some really powerful conversations. 

The new year is felt by different people in different ways and in different ways on different days. Some years you might feel pumped; like hell yeah come at me. Some years you might just feel a little overwhelmed. 

This year I am both.

Wherever you are right now on your new year spectrum this year, I got you. 

There is something that you can use to ground yourself in the moment, whatever that moment is: your value system. 

I didn’t know the value of values for the longest while. I think I had some kinda awareness of my intuition but I totally disregarded it. If my nervous system was freaking out about something, a person or a situation, I overrode it. I simply wasn’t aware of the signs my body was giving me. 

I lived a highly stressed, highly disconnected life for a reeeeeeeally long time. 

The first time I listened to my intuition I didn’t know I was doing it. It was when I chose to leave my ex-husband and file for divorce. The pace of change at that time was so fast for me, that I simply went on autopilot to get through it. 

The first time I consciously learnt how to access my intuition was a couple of years later. I was finding it hard to know what I wanted on any level, and a friend at the time simply advised me to start small and try to make decisions that made me happy. 

It was a rudimentary model to say the least, but I at least started to really think about what I wanted for the first time. I actually had some tattoos at the time to symbolise the things that I was using to steer me; ‘energy, strength, grace’ for the way I wanted to operate, ‘change’ for my appetite to try new things and ‘challenge, transcend, transform and explore’ for how I wanted to evolve. I didn’t realise then but this was my first foray into learning to live by my values.

I made choices more instinctively but still floundered often, making as many bad decisions as I did good ones. Still, it was a start. 

Things started to shift when I learnt the power of values at Shazam, where I took the business on their first journey to create their own.

Shazam, at the time, was a business surviving on passion and hadn’t done a great job of articulating what mattered to it most in terms of values and behaviours. I was leading Talent and working to attract brilliant minds to the organisation. For me it made sense to be able to speak about the reality of life at Shazam in that way. 

It was a journey to get there, but when we did, I understood this was so much more than an attraction tool, our values provided an operating model for how we choose to work together and make decisions. 

Having been single and unsuccessfully dating for a few years at this point, I realised that values could be a useful lens for making more personal decisions. 

I worked out my own values with a simple tool and started applying that to my dating life. It wasn’t just about who they were, it was about the person that I was when I was around them. That was perhaps the most important marker of all. 

The result was amazing. I have since rebooted my values a number of times and everything that I am doing right now (like my Pancakes & Peacocks pod) is formed around those values. 

Living in true alignment with my values is one of my most significant goals for 2022.

They are: 

⚡️ Innovation: with a focus on continuous improvement, I am careful to protect my space for creativity and problem solving

⚡️ Community: that I nurture and build strong relationships with other humans that enable us to share ideas and encourage one another to dream bigger

⚡️ Integrity: in how I show up, to myself first and foremost, for that is the foundation, but also in how I move through the world and live in my truest expression of me

⚡️ Love: I seek to love first, ask questions later. Love limitlessly and sincerely, myself first, then let that permeate everything that I do

⚡️ Courage: the value that is the foundation for all the others, to be brave enough to love, challenge, create and importantly, to ask for support

What are your values? If you want to do a simple exercise like I did in the beginning, you can use my worksheet here

Whichever kind of January person you are this year, goal focused, overwhelmed or something else. Let your values guide your decisions and you won’t go far wrong. 

Wishing you an aligned 2022, with love always.

That time when I realised that the way we do work isn’t working

As a People and Talent person for over two decades, I’ve built and rebuilt teams and organisations like Shazam, Onfido and bp Launchpad. Whilst I was in the thick of it, working hard towards trying to make these businesses successful made a lot of sense to me. This year though, things felt different.

I realised this year that I have seen similar culture struggles, relationship issues and growing pains play out over and over again within otherwise incredible organisations. Kind hearted, well-meaning, brilliant people come together to build something with the best of intentions. Some of the team (often the leaders) feel like they are creating a great culture, whilst many of the team feel like they are overwhelmed and underwhelmed, all at once. I have been on both sides of that coin at one time also.

