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That time when I realised you need to become the leader that you have been seeking

One of the biggest things I coach folks on is around relationship dynamics, often at work, but also more generally.

As humans, we have a tendency to elevate those in important roles in our life as being something ‘more than’ us, we also elevate our expectations of them to match that pedestal.

For a long time I was right there with you, a new ‘leader’ would come in, I would expect them to be supportive and for them to champion me as I grew. And so often, at best that expectation led to disappointment, at worst, that expectation saw me choose to be in an abusive relationship for 12 years.

So who is at fault here? Me or them?

For a long time, I thought it was them. I would work alongside them, hoping the magic dust of leadership (good or bad) would rub off on me.

It never did.

The truth is, my expectations of them was all wrong. It was me that needed to become the leader that I was seeking.

Why do we want to be led?

  • Because we are afraid
  • Because we perhaps got a little stuck in childhood and are looking for someone to become the parent that we didn’t have
  • Because adulting is hard and it’s easier to have someone else do it

You see, you don’t need another leader, or to be controlled by another partner or friend. You need to sit firmly in the driving seat of your life, and start to make your own choices.

  • Self leadership is learning to trust your instincts
  • Self leadership is taking the time to figure out who you are and why you are
  • Self leadership is embracing imperfection
  • Self leadership is knowing how to access the things that you need, at the time that you need them

What happens when we lead ourselves?

I cried when I got my wedding pictures back recently. It was an emotional moment for two reasons, firstly because I was marrying a man beyond my wildest dreams. But secondly, I looked at those photographs and I saw that I had become a woman beyond my wildest dreams

Ruth at 20, 25, 30, even 35 wouldn’t have imagined Ruth at 42. She therefore didn’t set goals that led me in this direction, but what she did do was gradually start to lead herself. She set boundaries. She learnt who she was. She learnt who she wasn’t. She learnt how to love and accept herself.

That self leadership saw her change her life many times over, build a career, start a business, find love with another human (that was actually love this time haha) and ultimately, move to America.

Our story isn’t about a knight in shining armour, arriving from America to rescue a woman in her 40’s. It’s of two people leading themselves, learning themselves and then choosing the right partner for their next chapter.

Big change starts with little change.

Having realised the magic of self leadership on my own, I make it my mission to support other humans to step into their power, and to become the leaders that they are seeking.

How do we step into our leadership energy?

By focusing on the most important relationship in your life, the one you have with you. You do that by figuring out how you can love and accept yourself, just as you are.

I want to be really clear that this is not about starting to live in toxic positivity and pretending everything okay when it isn’t. The ‘just as you are’ is the most important part. It is easy to love ourselves when we think we are doing well at something, but what about when we are not? Can we still love and accept ourselves then?

We are aiming for a true friendship with ourselves, where we can be our own cheerleader; a steady drumbeat of love, support and commitment.

Then it becomes much easier, given that we know how to be a good friend to others, we already understand the theory when it comes to applying it to ourselves.

For me that means things like:

  • Being the person that helps you process life’s setbacks
  • Being able to catch yourself in negative self talk
  • Offering yourself support, knowing how to access the things that you need, at the time that you need them

If we can learn how to become our own best friend, we can then hopefully stride forth into self leadership in all aspects of our life. How can you be your own best friend today?

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.

That time when I found out that I’m a terrible judge of character

Okay so that title might be a little misleading: I’m afraid it isn’t just me on this one folks. We’re all a terrible judge of character. Sad but true. We’re laden with bias and most of the time when we meet people, we judge and make assumptions based on what we want to see and what we want them to be. We judge people that we really don’t know by our own fixed lens.

On the flip side of that, the funny thing is we likely also care too much what that other person thinks of us. So we oscillate between charm offensive and judgement in an alarming manner.

Whilst I’m happy to say it happens to me less frequently, I can still taste the horrible feeling you get when a first encounter with a new person goes awry. You see it often in public, when a couple of strangers misread one another, start to quarrel and neither feels like they can back down.

One of them says something that is either taken the wrong way, or perhaps said in the wrong way, and it starts off a chain reaction which deteriorates rapidly. It’s often not even about the person they are faced with, they’ve allowed the emotions they are experiencing to colour their interaction with another person.

It’s a horrible feeling to feel misunderstood, and I’ve always been someone who tries to get both parties to a place of understanding as fast as possible. I’ve always been hell bent on winning people over (winning others over has kept showing up as one of my top five strengths according to Gallup these past few years). The challenge is that you can’t always do that. Sometimes, no matter what you say, the other person is already too far gone and the damage irreversible.

In the context of day to day life, these interactions, whilst energetically damaging are seemingly harmless. There are other times, though, when they quite literally mean a case of life and death.

I recently finished ‘Talking with Strangers’ by the rather brilliant Malcolm Gladwell. I love the way he manages to dig deep into the world to attempt to provide data and explanations of this kind of human behaviour. He gives a thoughtful view on recent tragedies like that of the death of Sandra Bland, on why it happened in the first place and how it might have been avoided.

The premise around ‘Talking with Strangers’ was around bias and conditioning, and our ability to get one another so so wrong. We think we are able to judge one another clearly, when in truth, we just aren’t very good at it. We think that when we see a human being we can read their behaviour, when we actually can’t.

Early on in the book he references a study by a group in New York City, where they quite literally pitched judges against AI. Of 554,689 defendants for arraignment hearings, the judges chose to release  just over 400,000. They fed the AI systems the same data as the judges and asked it to make recommendations of the 400,000 it would release.

They then assessed the list and the computer system hands down was able to predict the likelihood of repeat offences. The folks on the AI list were 25% less likely to commit a crime whilst awaiting trial.

The machine flagged 1% of the defendants as high risk, stating that well over half would offend if released. The judges had released 48.5% of them. The only data that the humans had over the machines was having seen the defendants in person; and that was where the judgements were made. They saw people and thought they knew them. They made decisions based in bias.

My paraphrasing won’t do his book justice, so I absolutely recommend you hit the source and read the whole thing for yourselves.

Moving this conversation to the professional world I inhabit, I’d like to consider for a moment how this applies in the workplace, where frankly this kind if thing shows up all the time. People may not be total strangers, yet they fail to read each other, fail to really see each other and most definitely fail to hear each other. They make judgements based on bias and that can leave us in a very dangerous place indeed.

A misfire on comms at work can have reverberating repercussions for a long while. It can impact not just the individuals concerned, but also have a bearing on the work an entire team is able to produce.

I am no different, and have definitely had those moments. To work towards having less and less of them, we have to take responsibility for our role in creating them. Often we play the victim of the story, when in actual fact we always have our part to play in their total creation. The hunter and the deer both have their roles to play” if the deer wasn’t there the hunter wouldn’t be hunting.

I remember one particular work relationship where I felt this the most. For a long time I allowed myself the indulgence of feeling like the victim of the piece. Until one day I decided to shift my lens from one of defence to one of love and understanding and the dialogue with my ‘hunter’ shifted. The whole dynamics of our relationship then changed.

The other place we need to be careful of this dynamic is in the workplace is, of course, with hiring. Making the wrong, bias laden, judgement about someone in an interview process can kill the very thing that would make our business thrive; diversity.

The nuances of how a question is asked in an interview and what the non verbal communication signals are  can make the difference as to whether the person being interviewed feels safe to answer fluently or feels not safe and therefore potentially stifled.

Once someone feels unsafe in this kind of interaction, whether consciously or unconsciously,  we’re really never going to see who that person really is. They won’t feel comfortable, they will feel judged and they will likely have a horrible experience.

As I’ve written and said many times, there is no magic pill to fix this stuff, there is only awareness:

  • Awareness of who we really are in the world.
  • Awareness of the part we play in the daily interactions in our lives.
  • Awareness of our triggers and conditioning.
  • Awareness of when we are at odds with someone, and whether we have stopped being impartial.
  • Awareness of the toolkit you need to build inside yourself to give yourself a chance of choosing a better response.
  • Commitment to lovingly create awareness in others when you see the need.

Whilst the argument from Gladwell is palpable around a computer being able to make better decisions than us, until we can be sure that even they are coded in a way that is free from bias, human beings simply need to do a better job at levelling up on this stuff.

That’s the only way we will ever build inclusive businesses where we get to hear every voice we need to hear to grow in a way that supports the communities and businesses that we serve.

How about we all make a pact to create the right amount of awareness amongst ourselves to be able to do our jobs properly, and  by doing so allow the best people to have a fair shot at doing theirs?

That time when I came to the end of a decade

The end of a decade is significant moment in time that makes a lot of us reflect over the past one. As I look back over the past 10 stretch, it’s funny for me to think sometimes that my life hasn’t always been this way. For those who stumble across me for the first time, you might make the same assumption also.

The truth is that in 2010 something magical happened: I ejected myself out of the life that I had created and built a whole new one, a new one with love at its core.

The journey hasn’t been an easy one, but my goodness it has been entirely worth it. Each and every year I feel like I get a little closer to my truer sense of self. Each and every year, whatever the headlines might have read in my life at the time (we all have dramatic headlines right!?), I have felt truly blessed and thankful to be right where I am, living and learning.

The question that I have kept asking myself along the way is: How do I keep bringing more and more love to each and every thing thing I do?

Indulge me for a moment whilst I track back through those years for a hot minute, and share with you the various stages of development. Like the evolution of Penfold. My path to wellness. My path to whole body livingness.

I’ve also punctuated each year with a song that captured my heart that year just for funsies… you can take the girl out of Shazam but you can’t take Shazam out of the girl after all.

2010: Swim Good, Frank Ocean. The year that I forced myself to accept the reality that I had been fighting against; that I had chosen to place myself in the middle of an abusive relationship for the past 12 years and I needed to leave. With the help of coaching I finally left in the November of that year, filed for divorce and left the home that I had built behind. In writing this post, I realised this is a whole post of it’s own, so my next blog post will go into a little more detail on domestic abuse.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or have someone close to you whom you are worried about, please reach out to me. I am not an expert on this matter beyond my lived experience. There are a myriad of wonderful support groups who can offer more practical support like Refuge, who have a 24 hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

2011: Heartbeat, Nneka. This was the year when I managed to crawl back into life. I landed into this year completely shell shocked, and set about trying to establish some semblance of normality. I was afraid both of my past and of my future so I spent a lot of that time drinking too much alcohol. Somewhere within that I also allowed space for the friendships that became like family to grow. The possibilities that lay in front of me felt overwhelming, so I tried to stay safe with a small core group of people. After six months of turbulence I settled into a new flat and started to find my feet, but the struggle was real.