By moving away from Talent and stepped into heading up People teams as a People person, I was responding to the call of my purpose by attempting to support other humans to find the flow of life, growth and work that works for them. I feel I only ever created glimmers of that. Instead it has felt like I have spent time either papering over the cracks of organisational distress or before that as a headhunter, helping them to leave it.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again so this summer I did something radical. I decided to stop. I left my job.

I took a break, a proper break.

There in the midst of the unravelling of my relationship with work, myself and where my frustrations lay, I realised that the way we do work isn’t working. Not for a lot of us.

Sure, there are magical pockets of people thriving here and there, but they are magical pockets. Across industries, across locations, I see soooooo many companies who aren’t able to create an environment where all their humans can really thrive.

I think we can do better. I think we can build something different. Something where we all actually thrive and feel like we belong.

Why does it matter so much?

Creating the space to innovate is essential, for humans, for businesses and for our society as a whole.

When people are thriving, that is when we do our best work. We become brilliant, bold and even more innovative and apply that energy to whatever we are doing. When we feel safe and like we belong, we are free to innovate without fear. When we feel the opposite, we spend all of our time in survival mode and working on the closest problem in our lives, rather than the ones that might be the most impactful. Until all the people in our organisations feel like they belong, we won’t ever truly get to experience the magic of them.

With space we can learn how to thrive, and once we create space for ourselves, we can learn how to build it for others.

I’ve decided to spend a little time unpacking the world of work and reimagining how we might do this better. I’m thrilled to be working with some brilliant clients who want to reimagine their environments currently, coaching some amazing humans and building out aa course with the ASPIRE team on how we create the space to innovate. I’ll be sharing my findings as I go, here in cyber space with writing and on my pod Pancakes and Peacocks.

If this is a mission that resonates with you, let me know. I am keen to see if there might just be a community of reimaginers out there who want to come on that journey with me. One of those reimaginers is definitely Jules Fedele. And taking her lead, I’m going to set some longer term impact focused goals, some very similar to Jules (that’s likely why we found each other!), you can hear her explaining them here.

I have realigned my purpose to be to help people and businesses to reimagine, experiment and reinvent our environments to create a space where we all truly thrive and feel like we belong. That translates to the following impact goals:

  1. To create space for innovation within humans, whether by supporting organisations to create that environment or by supporting the individual to create the space for themselves.
  2. To support leaders to step into a truer expression of themselves through deep self awareness and being to lead from that place in what Jules refers to as Embodied Leadership. Only when we learn how to do it for ourselves can we really provide that space for others.
  3. To be part of a community of reimaginers that reinvents the idea of work to create a thriving community of beings of all life stages, that come together and create things, have a tonne of fun and step into the fullest expression of ourselves – mind, body, soul.

Who is up for a little reimagining with me?

That time when I realised that I wasn’t who I thought I was

Do you feel like you are enough?

It’s a big question, right?

It took me a long time to recognise that I didn’t and what choices that had caused me to make, but even longer to start to realise just how much of my ‘personality’ and behaviours are driven by that deep seated falsehood.

I thought I would share some of what I have been learning about me in the hopes that it might either evoke you into sharing some of what you have learnt with me about yourselves, or simply inspire you to delve a little deeper into your own voyage of discovery.

When I was very young, I was confident, fiercely independent and pretty intense, but also thoughtful and reflective. I knew I what I wanted and I had no issue asking for it. As soon as my parents start to feed me solid food with a spoon I insisted on holding it and doing it myself. That is who Ruth Penfold is.

In the years that followed, fairly quickly I began to observe what my being-ness did to others. I gradually learnt to unconsciously adapt my behaviour to create the reaction that I was looking for in others. This is how I created my persona; namely a set of behaviours that helped to make me feel safer in the world and a little more like I was enough.