2012: Get Free, Major Lazer. With growing confidence, I started to make decisions that served me. This started with stopping drinking alcohol and caffeine completely, and was the beginning of my commitment to food choices that truly support my body (which I’ve later iterated on). I’d suffered from stress and food induced IBS throughout my 20’s, and I had pretty much fixed it by this point. I was still searching in earnest for an identity. I thought I’d found it in the art world. I started to let people call me Ruthie; a move that I now see was borne of fear, I felt it made me smaller and easier for the world to stomach somehow. I started to meet people, lots of people, and allowed my instinctive curiosity to flourish.

2013: Change, Natty. I came to the realisation that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for outside of myself, but I struggled to find my way in. With the help of coaching, I managed to make some choices that supported me better, but I still lived to support others rather than myself. I’d thrown myself into the art world fully, and was doing that work alongside a busy day job. I joined Shazam at the end of that year and found a new obsession. Shazam captivated my imagination and I gave everything I had to build out the right foundation for that business. Where I grew at this time was mainly in professional confidence and competence. I arrived awash with imposter syndrome, but I was able to produce great work there that meant I was able to let some of that go.

2014: Live Your Life, Yuna. First new love. I started dating and started to try to find a way to share my world with others. It was pretty gnarly. The protection and independence I’d created to leave the relationship of my 20’s made it super hard to let love in. Honestly, at this time I simply wasn’t able to. I’d just started to show myself signs of love (baby steps), and the idea of another person truly loving me was more than I could fathom. So I guess you could say that this year I could see/smell/taste the delights that life truly had to offer, but I was still falling short of experiencing them fully. The song truly punctuates that for me, I can remember walking along listening to it, joy rising inside me, but very much living vicariously through the joyful experiences of others.

2015: Florasia, Taylor McFerrin. This was the moment I started to heal from the troubles I had experienced in earlier life. I started to see Sara Williams and began to connect to myself though sessions with her. That work was the beginning of the path towards gentleness and a deeper audit of the smaller details about how I was living. I got a taste of meditation here, and learnt what it felt like to connect to myself fully. I started to exercise and feel the strength grow within my body. I rented my first flat solo that year, which was a big bold step at the time, for someone who had up until that time been in a tiny box room feeling like that was all I needed (and deserved actually). The song captivated my imagination, and sparked a greater curiosity for the love that might be available to me.

2016: Lite Weight, Anderson Paak. The path towards gentleness continued with a sharp segway into some fairly aggressive yoga. It took me a while on this path to find the ability to slow down and breathe and find more of a balanced practice. I learnt how to meditate alongside this with Sara at her then clinic, being part of that group I learnt so much about rest and recovery, and though a well established early riser by this point, became much more committed to rhythms and schedules for my body. This was where my meditation practice truly began, and I started to learn myself and my reactions to things from the inside. The song captured my heart with its effervescence of spirit but with the deeper message of ‘there’s no reason to be afraid’.

2017: Tawo, Jordan Rakei. I took the meditation work a little further by getting involved in the ‘Just Breathe Project’ with Michael James Wong. I also did a little more speaking therapy at this time, as I began to wonder whether the walls I had built around my heart were going to allow the right kind of love in. My goal at this time was to embrace vulnerability, and learn to live less in my alpha driving mode. My world felt joyful though, and I got better at making quick decisions on things that weren’t serving me. I was in the groove at Shazam and seeing the impact I was able to create. The song captivated me and my feeling of being blessed by my experiences.

2018: Morning After, dsvn. I continued to work to try and find the space to enjoy the path of walking alongside another person. I joined Onfido, and could see the aching need for some of the work I was doing personally from a business standpoint – meditation, connection, care. It was like the stars were aligning for me again professionally speaking and like all the learnings were coming together in a brilliant way. My side note is that I’d also thrown myself into my work here in a fairly unhealthy way, which my obsessive streak is a little prone to. I was able to draw upon the toolkit I had created and dial up on meditation and other work to support myself at this time.

2019: Told You So, Miguel. I started this year with the goal of ‘being’ over ‘doing’ and I failed miserably. I am one of life’s do-ers and that’s hard to change. This whole time, even when it was detrimental to me, I’ve ridiculously overachieved at the thing I’ve set my mind to. So I finish the year with renewed intent. To live, to love, to breathe. To go deeper. To find more space. To slow down. I’ll let you know how I get on with that. The song is fabulous, but also carries the message for me that we actually always know what’s right for us, I knew it at the start of the year, but still carried on diving into the waves of doing. There’s a great question we can ask ourselves most of the time when we embark on a new project: ‘What are we going to ‘learn’ six months from now that we already know today?’.

I continue my work on the spectrum of love, sorting through myself and my ways of working to configure myself in the optimum way to truly thrive. I also carry that quest into the businesses that we are supporting within the Launchpad, to help them build the right experience for themselves and their people.

My intention is to fill the next decade with even more LOVE. Love is, after all, the most precious thing that we have my friends; love for ourselves and love for each other (and boy does our world need more of that now).

Happy new decade beautiful people.

That time when I learnt the power of giving authentic feedback

Giving feedback can be a bit of a nemesis for a lot of people.

There’s a feeling of awkwardness when you know you have something to share but would rather run away from it. There were so many times in my life when I kept schtum and then later wished I’d said something. The times where you ‘learn’ six months later what you already could have called out at the beginning by simply being a little braver.

On realising this fact a couple of years ago I made a pact with myself to level up my ability to give feedback.

It’s just a skill like all the others; invest some time into learning it and practicing it and you get really really good at it. Promise. I can’t say its always easy, but I can say the dynamics of my relationships have improved immeasurably with the level of honesty I am able to bring to them.

So here’s my take on how I managed to get those awkward conversations right, whether personal or professional.

Good feedback starts from the place that should be the foundation of everything: LOVE.

In a recent blog, I shared a definition of love according to Scott Peck as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

If extending yourself outside of your comfort zone to give important feedback to someone isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Right attitude

To give feedback effectively you have to care deeply about the person you are giving the feedback to.

That doesn’t mean that you have to know them super well, it could actually be your first meeting, the key is about caring enough to understand (and take responsibility) for the imprint that you leave on the humans you interact with day to day.

Even the smallest things that you present and project onto another can have huge ramifications. Becoming aware of this will hopefully bring a sense of responsibility with the nature of your interactions all of the time, not just in feedback conversations. Every moment counts.

Right energy

When you are considering giving feedback to someone, it’s worth checking in on your own energy and intention. Is the thing that you feel you need to share honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Is it a desire to support the other person or is it actually a patronising, condescending ‘I want to make myself feel bigger that you’ space. I’m sure most of us have experienced being on the receiving end of feedback given in the wrong energy; where you can come away feeling chastised and belittled. It’s completely avoidable.

What we are looking for here is an authentic drive to enable the growth of the other person; only you can be the judge of when and where that occurs.

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Will your feedback support the development and continuation of trust, or will it break it?

Right people

Once we have established that we deem the feedback is being presented in the right energy, it’s important to check it’s happening between the right people; is it your place to give this particular feedback?

In a work context, folks can sometimes be a little overzealous with feedback, and it’s common for people a couple of layers up to get embroiled in conversations that should be happening a couple of layers down. My general rule of thumb, is that the person or people closest to the thing (whatever the thing is) should be the ones discussing it.

Right place

I’m probably trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs here, but for the avoidance of any doubt, the right time and place for feedback is critical.

Feedback should almost always be given 1:1 and ideally in a timely manner so that the feedback conversation is close enough to the actual event itself. It should also be given in a place that the person receiving the feedback is comfortable with. That can obviously vary dramatically from person to person.

I was once given some rather challenging feedback by a former boss in a glass meeting room where I was facing out to an open office; I literally had nowhere to hide. It made an already tough conversation much much harder.

Right time

As I mentioned above, timing of feedback is everything. Some feedback becomes irrelevant if it isn’t given in real time. Other times it is more important to make sure that you are in the right environment to give it.

When it comes to timing though, it is perhaps most important that it occurs at the right time for both the giver and the receiver. If you are giving feedback; are you in your best energy? If you are even slightly out of sorts, the feedback could come out completely wrong and be misinterpreted. Meditation is hugely supportive for me here.

As the giver, it is you that is driving when the conversation happens in the main, so you have to dial up on your emotional intelligence to make sure that the timing works for the receiver also. If they are clearly having a challenging day, perhaps a kinder thing might be to wait and have the conversation later.

I remember a time when I gave some feedback on the fly, after being asked for it. My answer should have been; let me reflect and we can discuss this later. Instead I broke all of my own rules, and gave clumsy feedback that not only didn’t land well, it actually got completely lost in translation. I had to work much harder to reset that relationship to rebuild the trust than the effort it would have taken to get the conversation right.

If you work with someone quite closely, it’s worth asking them how they like to receive feedback and take the time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them.

Putting in that kind of effort to understand someone has love at its core, and when things start from there, you have a much better chance of ending up in a good place.

That time when I learnt about the magic of Founders

“They are sane enough to know that every day is a survival against daunting odds and crazy enough to think they can do it anyway.” – Eric Schmidt

Amen to that Eric.

By the time I had landed at Shazam there was just one Founder still left as an employee of the company; Avery Wang. Internally we viewed him as somewhat of a god-like figure – he was the person who invented the algorithm after all. He himself was incredibly humble, and continued to work towards new horizons for the business.

I can remember the day I met Chris Barton; the guy that came up with the original idea for Shazam and who remained very much involved, though not day-to-day. When he was in the building you could sense it, and his energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

At Onfido we are lucky to have our Founders in much closer quarters, which has meant that I’ve had a lot more time to observe the special energy of Husayn Kassai, Eamon Jubbawy and Ruhul Amin.

As unique as they might be as people, as Founders they mirror a blueprint that I’ve been lucky enough to witness before, in the Shazam Founders. The traits and characteristics that enable them to operate as mavericks, as crusaders, as folks who give zero f’s about what the world thinks about their bold idea and do it anyway.

They don’t just do it anyway. They convince folks like me, with all my years of experience, to hop on board and start building alongside them.

That, my friends, is magic in the truest sense.

There are many who have the spirit of Founders, but who never harness the power of that magic to make their ideas turn into real things. The rebel hearts, the free thinkers, the challengers; I likely fall into that camp.

That’s what makes a little rebel like me the perfect ally to a Founder, because I’m already asking the big questions and have the desire to challenge the status quo; I just haven’t yet summoned up enough magic to turn my ideas into real things.   An innate maverick mindset means that it’s never going to take much persuading to get you to hop on the bus.

But back to the magic of Founders, and some of my observations of what makes them so special.