Those were things like;

  • Finding a way to create warmth in interactions with new people quickly, ideally making them laugh by being silly and playful.
  • Holding back my voice and thoughts in interactions to make sure I speak in a way that doesn’t make people think less of me.
  • Not asking questions to create total understanding of what others are saying, so that they didn’t have a negative view of my level of intelligence.

By constantly calculating how I showed up in the world, what I was doing is not truly being present. I was (and sometimes still am) constantly searching for a way to create an opinion of me in others, rather than allowing them to feel me at my fullness.

I thought these behaviours were who I was.

I thought the warmth I was creating in interactions with new people was just me being that confident, unapologetic child I once was.

It wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to inject energy into interactions with others in the right way is beautiful. It is something I still celebrate about me, but now I am careful to connect into myself before I do so and that means I can better assess who I am serving in those interactions. Am I serving my truth or am I simply serving what I hope will be others’ opinions of me?

How did I realise this?

I first really became aware of this when I found that I would often not be successful in interviews for leadership roles. I would get feedback that people loved the interaction with me and ‘thought I was great’ but they didn’t have confidence in my ability to deliver things in a structured way.

Whilst my brain is definitely creative, I actually work in a fairly structured way. I am meticulous around deadlines and continuous improvement. In interviews, however, people weren’t able to feel that side of me at all.

When I became aware of it, I learnt how to take a breath and connect to myself before an interview. That enabled me to become a little more aware of when I was in ‘performance mode’ so that I could make sure that (what I thought at the time was) both sides of myself could show up.

Where am I now?

Whilst I have worked really hard on learning to connect to myself and speak with (and trust) my authentic voice, people sometimes still feel that disconnect. This year I have really become aware of that. When my ‘safety persona’ is in play, it means that people think that is who I am. When I show up differently, it can create a lack of trust.

If that’s something you have ever experienced about me, then I ask you for your forgiveness. I am always working on deepening my connection with myself in order to create a safe environment within, so that I can show up in every interaction as my most authentic self.

Since April, this has been something that I have really been focussing on and I have done a few things to support me with this:

  1. Connecting with those I work with most closely to create the right environment for giving and receiving feedback. It is important to me that I make sure that they feel able to call out to me where they see something that doesn’t feel authentic to them.
  2. I did a block of sessions with James Hansen. Through my work with him, I also made a new commitment to my closest people to speak up when I feel negatively impacted with them. Giving feedback is a skill that I have learnt and continue to learn professionally, but I can still find myself holding back when it is something that creates an emotional reaction in me. Truly honouring and speaking my truth in those situations is something I am working on.
  3. I became part of a Tribe. A Tribe is a group that comes together once a month to coach one another on whatever they are experiencing. We are only three sessions in but it is an incredibly enriching experience. Learn more about Tribes and how it works here. Through this group, my ask to them was to support me by calling out when they feel like I am not bringing my authentic self to the group. It was wonderful but a little overwhelming to show up to that group in my honest, raw and vulnerable form – no performance, just Ruth and all the shades of emotion that brings.

Perhaps the biggest thing I have learnt over the past three months is to love and accept myself fully in spite of these modes I have created to survive. I love and cherish myself even when I catch myself slipping into performance mode.

At my core I truly believe I am enough, and I will continue working on developing that understanding so that I can one day show up fully to all situations at my authentic best. If any of this post resonates with you, I’d love to hear more from you about what you are doing to work on truly claiming the human being you were always meant to be.

 

 

That time when I was wilfully blind

I was with my ex husband 12 years before I left him and I often get asked if it suddenly went wrong somewhere down the line, whether we grew apart or perhaps something happened that meant things changed between us.

The truth is, whilst we inevitably changed as people as we grew a little older, the relationship was wrong from the beginning. The actual beginning. As I look back at that moment in time, there weren’t just red flags around me, there were actual fires. The warning signs were clear; lies, manipulation and an attempt to wield control, yet somewhere in the haze of those fires, I told myself that this was the path that I wanted, and taught myself to believe we could build something together. I committed.