Heart and realness

To be someone that people want to invest in, we have to be able to see and feel your heart. We have to be able to connect to the energy within you, and feel an authenticity behind your mission. People may still get on your bus without it, but they won’t stay there for very long.

Love is the foundation of everything. Starting your business from a genuine platform of love will provide the bedrock that your business needs to grow.

Spirit and passion

You must have something that’s infectious about your spirit, something that lifts us up with you and helps us to do and deliver things that we never dreamed of doing before.

We will tell you ‘it’s not possible’, and you will keep telling us it is, until we find a way to make it work. That’s the spirit that made Shazam the magical app it became; Chris Barton badgering Avery Wang to invent the clever algorithm that made musical discovery dreams come true for millions of users.

Investment and commitment

I mean investment of self here. Of your whole life in a lot of cases, and certainly most of your time and energy. When we see you invest yourself fully, we are inspired to invest in you right back. It’s important to note, however, that we need to feel like you are invested in us too. We need to feel like we are important and valued, and that we have a voice in what we are joining you to achieve. Investment in the product is awesome, but you need to keep those that have hopped on your bus, on the bus.

Influence and persuasion

You have to be able to be the most persuasive person in the room. You have to be able to connect with people in a real way in order to influence them to adopt your way of thinking, or at least see hope in what you say. You will be smart enough to map out your argument and will have enough data so that we become inspired by your words.

You ideally will be charming. Or you will be great at recruiting charming people who can pick up the slack around you when you can’t be!

Flexibility and fluidity

To survive in startups, the ability to pivot is a must. If you get too hung up on the original thing that you thought you’d be, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. One thing that Onfido has done so well is the evolution of the product offering over the years to become the de facto identity provider to global businesses, and now making inroads with where we go next in the drive towards consumer owned identities.

Humility and groundedness

At Onfido our Founders are at the heart of most change initiatives. They are constantly striving for excellence and to “find a better way” of doing things; which is one of our core values.

Long term Founder-ship will inevitably mean hiring smarter people around you to keep developing the even bigger dreams that you are cooking up. That means you’ve got to be great at asking the right questions and really listening to the answers. Hire ambitiously and act humble. Another thing that the Founders at Onfido get so right; hiring phenomenal talent to come in and see the gaps that we might be missing and defer to their expertise when it comes to making some of the decisions.

Bravery and boldness

Last but not least, you just have to be brave and bold. Brave enough to commit to it, over and over again. Brave enough to stand out from the crowd, live on nothing and keep stepping one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Bold enough to ask the cheeky questions, invite yourself to the right meetings and own your presence in the room when you do. Bold enough to make the decisions when one needs to be made, even when you have no real way of establishing likelihood of success.

So you see my friends, there’s a whole lot that comes together to create that magic dust that fuels Founders to create the perfect storm to successfully launch and sustain a startup.

Magic personified.

That time when I got to really understand my infrastructure

The human body is a magical thing. I feel phenomenally blessed by the fact that each and every year I am able to deepen my connection to self a little further, by learning something new.

The most recent ‘something new’ (though it might count as a ‘something old, since re-learned’) has been in the form of the chemicals we have in our bodies and the experiences we have as a result of those chemicals, aided by the Simon Sinek book, Leaders Eat Last.

As I have forged a path towards whole body intelligence (living from the whole of my body, not just my overthinking brain), I have become aware of the feelings that are created in my body when different things occur; the way my heart starts to bubble when I feel anxiety, the intense elation when I get excited, the flip in my stomach when I feel worried (and so on). I’ve learnt to map my reactions to things, what they mean, and for the most part at least, choose a better experience.

What I hadn’t really considered, was the ‘science bit’ that went behind it all, the physiological reasons that are behind the way our body reacts. In learning a bit more about that ‘science bit’ I feel like I have taken on an even deeper level of understanding of myself and my reactions, from that one of the most important F words; forgiveness.

So, now for the ‘science bit’, pay attention:

Why I get super excited by the discovery of new things

I’ve always been someone driven by the thirst of discovery; the latest thing, an awesome book, a new song. I put it down to my instinctive curiosity alone, without considering the chemicals in the body that were driving some of my behaviour.

We have chemicals within us that can conspire to make us feel good when we achieve something like a goal or in my case, a discovery. Dopamine is one of those chemicals: a neurotransmitter that can impact lots of things in the body that relate to well being, providing a little boost when we do something that makes us feel good.

It has helped to fuel some of my addictive personality behaviours (and there have been many over the years; whether sneaker obsession, art collecting obsession, music obsession, food obsession – the list is endless). I tended to climb to a peak of obsession on each one, realise what I am doing, pull back, and then find a new obsession to take its place. With my developing understanding of these behaviours, it’s become easier for me to call them out and act upon them, before reaching critical mass (or a ridiculous sneaker collection of 50+ pairs!).

The trouble with dopamine fuelled behaviour is that it is often insatiable. You will never be satisfied by landing the object of your desire, you will just start thinking about what the next thing might be. Learning to choose a more holistic, longer term kind of happiness has therefore been really significant for me.

Why I have strong willpower and drive towards achieving a goal

Endorphins are another kind of feel good chemical released during things like exercise. They can also be part of the reward the body provides when you achieve something, and are likely a big part of why my willpower has been so strong in the delivery of things against all odds, whether a course or a work based project. Achievement makes us feel good.

When I did Weight Watchers in 2008, it was like the waves parted, and suddenly I had a framework that provided the bedrock for a total re-education around my relationship with food. Both of those chemicals supported me in losing over 3 stone (22kg). Dopamine provides the big rush that we can easily become addicted to, but endorphins help us to stay on course and weather the physical and emotional storm of achieving something.

Why I have been so led by obsessions at times of my life

Whilst for the most part I now live in a world where I have successfully nurtured love inside and outside of me, that hasn’t always been the case. When I have been lacking in love, the void has been filled by the kind of obsessions I mentioned above. The dopamine hit of a social media like, or a new pair of sneakers was what I used to sustain me.

The more I have been able to develop love within myself and for myself, the less my obsessions have been able to take hold. I believe oxytocin has played a big part in that. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, as it is something that can create a feeling of connection to others and help reinforce trust. Love is something that makes us feel whole, and in doing so, the urges for instant gratification can be allowed to ebb further away.

Why I like doing stuff for other people

As human beings, we are driven to form connections with other people by oxytocin, but also by serotonin. Serotonin is often called the happy chemical, it makes us feel good. It also helps the body find a rhythm with things like your body clock.

These are the chemicals that drive us to do things for other people, because it feels good. Serotonin also enables us to feel the weight of responsibility on things; we don’t want to let people down, we want to make people proud. This is also why we care what other people think of us; I am no different in that sense.

Why I work hard to create community around me

Wherever I go I have this urge to connect with the people around me, whether in a shop or in a class. It’s not a consciously calculated thing, so I’d previously just put it down to me creating the kind of experience I want to have in the world, one that is founded in love.

I feel good when people are happy to see me, I feel good when I can see a person feels seen. I would suggest this drive may be down to something a little more primitive, I am serving the needs of my chemical brothers; serotonin and oxytocin, my need to feel like I am part of something.

Why I have had such a physical experience of stress in my body

This is down to the stress hormones our body produces, with the primary one being cortisol. It actually also plays a super important role in the body, managing how we process food, our sleep rhythm, our blood pressure. When we wake up in the morning it tends to be a little higher, then decreases throughout the day.

For our body to function correctly, it has to be in balance. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels spike. This can provide important messages to us to get out of the way of harm, but a prolonged increase is horrible for our body.

The only way to circumvent this is by either removing the stressful situations from your life, or by finding a way to better control your responses to stress. My approach has been a blend of both. I completely reinvented the stressful life I chose in my 20s, built a new one and learnt how to develop stillness in my body through things like meditation.

Now I have a much better read on when something has been triggered within me, and I can choose what my response is, most of the time at least!

Why I have stayed in situations that are bad for my health

Whether personal or professional; I have been great at holding fast to situations that don’t serve me. I can now see that I was in the hold of my chemical reactions. Looking specifically at my unhappy marriage in my 20s; my stress levels would be triggered daily, and then smallest good thing would happen, and it would calm me back down. I was a whirlwind of dopamine and cortisol, never in balance.

I managed to fool myself that the tiny dopamine hits were enough, that that was what love felt like. I can’t tell you how thankful I have been to discover the heady effects of oxytocin in my 30s. I have been lucky enough to find the right configuration of things to forge a path towards true joyfulness.

Why I feel able to be fully me in some situations and not in others

Have you ever noticed how in some situations you can speak eloquently and freely and in others you can stumble over your words? How you can sing like a rockstar in the shower but your voice falters around others? This can largely be down to a stress response. In situations where we don’t feel safe, our stress response is triggered and that impacts our ability to belt out that Broadway number: our bodies are simply too busy dealing with/processing cortisol to reach those notes. This is also why we can feel a little off with some people and not with others.

In my 20s, I spent a lot of my time triggered; at work and at home, and didn’t feel safe in either. I wasn’t living in anything remotely close to balance. I wasn’t taking care of myself in any sense, or giving my body the chance to produce the chemicals it needed to thrive, serotonin to boost self confidence, oxytocin to relieve stress or lessen cravings. I was all cortisol errrythang.

How I have been able to choose something different

Chemical balance on all counts is supported and maintained by that good old fashioned toolkit of:

  • REST: Making sure you develop a steady and enriching approach to sleep and recovery. Your bedtime routine is everything. Read more about that here.
  • NOURISHMENT: Eating foods that are in accordance with what your body truly wants, at a time it really wants it.
  • QUENCH: Drinking water, and other non chemical altering beverages. I avoid caffeine and alcohol altogether.
  • MOVEMENT: Moving your body in a way that feels right for you. Some days that is a walk for me, others that might be barre, others that might be yoga.
  • LOVE: Creating fulfilling relationships with others that truly serve you, and that build and reinforce the psychological safety you need to thrive.

“This is what work-life balance means. It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer. It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don’t feel safe at work, then we will suffer what we perceive to be a work-life imbalance. If we have strong relationships at home and at work, if we feel like we belong, if we feel protected in both, then the powerful forces of a magical chemical like oxytocin can diminish the effect of stress and cortisol. With trust, we do things for each other, look out for each other and sacrifice for each other. All of which adds up to our sense of security inside a Circle of Safety. We have a feeling of comfort and confidence at work that reduces the overall stress we feel because we do not feel our well-being is threatened.” – Simon Sinek

That time when I realised that I will never stop looking for things that look like love

Haters look away. This blog is unapologetically about the thing that most of us crave and spend our whole lives hunting for even though we all have a limitless supply of our own to give: LOVE.