By choosing to ignore the clear signs that were there, I soon became somewhat numb to the bad things. The more bad things that occurred, the more numb I became. I passively challenged things as they occurred along the way, but I didn’t want to take the risk of learning the real truth of what was happening in my world in case that meant I lost the thing that I had at the time. I was afraid and through my fear I learned to ignore the reality of my situation and become wilfully blind.

It’s not just me, it’s likely to be you too 

The truth is my friends, none of us are immune to wilful blindness. Whether big or small, personal or professional there are many things that we all choose not to see on a daily basis.

We create little stories around why it’s okay for us to do this one thing, when deep down we know we ‘shouldn’t’. We seek to validate our choices with excuses to make ourselves feel more comfortable with our chosen path. Most of this plays out without us being consciously aware.

Some of this is just the brain’s way of keeping us safe. The brain thinks it is doing its job by minimising pain, but actually in doing so can keep us in a situation that actually harms us more and for a longer period of time.

The brain’s refusal to see the reality of the world around us and its attempt to keep us ‘safe’ can actually just keep us in suspended animation, or even worse, in danger.

What can we do about it

To really get better at being honest with ourselves about the reality of the situations we find ourselves in, we have to start by developing our relationship with ourselves. That’s the only way your true inner voice can ever be heard.

Some people don’t have to fight so hard to hear their inner voice. My younger sister is a total badass, but someone who has had more than her fair share of challenging interactions with the world. This happens because she refuses to “play the game”, her internal barometer is so strong that she calls bullshit when she sees it.

My sister, and others like her, are the folks that we need in the world who are brave enough to call out bad things when they see them happening. Whilst I know other people like my sister, I know many more people who would be more afraid to say something and speak out if they saw wrongdoing. It’s a muscle that I myself have been working on over the years, as the drive to stay ‘safe’ within myself is so damn strong.

Lean into the challenge 

Challenge takes bravery, guts and determination. If the life that you have lived so far hasn’t equipped you with what it takes to challenge the status quo around you (whether personal or professional), there is still hope. Like so many things, you can work to get better at it like I have.

I read Margaret Heffernan’s book on Wilful Blindness recently and she buckets the habits we need to get better at into two areas:

#1 Critical thinking

To really think critically, we need to overcome the urge to people please. The way our schools are structured means that we learn the dark art of informed obedience; we are celebrated when we give the “right” answer, but we are marginalised if we challenge or disagree.

Think about the handful of children you were at school with you walked their own path. At the time they were likely subject to bullying, whereas now, they are probably the humans amongst us who feel the most free. We need to start raising and educating individuals who think for themselves and challenge the status quo.

Start small on this stuff, and just begin asking yourself the question; “What am I not seeing here?”.

#2 Courage

Just like anything that takes a little practice, the only way you get better at doing it is by doing it. So your courage muscle can be increased by daring to be brave, perhaps just in small ways at first.

Whether it’s something in your own world or in the life of others, each of us owes it to ourselves and the world around us to develop the courage to intervene. One dissenting voice in a meeting can have a huge impact on the overall outcome. To do that we need to alter our thinking and perspective from me (how do I stay safe?) to we (how to we all thrive together?).

A hack in the meantime

Whilst we build these muscles, there’s a hack that you can use. Surround yourself with as many truth seekers as you can find. Find the folks that aren’t afraid to tell you what you don’t want to hear. That’s ultimately the thing that got me unstuck, I met a dear friend who called BS on much of what I told her about by life at that time.

The same works in business too, I like to make sure that I have a good amount of dissenting voices within my team. People who aren’t afraid to tell me what they see, and help me to realise what I don’t.

 

That time when I wanted to share a little gratitude for 2020

I spent the first part of my life in Northumberland, which is in the very far north of England, surrounded by the bracken of the Pennines. The leaves of ferns have long since held my fascination, and for me have carried this symbol of familiarity, of home. 