Have you ever thought about the fact that as humans, love is truly the thing that drives us? Level with me; What’s the thing most likely to drive you loopy? What’s the thing most likely to push your buttons? What’s the thing that evokes the biggest emotional reaction when you feel slighted? What’s the thing that is abundant when you feel most joyful? That’s right: LOVE.

We hunt for it far and wide, often thinking that love is just the thing that can happen with our closest people, and search for ‘the one’. We also seek it in a less overt way, in the form of acceptance, admiration or respect – think about those internet likes. When we boil all of those things down, in our many different ways, we are still just seeking: LOVE.

The real truth about love though, is that – “plot reveal” – it’s within us and all around us at all times. We are literally brimming with the stuff. Each and everyone of us has an infinite resource of love to call upon, we just have to choose to see it that way.

For love is the community that we live in, not just within ourselves or our own immediate community but the global community of humans that we are all a part of. All of us. Pretty much most of the time, if you take the time to look around you, you can find love in abundance, whether in the way that we interact with one another or in the details of how we live.

I fall in love on an almost daily basis; in the beauty of an interaction, the smile of a fellow commuter or even sometimes at the goofy look on my own face in the mirror.

Now I’m well aware that there is plenty in the world that is not love, but I hold firm in my belief that we are all from love and therefore just have to find our way back to it, to ourselves and to each other. Not all of us make it, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

I too am guilty of getting caught up in the whirlwind that is life, disconnecting from my limitless loving resources and forgetting the simplicity of what really matters.

So here’s a little reminder for you and for me, for the days when we get caught up in the grind, of some of the day to day places we can always find it:

  • In the eyes of the person sitting opposite you (even if they are looking at their screen, and watch as they sparkle as they receive a message from a loved one).
  • In the eyes of the child who truly sees you and connects with you (you know the looks that make you feel goofy and awkward, before they are old enough to have learnt to look away).
  • In the heart of the person who lets you skip the line when you only have one item (love those guys).
  • In the soul of the person at your favourite coffee shop, who remembers your order before you walk up (and what might you remember about them in return…?).
  • In energy of the person who sees someone struggling to carry something, and offers a hand to help (I try to be that person as often as possible, as long as it is within my capabilities!).
  • In the way your friend keeps a stash of your favourite tea in their cupboard, just in case you stop by (you know who you are and you are loved).

Lastly, please remember that the most important place of all you can always find it is within you; whether to shine it on yourself or the world around you. Remember; it’s the one thing you can give out and receive back in multiples.

This stuff is just as fabulous in reverse; just think about the difference you feel when you know you have been awesome to someone, and you can bask in the light of their love and gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m in a deficit, I bring my best loving game to all of my interactions, and greedily fill up my tank with all the love I get back.

Love can change the world my friends. Start with allowing it to change yours and sit back and marvel as it starts appearing everywhere like the miraculous life source that it is.

Ps. I love you.

[Title inspo from Raymond Antrobus and his magnificent poem; “Things That Look Like Love”]

That time when I truly embraced my individuality

At the age of 12 I made a conscious decision never to be the same as everyone else. I set about creating the young Penfold in many different ways, believing myself to be a true individual, and that the clothing choices I made truly exemplified that.

The truth though, was that I was merely trying to ‘belong’ to a different collection of humans, though I didn’t see it that way. I tried to identify myself amongst the sub cultures and not be a part of the main stream, largely governed by music choices. I manifested things like:

  • The Goth Era – black lipstick, tasseled skirts, ripped tights and tie dye
  • The Metal Era – army clothes, para boots, stripey tights, shaved half my head and dyed the rest red
  • The Raver Era – record bags and bomber jackets
  • The Rude Gyal Era – started out with hair in braids, then had my hair cut like a member of TLC, complete with kiss curls.
  • The Garage Raving Era – dresses, heels, big hair.

I showed my musical affiliations like badges of honour in my appearance, throughout the whole of my teens. I believed myself to be unique. And indeed I was unique, but not in the way that I thought I was then. I was (and am) Ruth Lesley Penfold – and there can never be another like her.

But I couldn’t see that then. I didn’t realise that these many disguises were tools that I was using to take myself further away from the real me. I met my ex husband at the age of 19, and slowly lost any desire to stand out whatsoever, so took myself even further from the real me than I had ever been before. I gradually succeeded in making myself invisible. The butterfly became a moth.

What I have experienced since leaving him has been a ‘second adolescence’ of sorts. I’ve used elements of my physical appearance of attire in much the same way, to stand out, to show the world just how different I am. This time though, not seeking to belong to a specific group but more so to create a whole new group of my own, with a population of one, so that no one else could get near me.

I wore my diversity like a badge of honour once more, making sure, albeit subconsciously, that people could learn everything that they needed to know about me from just a glance. Throughout this time, I seldom met with anyone who displayed any genuine romantic potential. I made fabulous friends, that span far and wide, but mainly kept at a ‘safe’ distance.

You see, I WAS sending them the message that I wanted to display at that time. That message was one of; ‘don’t get too close’ or ‘have teeth, will bite’. My appearance became my body armour. The biggest part of this was my hair. And it worked. That’s because on some levels, I still saw (and sometimes see – we all have those moments, happily mine are just becoming more fleeting) myself in the unloveable light that I had done so for much of my adult life. I had developed a new kind of invisible, just one with flashing lights and sirens.

The change in me now has been brought about by a change of perception of me and my place in the world. I realised that, by denying the world of who we truly are, we are doing everyone around us a disservice. But no one more so than ourselves. If we allow ourselves to live to our fullest potential, who knows where we might end up. Through deepening my connection with me – through leading a supportive lifestyle filled with love, movement and meditation, the body armour has started to break down.

I worked hard to project an image of toughness, of resilience, of independence. And I am all of those things, but I am also so much more. I know that the real me is soft, feminine and vulnerable – probably a little at odds with what many of the people that know me would describe me as.

I deserve to allow myself to be loved by another, in just the way I have chosen to love myself, but I need to make it possible for people to see, hear and feel me as I truly am, and what I am is truly just one thing – love.

I am finding my inner light – pure and delicate – and allowing it to unfurl. My hair is growing. My edges are softening. I have kept myself in suspended animation in many forms over the course of my life, but now is the time to live a little differently. I move through the world with an increased gentleness, and an increased commitment to bringing all of me to every situation.

I’d like to view my body armour as a cocoon of sorts, a necessary rite of passage to allow me to finally unfurl as I truly am: one of a kind, truly magnificent and capable of spreading light and love wherever I go.

I make that my mission.

I know many people who live as paired down versions of who they truly could be, but I know very few that are living in a true expression of who they really are. If you had spoken to me two years ago about this, I would have sworn I was living in an abundantly truthful and expressive way. And if I had it wouldn’t have been a lie, I’ve just now discovered the means to go a little deeper, and I can’t wait to see where my unfolding takes me next.

This might not resonate with you at all, and if it doesn’t? Fabulous; we are all benefiting from your light already.

For those of you, however, that are thinking about whether they are limiting themselves, by even asking yourself the question you already know the answer. You know there is so much more of you than you are showing us all right now. What might it take for you to show us a little more of your light? How might you break down a little more of your body armour?

I am, and can only ever be a work in progress, and proudly so. But work I shall.


That time when I wanted to call out two very special people

This is a very special post this time folks. I wanted to take a moment to devote a few words in celebration of the wonder that is my parents; John and Tricia Penfold.

These two humans have taught me to love without prejudice, forgive instantly and with a full heart, and to shine that love out into the world upon the people I come in contact with.

My parents, however, have not always had such an easy ride with me. As a young person, I was incredibly challenging. Fiercely independent and intent on growing up way ahead of my years; the adolescent Penfold was a force to be reckoned with.

At that age, I saw my parents as a hurdle to get over. Sure, I loved them. But they were the thing standing between me and the rest of the world, the freedom that I craved so mercilessly.

So I lied. A lot. I gave little care for the impact of my behaviour on these two beautiful souls; getting suspended from school at one stage, alongside general drinking/smoking and other slightly suspect (largely nocturnal) teenage activities.

Strange then, that a creature that craved and chased freedom so fiercely, ended up landing herself in a prison of her own making, and one she the chose to serve 12 years hard time in. When I met my ex husband, my parents could see how wrong things were, and tried hard to steer me in the right direction with a big dose of tough love.

Sensing their challenge, instead of heeding to their age and wisdom, I chose to create a false existence that I hoped they could be proud of me for. I fabricated a happy life, a balanced existence and a loving husband; when in truth, I had none of those things.

What did my parents do about that? They simply loved me. Without judgement. Much as it broke their hearts to see their beautiful daughter fail to feel the joy that it was her true destiny to experience. They supported me with their love, and continued to do so no matter how hard I tried to cast them adrift.

When I turned 30, and finally left my ex husband, I finally found my parents. It was them in fact, early one Saturday morning five years ago, in late November 2010, that came and collected my dog and I from the house I had shared with my ex husband. My mum helped me to make the decision to leave early that morning, as I was in complete turmoil. They then drove for six hours to collect me, before driving us all the way back to Hartlepool, where they lived at the time. Passing that five year milestone this past week feels incredible, much as it all feels like a lifetime ago.

By finally letting them help me, I finally let them ‘in’. The sense of relief within me was palpable, and I allowed myself to love them as abundantly fiercely as they have always loved me. It broke their hearts to learn the reality of the world I had chosen to exist in, but it equally filled them with joy that I had been able to break free from it, and that they had been able to support me in doing so.

They are truly exceptional people, and I am thankful every day to have them in my world. They not only helped me physically break free, they also emotionally propped me up through the torturous months that were to come, each day presenting a new challenge. They helped me to make small steps and not just freak out at the enormity of the change I was making, they helped me to stay present. Between them and my Aunt and Uncle in London, they also managed to make sure I ate every day – which was no mean feat!

Aside from the obvious help, love and support they have given me, I am also thankful to have had this beautiful demonstration of love, acted out to me and my siblings over many years and in many different roles. I use them as my example when it comes to the love and care I give others, even when that love isn’t reciprocated, in the way it wasn’t always with me. I let my love set an example for others, in much the same way they have done for me.

They continue to love me, my sisters, my brother and all of our respective people, in the same indiscriminate way. Celebrating our successes and holding us steady when we face our battles, helping us move, helping us generally sort our lives out, collecting us from airports… I could go on and on.

So; Mum and Dad, this is my love note to you. Your love continues to inspire me each and every day. Thank you for never giving up on me. You have created the most magnificent blueprint and I hope to make use of your beautiful parental road map one day. In the meantime I will continue to hone my hard loving skills on you guys. I love you to the moon and back.