The would look just as magnificent when they died as when they were alive, and provided a real fascination as the new buds grew, like funny little gnarled hands. 

Ferns are incredibly hardy, and I had often thought of their magic in terms of resilience and ability to survive in different conditions. Perhaps though, their real magic can be found in their ability to start over, to begin again. They are often the first plants to show signs of recovery in wildfires. 

This year has given us more than most of us could really handle, certainly more than we expected or could have ever predicted. Whilst the wildfires of 2020 (metaphorical and actual) have brought a lot of devastation for many, they have also made many of us ask some of the questions that we hadn’t been asking ourselves. That questioning has made many of us rethink our ways of living and loving and see if we can do a little better, and like the ferns do so well, to begin again. 

I write this at a time when we are all being presented yet again with new data, with changes to what we had understood the rest of our year to hold in the UK. I understand just how hard that can feel, and how crushing to have things shift it can feel and be for our hearts and for our pockets, in the case of so many businesses. 

What 2020 gave me

I started this year with the intention of being over doing. Essentially, to do less and be present more. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it, but the intention was there nonetheless. 

If you read my blog often, you will know I talk a lot about meditation, and have had a daily practice for a number of years – though I don’t say that lightly, it was hard fought. Even with that, what has blown my mind is exactly how many activities I was still using for escapism. 

This year, living alone and spending much of the year solo, I have had to stop running at last. I have finally learnt how to stay. I have finally learnt to allow my emotions to speak to me and tell me what they need me to hear. 

Whilst I might have stopped running, it doesn’t mean that I outran my demons. It just means that when emotions and feelings occur, I have learnt how to invite them to come and take a seat next to me, and explain to me why they are there. 

Being able to sit still with myself and be peaceful with whoever and wherever I am in that moment has been a big shift for me this year, and the ability to hold myself and to cherish myself through it. 

The ability to begin again 

The end of the year is the time when many people tend to have a time for reflection, to look back on what they have achieved and where they want to be next. 

What I take from this year, and have seen when I look around me is the incredible human ability to begin again, to start over. Just like those magical ferns. Here are five of my 2020 favourites: 

  1. The way that I have seen new life in communities, closer to home and otherwise. When things get dark for us humans, we light up and get closer. To do anything else is counter to our instinct. Togetherness is what we were made for and should be the thing we fight hard for in 2021.  
  2. That the world has been shaken awake to realise that Black Lives Matter, at least in part. The conversations have become louder and have started to happen across tables where they hadn’t before. This is just the beginning, but the door is starting to open. Let’s fight for this collectively in support of togetherness even harder in 2021. 
  3. That we have loved and cared for ourselves and for one another in our darkest moments. The random acts of kindness, the selfless acts of service and even the simple smiles amongst strangers have taken on a whole new meaning. Many companies now have an unapologetic focus on employee wellbeing, in a way that has been needed long before 2020.
  4. For the innovation stories. This year has been brutal for businesses, but through the ashes I see strong ferns growing in their place. The work is far from done, but to my entrepreneur friends, I am so proud of all of you and the way that you have pivoted based on what the world has thrown at you this year. 
  5. For the fact that closer to home, COVID has brought me new love, and my own chance to begin again. I connected with an American boy by chance on Tinder (when they let everyone Tinder across the world for free) and we formed a friendship, which over time blossomed into something more. We found a way to meet IRL after three months, against all odds, and our love continues to grow. He’s been with me for Christmas and it has been the most beautiful gift of all. 

Somewhere amongst the flames of 2020, our recovery as a species has begun and we have seen a renewed focus on togetherness, of community and of love. Our 2021 needs us, and this for us all to thrive together. 

This is just the beginning my friends, and it’s going to take all of us working together to give us the full bloom our species really needs.

Sending love and light to all of you. 

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 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…?